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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Stars & Gripes: Local Business Owner Fined for Flying Flag

By | Business

SARATOGA SPRINGS – What does it mean to fly the American flag outside your home or business? It seems no matter where you go in the Spa City; you’re bound to see “Old Glory” waving in the breeze. Whether it’s simply out of respect for one’s country or to honor a loved one serving in the military, it is about as inoffensive a symbol as one could expect to find while out in public.

 

Yet since July of 2010, the American flag is at the very center of a gripe between the building association representing Franklin Square Condominiums and a business owner hoping to honor her son.

Debra Docyk is the owner and operator of Sanctuary Spa, located on the ground level of the Franklin Square IV building on Railroad Place. She’s also a mother to two sons, one of whom serves in the United States Navy.

The rules of the condominium association were stipulated that the tenant owned from the sheet rock inward, and the association owned from the sheet rock, outward. Because of this, Docyk was required to ask permission to have two flag holders installed in what the association refers to as a “common area.”

The original idea for the flag poles to be installed was to fly a flag bearing the spa’s logo for advertising purposes. The condo association said no, which gave the spa owner the idea to fly the American flag instead.

Before the flag holders could be placed onto the stone exterior of the building, the professional contractor she sought for assistance said they wanted to make sure they had permission to do so.

Docyk says that permission was granted by the then-association president, Harley Lake, in an email dating back to July of 2010 which includes the exact words “I give my permission to install the flag poles.”

However, in June of 2011, a letter signed by Harley Lake arrived at the door of Sanctuary Spa, denying her request for any flags to be hung on the outside of the building. That’s when she contacted her attorney, John Ducharme, to see if there was anything she could do.

Ducharme referred her to a federal statute called the “Freedom to Display the U.S. Flag Act of 2005” which states “that a condominium association…may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent an association member from displaying the U.S. flag on residential property…”

This federal statute represented a grey area, as the condominium is technically zoned for mixed use of residential and commercial. Section 339-J of New York State Real Property Law compensates for the federal statue stating that “…no action or proceeding for any relief may be maintained due to the display of a flag of the United States measuring not more than four feet by six feet.”

With her flag within the designated size limits set forth by New York State, Ducharme sent a letter to the attorney representing the condo association informing him of their position and what rights she had to fly the American flag.

In response, the condo association passed a resolution allowing Docyk to fly the flag, but with considerable restrictions. After arguing that Docyk never had permission to install the flag poles to begin with, the condo association said that the flag must be hung indoors or on a “vertical flag pole on a freestanding base outside of her door.”

Ducharme shot back that they intended to abide by the federal statute and state law, again reminding the board that they had previously granted permission for the installation of the poles. Ducharme cautioned the board that the appropriate legal action would be taken if the flag wound up missing or stolen.

The board challenged that Docyk’s “new found patriotism” was only after the board rejected her original request for a flag with her logo on it.

“I never said I was hanging the American flag to bring customers in here,” Docyk said. “Every business in Saratoga has American flags flying. So are we all trying to drive business into Saratoga with the American flag?”

The issue, though still unresolved, would then quiet down. It would remain that way until July 11 of this year, coincidently Docyk’s birthday, when she arrived on a Monday morning to open the spa and the flag was missing. Deb called Ducharme, who instructed her to call the police.

“The flag was found inside the building,” said Docyk. “As I was talking to the police officer, the new board president happened to be driving by and stopped to talk to us. She said the flag was in her office, which led the police officer to ask what happened.”

The new president of the Franklin Square Condominium Association, Joan Johnson, explained that two board members discovered the flag that morning at 6 a.m. detached from the building and laying on the ground. Docyk said there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding the flag when she closed the spa that Saturday afternoon. She noted that it was a beautiful summer weekend, absent of wind, rain or otherwise inclement weather.

That bit of information is important, as Docyk still possesses the detached flag holder, which shows clear signs of being forcibly removed. She was told that the holder “fell off the building” and represented a danger to pedestrians on Railroad Place.

Docyk contacted the contractor who installed the flag holders who simply told her there was no way it could have simply fallen off the building. Today, only one flag holder remains on the building, with the American flag clearly visible from Docyk’s office window.

The condo association would make the next move, assessing a monetary penalty to Docyk and claiming that this was the second time that the flag had become detached from the building. This letter came despite a state law saying that no action can be taken against displaying the flag.

The amount of the fine isn’t the concern for the spa owner, but that her refusal to pay the fine has technically rendered her delinquent in the eyes of the condominium association. The bylines of the association stipulate that a condo owner must be in good standing in all payments to participate in votes regarding the association.

Failing to remove the flag and pay the fine, the condo association has threatened to file a lien on her property with the county clerk. Docyk is still current with the condo association’s monthly fees.

“They’re telling me I have no rights in this building,” said Docyk. “I can’t go to the meetings or anything to see what’s going on in the building until I pay my fine.”

“Bottom line is we’re flying a flag, doing nothing wrong. It’s completely legal, and they’re harassing her,” said Ducharme.

When reached by telephone, Franklin Square Condominium Association board president Joan Johnson acknowledged the dispute, adding that they’re entitled to their version of events before declining further comment.

For now, the flag continues to fly outside the office of Debra Docyk in honor of the men and women serving in the U.S. military. She has not paid her fine with the condo association, which continues to compile monthly late fees.

“It’s the American flag,” said Docyk. “We live in America and everybody should have the right to fly the American flag.”

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