When Emilie S. Wootten painted the front door of her McLean townhouse, Royal Blue, her neighbors saw red.
Her neighborhood community association accused her of violating neighborhood covenants and has warned her that she could be sued because of the color.
It all began in June, when Wootten decided she wanted "a nice bright color" to replace what she called he "faded pea green" trim on the town house she owns at 1556 Westermoreland St. in the Stoneleigh condominium development.
She said she realized her newly painted door and shutters were causing trouble at 10 p.m. July 15, when the mail slot slammed and a letter arrived from the Stoneleigh Community Association. It said:
"The Architectural Standards Committee has brought to the attention of the Stoneleigh Board of Directors the fact that you have changed the color of the shutters and door of your home without obtaining permission from Stoneleigh Association and that the new color is not in keeping with the tone and appearance of Stoneleigh."
Since then, Wootten's blue door has become a major topic at the monthly meetings of the Stoneleigh Association's board of directors.
Wootten, an internal auditor for the National Automobile Dealers Association and a divorcee with two childraen in college, has collected a file of letters from the association, the association's architectural standards committee and legal counsel to the association.
Several of the letters warn Wootten she could be sued for violating the condominiums' covenants - the rules and regulations that govern matters of communal concern in the development. And communal matters in a condominium can cover almost anything that goes on beyond the interior of each resident's home.
Wootten said she has noticed "committees of people peering at my front door, feverishly writing down notes." She said she has received "innumerable phone calls on the case of the blue door."
since October, Wootten and the association have been exchanging paint samples from color charts, trying to compromise on a new paint job. So far, each has rejected the other's choices. Stoneleigh Association disapproves of Wootten's choices of Jamestown Blue and Brittany Blue "too dull." To an outsider, the four colors are barely a shade different from each other.
"We are trying to maintain a subdued atmosphere here; sort of a Williamsburg effect, you might say," said Stoneleigh Association president Mark L. Nagel, who admits the raging controversy over Wootten's door sometimes seems "like a tempest in a teapot.
"It's matter of principle, however," Nagel said. "Everyone who lives here agrees to abide by the convenants. it's the association's responsibility to enforce our convenants, and Mrs. Wootten is clearly in violation of them."
Item number 13 in the community's covenants say nobody can change the color of a townhouse without written permission from the association.
Wootten regards the controversy as laughable.
"The fact that all these people - professionals with Ph.Ds besides - can spend months worrying about the color of my door leaves me incredulous. It's one of those things that make me want to move to the mountains of West Virginia."
Stoneleigh is an attractive community of 134 attached brick townhouses fronted by manicured lawns of oonly a few square feet. Most Stoneleigh residents in the three-storey, three-bedroom townhouses own their own homes, which sell for $80,000 to $90,000. Most are trimmed in Colonial-style colors of flat blues, greys and greens. Some doors and shutters are painted black, brown or cocoa, with an occasional russet or corn color here and there.
Wootten is the only Stoneleigh resident with a deep, rich blue door. To her, Royal Blue was second choice to fire engine red and a welcome change from the forest green that had grown progressively lighter since she move to Stoneleigh nearly six years ago.
To the Stoneleigh Association, the Royal Blue door blatantly undermines community standards:
"The color is too bright," said Richard Friedman, former chairman of the association's architectural standards committee. He said Wootten "practically hung up on ome when I mentioned the architectural standards committee."
"It's not in keeping with the tone and appearance of Stoneleigh," said Ella Gardner, former president of the association. She said last summer she received "six or seven phone calls" from Stoneleigh residents complaining about Wootten's blue door.
Wootten said she can hardly believe the covenants are taken so seriously. She said she regards them as "null and void anyway," since the association allowed a psychiatrist to practice in his home when the covenants restrict the townhouses to residential use.
Nagel said the psychiatrist was allowed to continue practicing in his home because the covenants, as they were worde at the time, "would not have held up in court." He said they have been rewritten to prevent future attempts to use the townhoused for professional purposes.
Right now, Wootten is "holding out for summer," when it is warm enough to take her door off to paint it.
I've got a stack of color samples to trade off with the association, hoping that we'll be going back and forth until summer before I have to repaint," Wootten said. "The whole thing has been kind of funny, especially since everyone knew i was repainting when I had the door out in the back yard but nobody said anything about it until it was done.
"I can't afford to go to court, no matter what. If worse comes to worse I'll have to spend $13 on a new gallon of paint instead of more than $1,000 on a lawyer. But at least I got a crack at doing what I wanted with my own home."