Timberline HOA Front Yard Garden Dispute

Michael C. Hamilton, Sammamish, WA

20418 NE 41st St.

 

 This little essay is to give my opinion on apparent directions being take by the Timberline Board and ACC, as reflected in recent communications from them and in notices of violation that many have received, including me.  I will elaborate on the discombobulated approach they are pursuing regarding my notice in later paragraphs.

The Board asserts that its legal guidance assures it that it has broad latitude in establishing policy.  I can only observe that in every legal tangle roughly half of the lawyers involved argue one way and half, the other.  But in my mind, legality issues are moot.  What is at issue is ethics, and we don’t need lawyers for guidance on that.

None of the Board or ACC members were elected by a majority of the residents.  I think, far from it.  Admittedly, probably no TCC Board has ever been elected by a majority of the residents.  But we have  the CC&R’s that we all accepted, perhaps grudgingly, when we bought.  Personally, I would eat sand in a bowl, washed down by sea water, before I got on the Board.  But for those who do get on it, whether out of egotism, or arm twisting, or whatever, they must take on the obligations.  In particular, if they undertake to make major changes or supplements to the CC&Rs, they are ETHICALLY  bound to yield to the preferences of a large majority (2/3 ?, 3/4 ?), but not a simple majority.  If they did that, it would just invite future disputes.  If they were to shove majority opinions of residents aside, shame on them.  The current survey exercise in progress is a step in the right direction.  It depends on how it is used and how documentation of the results is made available to residents.

My opinion is that it is only proper for the Board and ACC to tackle maintenance of common areas and address major issues concerning individual properties.  They should avoid attempting to adopt and enforce standards that are essentially matters of aesthetics.  If they persist in this, then I exhort you to show up the next opportunity and vote in a new Board.  It may soon be appropriate for some of the TCC legal budget to be spent to make residents aware of the mechanics of a recall election.

Next, to give insight into how my interests in all this arose, I will relate, hopefully succinctly, my own experience with a violation notice.  The notice and subsequent communications and actions by the Board reflect confusion on their part and perhaps borderline incompetence.  I understand that many of you have had your own experiences, but here’s mine……

In early May I received a notice of violation of regarding my front yard, citing a specific subsection of the CC&Rs.  Just that and nothing else.  That section does not include the words “garden” or “raised bed”.  The only word in the subsection that could possibly be at issue is the word “unsightly”.  That is patently absurd.  (see below for pictures, or visit my house).  I have received many favorable complements from neighbors and passersby regarding the front yard.  No unfavorable comments have been received.  Numerous emails of support have sent my behalf to the Board.  If they have received complaints in writing, they are obliged to send them to me.  But there is no possibility of anywhere near a majority of residents viewing my front yard negatively.

The notice of violation went on to say that the necessary action by me was to request approval from the ACC.  But wait a minute!  If the violation was “unsightly” how could it be expected that the ACC was going to approve it.  Made no sense.  (In fact, on 7/23, they denied a request I never made).  Furthermore, the garden had been in place for over three years and had not been cited by the Board or ACC during that period.  It was, de facto, approved.  I made these points to the Board and declined to request approval.

Time goes by.  On July 23rd, I received notification that my request for approval had been denied.  I never made any request for approval.  The notification says this is based on the Board’s decision at a recent meeting, after extensive internal discussion, that “raised beds” are not allowed in front yards.  (Note that the words “raised bed” do not appear in the CC&Rs nor in the Boards’s recent survey).

Wait a minute!   If the Board’s decision was recent, why did I receive a notice of violation in May.  Makes no sense!  And if extensive internal discussion was required, clearly it was an aesthetics related issue and, as I said earlier, that is inappropriate for the Board to meddle in and would not be supported by even a simple majority of the residents.

Now, irony and inconsistency.  The entrance sign to Timberline is surrounded by a raised bed.  You may have noticed.  Perhaps the Board would say….that’s different, it’s not a front yard.  That’s right.  In fact, it is in a much more visible place to residents and visitors than a front yard.  So, if there….why not a front yard?

Another inconsistency.  I know of another front yard raised bed in my vicinity and I know with certainty that no notice of violation has bee given.  But I won’t tell.

That’s it for now.  If you too are bothered by the current situation with the Board, I hope you will contact them to let them know.  A link to contacts is given elsewhere on this website.

 

 

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On July 19, Navigate sent a document to TCC residents by email with comments from the Board and Navigate management.  Below are my comments on it that I passed back to them:

 

Dear sirs:

This will not be with possibly the best “organization”  but you will get the gist.  First, I am sorry to hear of any threats to individuals that may have occurred.  I have no knowledge of it and I denounce such actions.  It seems it may be a matter for the police.

Thanks for the tutorial on property and social values but it wasn’t necessary.  My property is now worth almost ten times what I paid originally and that has nothing whatsoever to do with actions of the TCC.  It has to do with “location”….the proximity of Timberline to the major business operations of the PNW, and the current economic climate.  In fact, I view the biggest threat to my property value to not be the visibility of neighbor refuse bins but rather, inappropriate enforcements measures by the HOA.  I am aware of neighbors considering moving out of Timberline because of it and one who has discouraged a friend from moving here because of it.

I have lived in Timberline for 34 years now.  Probably longer than anyone on the TCC Board….possibly longer than all of them combined!  I remember when there were no traffic lights between here and Issaquah.  I remember when there was only a stop at the Safeway intersection and you could usually roll through it.  As a runner and racer for many years I have put in literally thousands of miles on Timberline streets and nearby neighborhoods.  I know how it used to be and how it is now.  It was a very good neighborhood when I moved in, and it is now.  The biggest threat to the continuance of its attractiveness is the unprecedented and inappropriate recent wave of inspections and violation notices from the TCC management.  This heavy-handed approach has caused needless and unproductive uproar in the community.  Yes.  It is heavy handed.  (Consider the infamous manikin-in-the-window episode).  If it wasn’t “heavy handed” we wouldn’t be having this uprising of discontent.

I recognize the value of an HOA for dealing with certain serious problems.  They have a place.  It is not to dictate to residents what plants are permissible in their front yard, nor other matters of a subjective, aesthetic nature.  Neither the Board nor the ACC members were elected by a majority of the residents.  Far from it, I think.  Therefore, it does not necessarily follow that their views regarding permissible practices are aligned with the majority of residents.  Conducting the ongoing survey is a good step for you take.  I strongly urge that the measures included in the final policy be there because of a large majority of agreement by the residents….nothing like 50-50.  If you don’t, you are just asking for future problems.

As an example of heavy-handed and inappropriate actions by the Board, I recall my current violation notice for my front yard garden.  The notice specifically identified it as being “unsightly”.  Absurd!  You have now heard from others in Timberline that they agree with me.  I can easily double or triple that number, if and when.  We have received many complements on the garden from neighbors on our street and others in Timberline.  The number complaining, either by voice or email?  Zero.  If you have any, forward them to me.  I want to see it in writing.

If you try to weasel by alleging that the garden required approval, I say no.  Photographic evidence and neighbor testimony proves the garden existed before Spring, 2018.  So, the ACC for the three previous years has not found a violation.  If you say they weren’t doing their job, I say that is unprovable and is merely a self-serving declaration carrying no weight of logic.

My front yard and property values?  With the garden in existence, the two houses across the street sold in days at or above the Zillow estimates.  Both of the buyers, along with other neighbors on my street, applaud the garden.  Their children eat raspberries grown in it.  Passersby from other streets applaud and envy it.  If some on other streets frown, so be it, but I don’t know of any.  The idea that is detracts from their property values?  Absolutely absurd and demonstrably untrue.

I’m nearing the end, although I may have more to say at a future date.  ZOOM meetings.  A completely inappropriate forum for discussions of this sort and I will continue to boycott them. When there are face-to-face meetings, I and many of my neighbors will be there, especially when it comes time for election of a new Board.

Look….with the pandemic-related stressed put on families everywhere, and other stresses we all deal with, we don’t need another pandemic, one of haggling over neighborhood issues that are trivia in the context of the modern world.

As I have been doing, I will be posting your recent email from Navigate that I am responding to, as well as these comments from me, and any you care to give back, on my webpage at:  www.mikehamilton.biz

Failure to comment will also be noted.  I will do this at my convenience but in less than a week’s time.

 

Michael C. Hamilton

20418 NE 41st Street

 

 

 

 

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The dispute centers on a front yard garden that has been in place for three years, since 2018.  The photos below show two front yard views, with only minor differences from 2018).  (Click on the thumbnail for an enlargement.  Click the browser "back" arrow to return here).

The Timberline Community Club (HOA) has referenced  Article V, Section 10 (b) of the HOA regulations to cite me with a violation.  The relevant part of that section is given below.....

“Article V. Section 10 (b) - Noxious Use of Property. No trash, garbage, ashes, or other refuse, junk vehicles, underbrush or other unsightly growths or objects shall be thrown, dumped or allowed to accumulate on any lot or building site or public street.”

The only specific complaint identified in the Notice of Violation is "raised gardens".  Since "raised gardens" are not referenced in the section cited, the complaint can only be in regard to the view being "unsightly".  That is the only, and the core issue.  I wonder if you agree.  Many neighbors and passersby have said they do not.  I invite you to come by and form your own opinion.

My response to the Notice of Violation is below: 

1.  The garden has been in place for at least three years.  I have the opinion of an attorney that, after that period without ACC complaint, the garden is "ipso facto" approved.  So, any complaint now is, in effect, an attempt to reverse approval already in place.  It is only reasonable to assume that the ACC members of past years exercised due dillegence.  We should not allow any current ACC to retroactively enforce their prejudices.  

2.  Simply put...the garden is not "unsightly" to most reasonable viewers.  The majority, if not all, of the neighbors on my street agree.  Many passersby agree.  Some say they have gone out of their way, walking or driving, to enjoy it.  Many have asked for advice on doing something similar.  I contend the HOA should not enforce viewpoints that do not reflect a majority of the neighborhood.  I propose an email vote, easily managed by Navigate Community Services.  They have the email list.  They write a one-page argument for enforcing the violation.  I write a one-page argument against.  Votes are sent to both Navigate and myself.  I agree to abide by the majority.

3.  The desirability for gardens in yards is indisputable in today’s world.  Front yard gardens are popular and encouraged in many areas of the NW.  Flowers for mental health…..vegetables for physical health.  Mother Nature has dictated that certain conditions must be met for success.  One of them is provision of adequate sunlight.  In some situations, such as mine, that comes the southern exposure of my front yard.  It’s there or nowhere, and “nowhere” is patently unreasonable and unfair.  Why raised beds?  Obviously things can get better care and better protection from pests.

4.  In our modern world, people working at home...many, such as my daughter, permanently.  COVID cases rising again.  The HOA should be encouraging residents to spend more time at home in outdoor activities, especially ones that enhance the appearance of the neighborhood.  This interference by the HOA with trivialities is unwelcome and inappropriate for the times we live in.

5.  Presumably, the underlying movtivation of the ACC is the protection of property values.  There is an indisputable example in support of my particular garden.  While it was in place as seen in the photos, the property across the street sold for around $1.25M in a couple of days in a bidding war.  The garden apparently had not the slightest negative impact on that property value.  In fact, the owners like the garden view and have expressed that to the TCC Board of Directors. There is an impact on property values regarding this issue.  I have heard from and about others also having problems with arbitrary, inappropriate enforcement attempts by the TCC Board and ACC.  If the neighborhood becomes known for an HOA that is attempting inappropriate enforcements, that will indeed negatively affect property values.             

6.  If there is not a reorientation of the current TCC HOA policies and views, the solution if to "vote the rascals out" at the next opportunity.  Think about it.........

If you agree with my view of this dispute, I encourage you to click on this link.... contacts .....  for ways to express your opinion to the HOA.  I hope you will also email me at mikeham44@comcast.net to let me know that you did, or just to give your opinion.  Please say whether you are a Timberline resident or not.  Thanks very much. 

Below, I have copied text from an email sent by me to the TCC on April 13th that expands on my point of view on this matter.  A chronological compilation of all communications between the TCC and Navigate Community Management is found by clicking on this link.....chronology So far the board has not extended the courtesy of personal contact.

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The text of my April 13th email to the Navigate and the TCC.....

Haley Graham,
 
I am emailing you because I trust this will be a reliable method of delivery.  I trust you will pass on my comments to those needing to see them regarding my alleged violation of the Timberline CC&R’s.  But first let me say that I find it insulting for your Notice to point out to me the importance of maintaining community appearances.  I moved into Timberline 34 years ago.  I am sure I have lived here longer than most, possibly all of those on the board or ACC.  I am not one who disregards clear requirements for approval.  I have applied for and received approval for fences, roofing, and painting.  I strongly contend that raised garden beds are not covered by Article V and should not be.  Here’s why………..
 
As a preface, I include the key relevant text from Article V below…..
 
“Article V. Section 10 (b) - Noxious Use of Property. No trash, garbage, ashes, or other refuse, junk vehicles, underbrush or other unsightly growths or objects shall be thrown, dumped or allowed to accumulate on any lot or building site or public street.”
 
As your photos and mine clearly show to any reasonable person, the raised garden beds in my front yard are not “unsightly growths”.  That’s the only part of that section that could possibly be construed as applicable.  Consequently, it seems to come down to the subjective opinion of a small minority.  I point out the board and committee members hold those positions not through a process of a seriously contested election and so, do not necessarily reflect a majority view of the community.  In the case of my front yard I have every reason to think the opposite.
 
Regarding my front yard garden, I enclose a photo copied from the Zillow street view, taken in 2018, that shows the garden was there at that time.  Where was the ACC three years ago?  Or two years ago?  Or last year?  I can only surmise that there wasn’t a perceived issue up till now.  It is unacceptable for the ACC to have such vagaries of viewpoint and to apply new standards retroactively .  I don’t believe that authority exists without a majority vote.
 
I remind you that after I pointed out the apparent irrelevance of Section 10 (b), you replied by bringing up the question of “curbside appeal”.  I’m so glad you did!  It’s irrelevant but let’s talk about that.  Almost everyday last year and again this year,  Timberline residents passing by when going into and out of the greenbelt, stop to complement my daughter on the beauty of it.  One neighbor has commented that we have the best looking yard on the street.  I know that the majority of the other neighbors on the street, possibly all, also approve.  So tell me how the term “noxious” can apply here.  Please do!
 
But why the concern about curbside appeal!  Wouldn’t it be an adverse effect on property values?  That would concern me!  But let’s look at the facts.  The property value most affected would be that of the house across the street.  But that house sold for $1.25M in competitive bidding just last year.  We know from those buyer’s that the curbside appeal of my house was no factor whatsoever.  Quite the opposite.  Likewise, the house on the corner sold for $1.3M in a bidding war, unaffected by the alleged lack of curbside appeal of my house.  My point is conclusive.
 
Now, about raised garden beds.  The desirability for gardens in yards is indisputable in today’s world.  Flowers for mental health…..vegetables for physical health, especially home grown.  Mother Nature has dictated that certain conditions must be met for success.  One of them is provision of adequate sunlight.  In some situations, such as mine, that comes the southern exposure of my front yard.  It’s there or nowhere, and “nowhere” is patently unreasonable and unfair.  Why raised beds?  Gee!  Obviously things can get better care and better protection from pests.  Simple!  Of course, if we end up removing the raised beds, they will be replaced by large pots.  These have been pervasive in the neighborhood for years, so are clearly not in violation……
 
What I strongly recommend is that those supporting the “noxious” point of view meet with me on the street in front of my house and we discuss it and we look around us.  If this issue is serious enough for this attention then I feel I am owed that.  Unless those involved don’t have the courage of their convictions.  Perhaps some of my neighbors can be present and weigh in.
 
Unless this is resolved soon I will be adding a section to the webpage that I pay for and maintain that addresses this situation.  I will include photos of my yard and my case in favor it.  I will include a copy of the CC&R’s.  I will include copies of all communications between us so far and in the future.  I will advertise the link to the website through word of mouth and notices on local electronic bulletin boards, and perhaps other means. I will suggest that those agreeing with me should contact Navigate, the TCC Board, and ACC members to express their opinion.  I request that you send me the names and email addresses of board and committee members for that purpose.  I don’t really expect you to respond but I want it on the record that I asked.
 
What should happen next is that the Timberline Board sends me a certificate of congratulations for beautification of the neighborhood, but I guess I won’t hold my breath.  If you really want to do something to preserve the northwest character of the neighborhood you should focus on forcing the removal of invasive English Ivy from front yards, as I have done, instead of raised gardens.
 
 
 
Regards,
 
Michael C. Hamilton