A battle is waging in the front yard of a home in one east Wichita neighborhood.
At the center of it? Dan and Alice Smith’s outdoor lamp.
They say the 12-foot-tall cast iron light is a vintage, high quality piece that Dan Smith restored himself. But their homeowner’s association is calling it a “commercial-sized, mock-antique gas lamp” that diminishes property values. The association has filed a lawsuit, demanding the lamp be removed.
The Country Club Court Estates Home Owners Association contends that the lamp isn’t consistent with the look and style of the community, as well as violates a passage in its covenants that prohibits the installation of poles and other structures without prior approval.
“It’s a pretty simple matter, to be frank about it. Like every neighborhood that has a HOA ... you have to go through certain channels to make improvements to the property that are specified in the covenants,” said Tim J. Moore, attorney for the association. “And they didn’t go through the proper channels.
That includes approval from a committee that has the final say on improvement plans — which the Smiths didn’t have, Moore said.
But Dan Smith says the committee was formed months after he told the HOA during annual meeting in March that he wanted to erect the lamp. He said he decided to move forward after receiving no negative feedback about the project.
“I feel like I got tentative approval,” Smith said, adding that “the light itself is just absolutely magnificent.”
“How anybody could be opposed to it is beyond me,” he said. The Smiths’ attorney did not return a message seeking comment.
The neighborhood where the Smiths live is near 13th and 127th East, across from Crestview Country Club. It has 22 single family homes and several patio homes. They range in value from around $200,000 to more than $540,000, according to the Sedgwick County Appraiser’s Office.
The Country Club Court Estates Home Owners Association oversees the single family homes, its president, Bob Zuroske, said.
Smith estimates the lamp was made in the 1930s or 1940s and is worth a few thousand dollars. It weighs around 400 pounds and has “the Hutchinson Foundry & Steel Co.” stamped on its base. Smith said he thinks it was made there.
The Smiths, who are retired, bought their home for around $400,000 at an auction late last year. “It is our dream home,” Dan Smith said.
Smith said the outdoor lamp was installed at the couple’s previous home in the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood, just east of Wesley Medical Center, and came with them when they moved. “My wife insisted,” he said.
In addition to adding curb appeal, he said he thinks the light provides security on his street and home after dark.
In June, after removing a tree from his yard to make room for the lamp, Smith got a visit from Zuroske, who said some other residents of the neighborhood had concerns about the lamp’s brightness and appearance.
After the meeting, Zuroske said he formed a three-person architectural control committee and sent information about the lamp, including photographs, to it for review. The committee refused to approve its installation.
Zuroske says he had asked Smith to submit information about the lamp after talking to him at the HOA meeting in March. But that didn’t happen. He said Smith’s request was the first that required review by an architectural control committee since he took over the presidency nearly two years ago — and that’s why it wasn’t in place before June.
When Smith refused to halt the project, Zuroske says Country Club Court Estates felt like it “had no other option” but to file for a restraining order.
“There’s part of me that feels bad about it happening.” But, Zuroske said, following a neighborhood’s covenants “are invaluable to protect people’s property values.”
The matter is set for trial on Sept. 20 in Sedgwick County District Court.
Smith says he’s prepared to fight the lawsuit to its end.
“It’s absolutely maddening to me that there are these few people who feel like they can impose their will on me,” he said.