Bedford, Texas Runs the Flag Out of Town, Causing a Flap

updated 05/11/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/11/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It began as a grand, old, red-white-and-blue, all-American dream deep in the heart of Texas, and it's winding up as something akin to civil war. Four years ago Steve Symonds decided to erect a flagpole behind his house in Colleyville (pop. about 7,000). Not just any old flagpole, mind you, but an eleven-story-high flagpole that would rise proudly heavenward from his backyard and tower over the residential environs. The neighbors, Symonds imagined, would drop by to visit and picnic; by day, the flag would stir the hearts of all who beheld it, and by night (when a lighted flag can legally be flown) its gentle flappings would send the neighbors off to patriotic slumber. But instead Symonds' project divided the community.

The idea never seemed zany to Symonds, 29, the president of a small company, founded by his grandfather, that sells about $1 million worth of large, attention-getting flagpoles a year. Shortly after moving with his wife, Susan, and their three kids to a new house on Quail Run Road in 1983, Symonds decided a flagpole would spruce up the three-acre lawn he had populated with family goats, peacocks, ducks and a Great Dane. First, he dredged a pond and made an island for the pole to sit on. Then, with the help of neighbors, he assembled a 6,000-pound, tapered 103' steel pipe with a four-foot-wide, golden eagle at the top, brought in heavy equipment and set it upright in a concrete bed. The job took almost a year and cost him about $12,000. As the work progressed, one neighbor grew alarmed and gently suggested that the pole might be too close to her home, but her husband, who was helping to paint it, winked and told Symonds, "Aw hell, Steve, don't worry about her." Last September, Symonds proudly invited neighbors to a flag raising, at which he served cool drinks and played The Star-Spangled Banner. "It was so beautiful," he recalls. Afterward, Symonds tucked his children into bed. That night, the sound of flapping lulled him to sleep.

To some, however, the 20' by 38' flag—roughly the size of a two-car garage—sounded more like bombs bursting in air. Neighbors griped that they could hear it crackling blocks away. One said the 1,500-watt spotlight that lit the flag at night kept her whole family awake. The woman next door asked him to move it. He refused. She instructed her children not to play with his children, then put up a tall fence. Symonds wondered why she was picking on his flag when she tolerated a nearby swimming pool shaped like a penis, but, in a try at reconciliation, he replaced the cotton flag with a somewhat smaller, whisper-quiet polyester one.

But the damage was done. Thirteen neighbors complained to the Bedford City Council, since Symonds' land is partly in Bedford, and soon he had surveyors tromping around his yard squinting through their instruments. They discovered that the Colleyville-Bedford line not only cut through his property, it cut smack through the base of the flagpole.

The Bedford city manager, Jim Walker, told Symonds he was in violation of the height ordinance and would have to remove his pole or pay a fine of up to $200 per day. "The ordinance applies to buildings, not poles," insisted Symonds. Seeing it as a "point of honor," he decided to fight—and collected 280 signatures of support. Walker, between a rock and a hard place, asked for understanding. "If it was out in front of a car dealership it wouldn't be so bad," he said. "But it's not too neighborly a thing to do in a residential neighborhood. But I hate to be seen as the manager of the only city in the nation that won't let the flag be flown."

On April 20 that was about what Bedford became when the Zoning Board ruled, 4-1, that Steve Symonds must get his flagpole out of their town.

Symonds now plans to erect a smaller, 70' pole in his yard but entirely in Colleyville, which exempts flagpoles from height restrictions. He estimates his losses at $8,000 but, he says, "Hell, I don't even want it in Bedford if they run the town that way." Still, he'll be glad when it's over. "To tell the truth," he says, "being a celebrity is not much fun anymore."

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