Kristen Sommerfeld, 16, and her chickens vs. Southall Home Owners Association continues. Here's the latest: On March 18, the HOA's management company, Talis Management Group, sent a letter to everyone who signed Sommerfeld's petition to change the neighborhood's covenants to allow backyard chickens.
In the letter, petition signers are asked to check one of the following: Either they understood what they had signed in June, or they did not understand it. Then they are to mail it back. "If there are sufficient number of confirmed signatures, the board will certify the petition ... and will have the amendment recorded," the letter says.
But if enough people don't send back the postage-paid cards, the board will deny the petition. The letter does not say how many signatures are needed. And none of this, by the way, is required in the homeowners manual.
I wrote about Sommerfeld in February after she was cited by the HOA for building a hen house and raising four chickens for a project at Broughton High School.
She hadn't thought to check the HOA's rules on chickens because the city of Raleigh allows them.
Sommerfeld pulled out the HOA manual and learned she was indeed in violation. But this very smart girl also read in the same manual that homeowners could change the covenants if they get a petition signed by a majority.
She spent June gathering 220 of the 400 homeowners' signatures.
But when she presented the petition, the HOA board disqualified it, saying her proposed amendment wasn't listed on each page - even though that requirement isn't stated in the HOA manual.
After the Troubleshooter's column, Talis sent its latest letter.
Dick Stevens, the HOA's manager from Talis, declined to comment. Too bad, because I wanted to ask him about the letter, which says the board "does not support or oppose the proposed amendment."
But the two-page letter is pretty slanted. It makes it sound as if, once the amendment is changed, the neighborhood will morph into one big chicken coop. "The proposed amendment will have a significant and permanent community-wide impact, in that it will allow each household to raise and keep up to six chickens."
Goodness gracious! That means there could be 2,400 chickens in Southall! (I'm just guessing, but probably not every one will want chickens).
The letter describes the actual petition. This is my favorite part. It "consisted of a first page that included only the language of the current article and the proposed language of the amendment followed by three photographs of (presumably) Ms. Sommerfeld with her chickens."
Presumably? As if Sommerfeld hired another blond girl to pose with chickens.
In my previous column, Stevens questioned whether Sommerfeld had even told neighbors the truth. "Anyone can take a petition around and say they want ice cream every day," he said.
Neal Hutcheson, who signed the petition, sent an email message to the board after receiving this latest letter, saying he was of sound mind when he signed.
"In contrast to Ms. Sommerfeld's candid presentation of her own objectives, this effort by the board could be viewed as a challenge to the proposed amendment, a refutation of the repeated claim that the board of directors of the association does not support or oppose the proposed amendment," he wrote.
In an interview, Hutcheson said the letter is reminiscent of voter intimidation. "They make it sound like we'll turn into a Third World country, yet they state three times they do not support or oppose the measure," he said.
Talis not only sent this letter to the 220 petitioners, but also published it in the neighborhood newsletter.
"They are trying to slander Kristen in the neighborhood and make it look like she's doing this terrible thing," said Kathy Sommerfeld, Kristen's mother. "But really, they are just changing the rules one more time."
"The way they've gone about it is annoying," she said. "I am not ready to give up."