White holiday lights only, say bylaws for a Bucks development - but some residents are rebelling
The Doylestown Station townhouse development is aglow with white lights this holiday season. They sparkle on Christmas wreaths, light up decks, and illuminate exterior stair railings in this well-heeled neighborhood in central Bucks County. But multicolor lights are starting to pop, too, as a quiet rebellion takes hold among some neighbors who think the condominium association's ban on colored lights is not in keeping with the spirit of the season.
The Doylestown Station townhouse development is aglow with white lights this holiday season.
They sparkle on Christmas wreaths, light up decks, and illuminate exterior stair railings in this well-heeled neighborhood in central Bucks County. But multicolor lights are starting to pop, too, as a quiet rebellion takes hold among some neighbors who think the condominium association's ban on colored lights is not in keeping with the spirit of the season.
"The colored lights are more festive," said Marie Buonanno, a nine-year resident who is still fighting a $400 fine from the association for the colored lights she put up last year. Undaunted, she put up her colored lights again this week, festooning her home on Addison Court with bursts of red, green, blue, and white.
Jim and Judy Wonderly also decided to flip the switch with seven new strands of colored lights after getting notice from the condo association board that their white-lighted reindeer, which sits on the mulch outside their front window, was in violation of bylaws for reasons unclear to them.
"I'm not moving it," Jim Wonderly said of the reindeer. "And if they're going to fine me, I might as well go ahead and add more lights and more decorations."
And so it goes in the otherwise quiet, carefully maintained development, where residents say almost everyone gets along just fine the rest of the year.
The dispute is rooted in the association's bylaws, which state that only white lights are permitted during the holiday season and specify that the lights can be only in certain places, such as on shrubs at the front of each townhouse, but not on any exterior surface.
"I do think this situation is causing tension," said Buonanno, who said she had always decorated with colored lights, but wasn't fined until last year.
To some, the rules are too restrictive, unduly infringing on their right to express themselves.
Other homeowners, though, say they appreciate the uniformity of the white-light theme and note that all homeowners agreed to abide by the bylaws when they purchased their homes.
"I like the all-white lights," said Charlene Freiling, who has lived in the development for seven years.
Former board president Kenneth Davis called the matter a "nonissue."
"Whatever you want to do, do it inside," Davis said, adding that the board was trying to preserve property values.
Resident Jen Brown, however, saw it differently.
"It's just always been our family tradition," said Brown, who pointed out that in previous years, she had been warned - but never fined - for putting up multicolor lights. "It's festive, and it kind of brings the holiday to life for us."
Upon getting a warning letter after last year's holiday season, Brown went door to door and got signatures from 62 neighbors petitioning the association to allow multicolor lights.
Brown said the board decided to do a survey of its own, asking residents whether they favored white lights only, multicolor lights, or multicolor blinking lights.
Nineteen voted to keep the white-lights-only policy; 14 voted to allow colored, blinking lights; and five went for colored nonblinking lights, she said. The board decided to keep the policy the same - a decision that left Brown frustrated that her petition had been cast aside.
"What happened to 62 people who signed it?" said Brown. "There's no real due process on how to get it changed."
One board member and a representative of the condo association did not respond to requests for comment. Another member declined to comment.
The board sent letters this week to all residents in response to the flap, saying no change was warranted because the limited feedback did not comprise a majority of residents.
Buonanno said that, for her, Christmas has meant an infusion of red, green, gold and white. The ban, she said, essentially means the condo association is telling her how to celebrate Christmas. "I feel like my religion is being discriminated against," said Buonanno, who is Catholic.
More residents would like to put up color lights, Judy Wonderly said, but are afraid because they don't want to risk getting fined - especially during the grim economy.
She and her husband have agreed to risk a fine of up to $250. They see nothing wrong with their reindeer, which has been gracing the front of the house for several holiday seasons.
"It's such a nice reindeer," she said.
The neighbors acknowledged that they agreed to the bylaws when they moved in, but said their effort to change the policy was unfairly rebuffed.
"All we're doing is questioning a policy," said Brown.
Buonanno's next-door neighbor, Marc Udell, was among the first to turn on twinkling, multicolor icicles this week.
Udell said he believed that there were more important things to worry about - and that residents should be free to use white or multicolor lights.
"If it's tasteful," said Udell, "who the hell cares?"