Mokena couple fight to keep fence they say protects autistic son
By DONNA VICKROY email@example.com August 16, 2012 11:00PM
Sean Flynn, of Mokena, is being told to take down a 25-foot section of fencing in his back yard because he is not allowed to install permanent structures on a land easement that passes through his and neighboring properties. Flynn says he installed the fence as a safety measure to keep his autistic child from wondering into traffic. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 18, 2012 6:15AM
Brock Flynn is an autistic 7-year-old boy, wanders a lot and lives near a busy street in Mokena.
Will his parents, Sean and Lisa Flynn, get to keep the fence they say they need to keep him safe?
Only the lawyers may know. For now, though, the Aug. 31 deadline imposed by the Golden Oaks homeowners association ordering them to take down a portion of the reinforced steel structure has been dropped.
“This is the first we’ve heard of this child’s condition,” said Jim Schmidt, board treasurer for the association.
In addition to his autism, Brock suffers from apraxia, a condition that often makes it impossible for him to follow directions, even though he may understand them, Lisa said. Doctors say he is impulsive and has a tendency to “wander,” she said.
“The safety concerns are huge,” Lisa said. “Brock can’t tell you something is wrong. We’ve been working on teaching him to say, ‘Help.’ ”
A fence is the only thing that separates the child from traffic, not to mention the temptation to run.
Last summer, the Flynns were granted permission by the village and the association to erect a fence on their property — providing it not cover an odd-shaped rectangular easement that runs through the center of their back yard.
They obliged, leaving a 25-foot gap in the south end of the fence, to accommodate the easement restrictions.
But this summer, the man who put the fence up came back out and finished the job because, Lisa said, he felt that the opening put Brock’s safety at risk. The Flynns agreed.
The corner property has streets on three sides, including busy Townline Road at the rear. Already, two neighbors have almost hit Brock while driving near his home. One burst into tears at the close call, Lisa said.
Lisa teaches business and special education at Sandburg High School in Orland Park. Sean is a project manager for Mechanical Contractors. They have four sons. Brock is the oldest.
Sean admits it is difficult to keep constant tabs on the children, particularly Brock, who has a tendency to flee toward things that attract him.
“One time, I went over to pick up Brody, who had fallen, and in those few seconds, Brock was out to the street,” Sean said.
To compound matters, Lisa said, Brock loves trains and water. There are train tracks at the south end of the subdivision, and three retention ponds nearby.
Brock knows sign language and is able to use an iPad to communicate, Lisa said. But he does not always obey commands to stop, nor does he understand the need to exercise caution when outdoors.
Kaitlyn Evoy, the Flynns’ state-appointed personal support representative, is an extra set of eyes for the Flynns.
“They need this fence,” she said. “A fence is a physical reminder for these children to stop.”
Association officials, however, say they did not know anything about the child’s special needs when they sent the Flynns a letter giving them an end-of-month deadline to take down the fence section that violates the conservation easement.
“We would never discriminate against anybody,” Schmidt said. “We’re all parents; we all watch out for all kids.”
But, he added, as a member of the board, he is compelled to enforce the codes and covenants to which all members of the association agreed.
“All we knew was that the plans for their fence were approved, they accepted them. The fence was installed, and now, this summer, things have changed,” Schmidt said. “We had no idea why they closed off that section of fence, which violates the easement covenant.”
The Flynns say they tried numerous times to contact both Schmidt and Cardinal Property Management, which manages the subdivision.
Alan Zordan, Mokena’s director of community and economic development, said the Flynns were granted a permit to build a fence on their property, excluding the area that is protected by the conservation easement.
“If they built on that, they are in violation,” Zordan said.
Zordan said areas that are natural and need to be protected are given a conservation easement designation to keep people from building on them.
“When a person buys that property, they are aware of the easements,” he said.
The Flynns bought the land in 2005 as an investment. They couldn’t sell it. So two years ago they decided to build there, constructing a totally toxic-free home — one with no carpet, chemically safe paint, etc. They moved into the home in January 2011.
They say they were aware of the easement when they bought the property but that their family situation had since changed.
On Thursday, Schmidt and Rich Jasek, president of Cardinal Property Management, told the SouthtownStar that they have told the Flynns to submit a formal request outlining their child’s special needs. They say they will present the request to the board for review and then, if approved, to the association’s attorney.
He said he expects the investigation could get expensive.
“But our association does not have the authority to allow people to violate easement restrictions,” Schmidt said. “But we have to do what’s right.”