In Chardon, a Dragon with a Message Has Some Neighbors Fuming

Kyan Bowman is locked in a three-year battle with City Hall

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Although some neighbors disagree, for 40-year-old Kyan Bowman, the trouble started with the dragon.

Bowman is a human resources information technologist who splits her time working in Ohio and Michigan. She has six dogs, one of which is in a wheelchair. With colorful wigs and an Instagram account devoted to a plastic dragon and a signboard, Bowman is perhaps more eccentric than the city of Chardon.

“Kyan is very, very kind,” says neighbor Laura Catanese. “She’ll give you the shirt off her back.”

Originally from New Jersey, Bowman moved from South Euclid to Chardon with her now ex-boyfriend in 2014. “I thought it was a nice town if you have a family, like if you had children, because they always have something going on at the square, which is in walking distance,” Bowman says. “I did think everybody was close-minded; I didn’t want to move here at all.”

But Bowman’s ex was set on a Chardon house, so move they did. The house was in a wooded area and Bowman says she always wanted a house with a big yard she could decorate for the holidays and room to plant a garden. “That’s my passion,” Bowman said, “to have a self-sustaining land where I can have chickens and I can have plants to eat.”

In 2018, when a two-bedroom corner house on a quarter-acre lot in the same neighborhood became vacant, Bowman saw an opportunity to get her dream house. “I had seen that this house was empty for a while and I was waiting and waiting for it to go on sale and I saw it go up at the sheriff's auction.”

click to enlarge Kyan Bowman's yard on a recent weekday. - MARIA ELENA SCOTT
Kyan Bowman's yard on a recent weekday.

For some in the neighborhood, that is actually when the trouble began. One neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, says the property was somewhat derelict after sitting vacant for months when Bowman moved in.

In the years since, he says, it’s only gotten worse.

Shopping for discount Halloween decorations at Home Depot in November 2019, Bowman found her dragon. Green, plastic and the size of a 12-year-old, the dragon became a fixture of Bowman’s yard. Through the seasons, Bowman dressed the dragon for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, Pride and July Fourth.

By May the next year, neighbors began reaching out to the city of Chardon, seeking action.

"Call it what you want—'Trash' or 'Treasure' but it just looks like more junk to me," neighbor Bob Cromwell wrote in an email to community development administrator Steve Yaney and city manager Randy Sharpe.

In the email Cromwell complains of old tires, pallets and long grass, and alleges the dragon had been disassembled for nearly two months. Bowman disputes this claim, saying that at the time she had been medically unable to lift more than 10 pounds, but that the dragon was disassembled for less than a month.

In a seemingly endless pattern, neighbors complain to the city, the city cites Bowman for violations, Bowman denies the violations (saying the "grass or weeds" are flowers and the zoning violations are invalid or selectively enforced) and the cycle begins anew.

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The same day as Cromwell's email, Yaney sent Bowman a warning notice to cut grass or weeds and warning notices of zoning violations. This would be the start of years of legal back-and-forth. In a seemingly endless pattern, neighbors complain to the city, the city cites Bowman for violations, Bowman denies the violations (saying the "grass or weeds" are flowers and the zoning violations are invalid or selectively enforced) and the cycle begins anew.

(On behalf of the city, Yaney said the city would decline comment on its interactions with Bowman: "On the advice of the City’s legal counsel, the City has no comment on this matter.")

That summer, when a local business closed its doors, the dragon got its message board. “They had that sign for sale — just $25 — and I was like, 'I want to buy that,'” says Bowman. “My first sign was basically like ‘be kind to other people’ kind of thing.”

It continued from there.

“If there is a crux to this situation, that’s what started this, her putting that dragon in place and then having political messages on that sign. They are absolutely linked,” says one of Bowman's neighbors, who agreed to talk only under the condition of anonymity. “I don’t think people would gravitate or put as much attention toward that property if the dragon and the sign specifically didn’t exist. We’d be more readily willing and able to ignore it.”

According to this neighbor, the first real confrontation came around this time, when another man on the street was trying to sell his house and believed the appearance of Bowman’s property diminished the value of his own.

The neighbor says he initially disagreed with the home seller but his opinion changed with time. “I kind of saw him as a dick for doing that…but in a lot of ways he was forward-thinking because he knew that what’s happening now was going to happen,” said Bowman’s neighbor. He says the state of Bowman’s yard has continued to decline since.

Bowman, like her neighbor, believes the complaints are linked to the dragon and the messages on her sign, not the yard as a whole.

“I could take you on a tour du Chardon where you could see everything in everybody’s yard and they’re not having complaints filed against them,” Bowman says. “I have pictures of probably 70 houses that are in various violations of the different things they said I am in violation of.”

However, emails sent to the city in months that followed centered around clutter and debris in the yard.

"Steve, we all know that this project is like pushing a rock uphill but we really need the city to stay after it," Cromwell wrote in an email to Yaney, CC-ing half a dozen neighbors, in July of 2020. "Junk has been moved and sometimes disguised or rearranged, but it remains and more issues have arisen. You may have noted that neither home offered for sale on Huntington St has sold and even the rental remains empty."

click to enlarge Bowman's yard on a recent January day showed some of the detritus that has neighbors upset. - MARIA ELENA SCOTT
Bowman's yard on a recent January day showed some of the detritus that has neighbors upset.

Another issue raised by neighbors was Bowman's residency — or, they believed, lack thereof. But while some neighbors have argued to the city that the house should be considered vacant, Bowman insists she comes on weekends when she's not in Michigan.

Following seven property inspections between May and September of 2020, the city of Chardon filed lawsuit against Bowman and her mother, whose name is also on the house, in October. According to the city's complaint, "the premises do not comply with the requirements" of the city's Property Maintenance Code.

“I could take you on a tour du Chardon where you could see everything in everybody’s yard and they’re not having complaints filed against them,”

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In her defense, Bowman argued that the "related ordinances are prone to selective use and interpretation," and that Chardon "failed to apply the same set of standards and code enforcement to similarly situated properties across the city...engaging in discriminatory selective enforcement of the codified standards."

The suit would be dismissed more than a year later, in January of 2022. In that time, neighbor complaints continued, and the city passed a new law.

Every fall, when mulch is marked down to a quarter a bag, Bowman buys it in bulk. The bags would then sit in her yard through the winter until she was ready to use them.

In April 2021 the city of Chardon passed an ordinance stating that "landscape materials (mulch, topsoil, compost, rock/pebbles, etc.) shall only be stored in yards for a period of time not exceeding two months. Any unbagged pile of landscape materials which sits in a pile for a period longer than seven days shall be covered with a tarp".

Although the ordinance was passed on April 8, it would not go into effect for three months. One day later, on July 9, Bowman received a notice of violation.

“The state of her yard wouldn’t matter if she didn’t make a spectacle out of it by having a dragon in her front yard with political messages on it. We wouldn’t care but she makes us," says Bowman's anonymous neighbor. "She’s drawing the attention and if you don’t want the attention don’t do that.”

A complaint filed through the city's website adds credibility to this idea. “Sometimes the messages on the sign are innocuous, but sometimes they are saying weird stuff (mostly saying ‘do whatever you want, there is no God’s law’)," a complaint filed through the city website claims. "Kids are always reading this stuff, and sometimes they don't know what to make of it. My 14-year-old niece actually made a point of telling me how ‘backwards’ my views on life were because ‘the dragon’ said it was okay to ‘just make your sexuality work in any way you want’...isn’t there something we can say to the person who owns the house to stop this behavior?”

Yaney, citing the First Amendment, informed the complainant that the city would not get involved with the sign's messages.

Others say the problem is not dragon or the sign, simply the clutter of the yard.

"I love the neighborhood. I love Chardon," says Bob Drotleff. "It's cool to express yourself, but just make it nice-looking so it doesn't look like an eyesore...just clean up all the other crap."

Now in its third year, the conflict doesn't appear to be ending. Residents keep sending complaints to the city. The city keeps issuing notices of violations and search warrants for the external property.

And as for Kyan Bowman, she remains committed to her front-yard messaging — and to her dragon.

“I think the city’s going to to keep on trying to sue me," she says, "and I’m going to keep on fighting them.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story attributed a complaint filed through the city's website to a neighbor of Kyan Bowman. The neighbor disputes the authorship, and we have amended the post to remove her name.

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