New housing development in Gastonia requires ‘patriots’ to fly American flag
Constitution Lane doesn’t look like much now — just an asphalt road surrounded by vacant lots. But developer Brock Fankhauser has a vision.
“At 1776, our goal is to bring patriotism to the front porch of housing and the communities that we develop henceforth,” Fankhauser said at the development’s launch party last month, before leading a parade with an armored truck from the sheriff's office, motorcycles, a pipe-and-drum band and a huge American flag hanging from a firetruck ladder.
“My purpose is to unite citizens and to do so under the broadest of commonalities, and that is our great nation,” Fankhauser said.
So how does a community organized around patriotism work?
The most visible sign: All 44 homes will be required to fly an American flag 365 days a year. That’s the only flag allowed. Not even the state flag of North Carolina, as an original colony, is permitted.
“It was important to us to not have a development that exhibited almost a throw-up of too many colors and garish displays of patriotism,” Fankhauser said.
The homes range from $450,000 to $700,000. One has been donated to a veteran. Fankhauser says each buyer pledges allegiance to the United States and affirms that the Constitution is the founding document of the U.S.
But buyers don’t have to take actual oaths. Those values are just noted in the preamble to the community’s covenants.
“Great movements are known for their intangible ingredients versus the tangible. And that's what I think excites me about this. It's in the mind,” Fankhauser said.
The covenant’s preamble reads like a best-of patriotic hits collection. It begins with the first sentence of the Constitution and ends with the last of the Declaration of Independence, but with tweaks like: “The property owners of 1776 at Gastonia mutually pledge to each other our commitment to preserve the founding ideals of 1776 at Gastonia.”
Can an HOA require homeowners to fly a flag?
The requirement to fly an American flag is likely untested territory in North Carolina, said Harmony Taylor with Law Firm Carolinas. It might be nationally ,too. A lobbyist for the Community Associations Institute hasn’t heard of any similar planned communities.
Taylor has practiced community association law for just over 20 years in North Carolina. Covenants routinely have restrictions like no campaign signs.
“But I've never seen anything that has said affirmatively, you have to make a particular type of speech,” Taylor said.
The Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination against people because of their national origin. Taylor wonders if the flag rule would go against that.
“In today's political climate, I think you may have some individuals who would see a requirement that you exhibit your patriotism in a particular way would be unusual and potentially raise some question about the enforceability of those covenants,” Taylor said.
Enforcement is a topic of conversation among a few men working beside the 1776 construction site. Victor Pearce, Daion Brown and James Denza say the flag requirement is a turn-off for them. They wondered what would happen if residents forgot.
“They’re older folks, they might forget. So what does that mean for the person that forgets? That's what I want to know,” Pearce said.
“Do I got to get put out, if I don't fly it?” Brown asked.
“If it’s an HOA thing, they’ll be like, ‘Hey, they ain’t flying their flag. Get ‘em. Get ‘em,’” Denza said.
Each home’s flag will be supplied and maintained by the homeowner’s association. Fankhauser doesn’t think enforcement will be a problem.
“We still believe in freedom and responsibility. I think the people who buy in our neighborhoods will take their covenants seriously. And I don't think enforcement of them and penalties commensurate with are going to be necessary,” Fankhauser said.
‘Patriotism predates any political party’
Inspiration for 1776 Gastonia came from Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffett licensed the name of his song to a chain of retirement communities for seniors bonded by margaritas, sunshine and pools. Fankhauser thought his company, New Style Communities, could make a theme with more purpose work too.
Although Fankhauser contributed to President Trump’s campaign in 2020, he says 1776 is not political.
“I'm quite certain that patriotism predates any political party in this country, and I'm quite certain that patriotism will outlive any political party that any of us have known, know currently or will know in the future,” said Fankhauser.
His aim, he says, is to unify people regardless of their politics.
When asked about how 1776 branded guns displayed on the development’s Instagram feed unifies, Fankhauser replied:
“I think that’s provocative. Certainly, it aligns to one of our amendments.”
Fankhauser said the two 9mm red, white and blue Glocks were a personal gift from a friend and shouldn’t have ended up on the 1776 Instagram feed. The photo has since been removed.
1776 Gastonia repels — and attracts
Ida Aldred said she knows exactly whom 1776 is marketed for — conservatives like her.
“I'm assuming that they, almost 95%, would all have to be of the same political affiliation,” said Aldred, referring to Republicans.
She was visiting her in-laws in the neighborhood next door to 1776. Her husband was already eagerly looking up the development online. Living around people with similar politics appeals to them.
“Absolutely, I would live there. Absolutely. I believe that it doesn't hurt showing your patriotism,” Aldred said.
Her father-in-law Mark Warshawsky shook his head. No one is going to make him fly a flag, although his T-shirt had a flag on it and read, “Land of the free, home of the brave.”
“That means I don't have to put up the flag if I don't want to,” Warshawsky said.
But patriotism seems to be good for business. Before sales opened this week, Fankhauser says 1776 got a couple hundred requests, more than 10 times what his other developments usually see. Fankhauser has two more 1776 communities already planned for the area around Greenville, S.C. — and he hopes soon to license the 1776 brand.