Unhappy neighbors. Vacant lots. NC community for ‘patriots’ off to a rocky start

When developers launched 1776 Gastonia, the 55-plus housing community for “patriots,” in the Charlotte area last year, they said it was just the beginning of a “grassroots movement.”

With street names like Paul Revere Drive and Constitution Lane, 1776 Gastonia invokes vague stars-and-stripes imagery to appeal to its target audience: patriotic citizens looking to achieve the “American dream of homeownership.” Of course, that dream doesn’t come cheap — a 1,370 square-foot townhouse starts at around $450,000.

The community received local and national media attention when it was announced last summer, including praise from commentators on conservative outlets like Fox News and Newsmax.

“I think it’s safe to say right now our nation is a little bit sick,” founder Brock Fanhauser told Fox News last year. “I think the medicine that it needs right now is patriotism, and we’re going to start at a zip code level.”

Now, plans to expand the brand outside North Carolina are coming to fruition. 1776 Community, a project of local developer NewStyle Communities, will launch similar developments in three other states, according to its website. One development will open this year in Moore, South Carolina; two others are coming soon to Texas and Oregon.

The 1776 Community website invites interested parties to apply to be “licensees” and open 1776 communities of their own across the country. Becoming a licensee gives “exclusive access” to things like the 1776 trademarked logo, governing documents and marketing materials, the website says.

Despite the publicity and plans for expansion, however, 1776 Gastonia may not be generating the level of homebuyer interest it expected. Fanhauser told Fox back in July 2023 that nearly 200 inquiries had come in over 100 days. Today, however, just a handful of lots are marked as “sold” on the developer’s website, and around three dozen remain available for purchase.

A sales consultant told me in an email that five lots have been sold so far, with “more going under contract in the coming days.” But most of the homes have yet to even be built, and neighbors have complained online about the lack of activity on land that is now “overgrown” and an “eyesore.”

So what gives? Perhaps it’s the fact that, for a brand built around concepts like “liberty” and “freedom,” 1776 Gastonia’s governing documents are actually rather restrictive. Like most other planned communities, 1776 Gastonia has a restrictive covenant, or a set of rules outlined and enforced by a homeowners’ association. The 31-page document, which is public record, dictates whether homeowners can do things like make architectural changes or rent out their home for extended periods of time.

Included in those rules is the unusual requirement that all homeowners display the American flag outside their home year round. The flag is included with the purchase of each home. The covenant also states that “no other flag, including the flag of the State of North Carolina, may be flown or displayed on the exterior of the residence or on the Lot” and restricts the display of political signs, which is permissible under North Carolina law.

Fanhauser further discussed the flag requirement on a recent episode of the 1776 Community’s new podcast. Fanhauser insisted that while the community’s governing documents do require each homeowner to pledge they will fly the flag 24/7, no one will be “forced” to do so, and there is no punishment for those who fail to comply.

“You will not receive threatening letters, you will not be penalized, and you will certainly not be imprisoned,” Fanhauser said on the podcast. “But you will be dishonored because you have violated your parchment promise to your neighbors and to yourself. That is punishment enough.”

But 1776 Gastonia’s covenant does include an enforcement clause that states “all remedies under applicable law” can be taken if any of its provisions are violated. Any violation is considered to be a “nuisance” and can be remedied “without limitation,” the document states. Per North Carolina law, such remedies can include fines, a suspension of community privileges or even a lawsuit.

Of course, this may just be a natural consequence of creating a product that only appeals to a niche target audience. Demand for housing remains high, and North Carolina remains a popular destination for retirees, but this isn’t your average retirement community. Perhaps only a select few love America enough to shell out half a million dollars to live on Founding Fathers Drive.