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  March 2012

The Perfect Team

by Betsy Barbieux

It was a rare sight to behold; the community association industry’s version of “shock and awe”! There they were gathered together at a table, five of them each with a different perspective and area of expertise, opinionated, determined, forthright, and all in agreement! An observer just had to pause for a moment to let it all sink in. Five people who agreed with each other! Some have said it could happen, but rarely do you get to see it with your own eyes!

To set the stage, a board of directors of an upscale homeowners association was being challenged by an owner who wanted to remove all the turf in his front and back yards and install a Florida-friendly landscape of rocks and cactus. The owner insisted the drought-resistant Xeriscape was Florida-friendly and the board of directors and Architectural Review Committee had to approve his request because it was the law.

The board of directors decided to take the initiative to find out the truth and understand the law regarding Florida-friendly landscaping. The owner was not going to dictate to the board (and the whole community) what Florida-friendly landscaping meant to him. The board decided to set those guidelines based upon information, fact, and law.

By using their problem solving strategy (see the article “How to Resolve Problems, Part 2,” in the March 2010 issue of The Journal), they proceeded to resolve the issue.

Define the Issue

An owner has made a request to remove all the turf in his front and back yards and install a landscape of rocks and cactus. The owner insisted the rocks and cactus were Florida-friendly and his request could not be denied.

Step 1. Identify by name the problem or issue.

As the thought process unfolded, there were several issues, which required resolution at different levels.

First, the board of directors needed to know the definition of Florida-friendly landscaping and what, if any, was the requirement for community associations.

Second, assuming there were requirements or restrictions for community associations, they needed to create specific architectural guidelines, incorporate them into the association’s documents, and implement procedures for owners and the Architectural Review Committee.

Step 2. Determine who has the authority and/or obligation to resolve the issue.

A review of the governing documents yielded the following information: The Declaration of XYZ Homeowners Association states:

1.4 “Common Area” or “Common Open Area” shall mean and refer to the Lands, LESS the lots.

1.6 The term “Lands” shall mean and refer to that certain real property within XYZ Homeowners Association described on the attached Exhibit.

1.7 The term “Lot” shall mean and refer to those subdivided portions of the Lands, which are improved or to be improved with Villas and which are subject to fee simple ownership.

5.1 The association has been established to provide for the effective and efficient administration and ownership of the common open area within XYZ Homeowners Association, and to assist in maintaining the safety and cleanliness of the lands. The association shall manage the common area, shall assist in the enforcement of the provisions of this Declaration, and shall undertake and perform all acts necessary and incident to such duties, all in accordance with the provisions of this Declaration and the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the Association.

The Bylaws of XYZ Homeowners Association state:

Section 1. The business of this corporation shall be managed by the board of directors.

Section 2. The board shall be vested with all the powers and duties necessary for administration of the corporation and may do all such acts as are not by law or by these Bylaws directed to be done by the members. The board of directors shall fulfill and perform any function designated for the board in the Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions.

Section 3. In addition to other duties imposed by these Bylaws, the board of directors shall be responsible for: care, maintenance, upkeep, and surveillance of the property including the common areas and recreational facilities, as provided in the Declaration, levy and collection of all assessments from the members; establishment of the annual budget; and adoption of necessary rules and regulations governing XYZ Homeowners’ Association.

So the conclusion was obvious—this was an issue the board of directors could and should resolve.

Step 3. Create a plan to resolve the issue.

This step ended up taking the longest to accomplish, but the results were well worth it. Significant here is that the board of directors was willing to ask for help and spend some money on the front end of the issue.

The first part of the plan was to pull together a team of experts who could assist the board and provide it with sound, legal, and practical information. The team members were as follows:

·      A board member who would be the point of contact/liaison from the team to the board of directors

·      The association’s attorney who specialized in community association law

·      A horticulturist who is an Environmental Consultant/Designer

·      A Certified Commercial and Residential Irrigation Designer

·      Community Association Manager

From the association’s attorney, the board learned that Florida-friendly landscaping cannot be prohibited by a homeowners association. They also learned the board could and should establish guidelines for those owners who elected to install Florida-friendly landscapes. From a practical standpoint, the correct landscaping could save the association hundreds and thousands of dollars in water bills. Owners would also save on their individual water bills and stay within the maximum water usage restrictions set by the local authorities.

With the expertise of the horticulturalist, they

·      Learned about the concept of Xeriscape and that it is not related to Florida-friendly landscapes. (Xeriscape was developed in Colorado and is for dry climates; Florida is not a dry climate.)

·      Obtained samples of the soil throughout the community and sent them for acid/alkaline and moisture analysis at the University of Florida and the local County Extension Office.

·      Identified the Hardiness Zone and Watershed and River Basin in which the community was located and its significance.

·      Used the searchable Waterwise Plant Database website to create a list of over 200 Florida-friendly plants, grasses, and trees that could grow with very little water in the different soils within the community.

With the assistance of the Irrigation Designer, the team

·      Conducted an Irrigation Audit and considered moisture sensors and weather station devices for the lawns.

·      Learned the proper methods for watering turf and shrubbery and trees.

·      Discovered that all plants are drought tolerant if the right plant is planted in the right place.

·      Realized the two-day restriction on watering is not a punishment. It is simply all a lawn should need—assuming the right plant is planted in the right place.

Using suggestions from the horticulturalist and irrigation designer and the Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM, the team designed several lawn templates for owners to choose from for Florida-friendly landscaping using turf and using no turf.

At this point in the process, the team looked again to its attorney to create amendments to the governing documents incorporating the new guidelines, convene the appropriate meetings, obtain the required number of votes, and record the amendments.

The next step was for the community association manager to create Architectural Review Committee procedures and forms for owners to use in requesting modifications for Florida-friendly landscapes.

Step 4. Communicate the plan to the members or residents impacted/involved.  

Throughout the process, owners were kept informed of the progress made by the team. Obviously, the owners were given copies of the amendments to review before they voted on them, and once they were recorded, the owners were notified of that fact. The manager made available on the website the guidelines owners would need to follow and the forms to complete when requesting modifications for Florida-friendly landscapes.

Step 5. Monitor and evaluate the plan.

Because of his role and responsibilities, the community association manager became the person who would continuously monitor and evaluate the plan. Any further issues would be reported to the board, Architectural Review Committee, or attorney and acted upon as necessary.

Though the new Florida-friendly landscape guidelines have been challenged by several disagreeable owners, because of their thorough planning and excellent teamwork, the board of directors has always prevailed. The board takes the position anyone should be able to find plants and grass they like out of a list of 200-plus. If an owner can’t and he wants to sue the board, that owner is free to spend his money. For this association, the coordinated effort to preserve the uniformity of the community was extremely successful. Note: This board has never lost a challenge in court.

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, Professional Development Coach, Florida CAM Schools, LLC, (352) 326-8365, Betsy@FloridaCAMSchools.com and www.FloridaCAMSchools.com.

Here are some of the resources used by the team and the board of directors.

Success with Florida-Friendly!

See how other communities have had success with FFL:
http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletter/CFFC_e-newsletter.htm

Florida-Friendly Landscape Maintenance

What to look for in a landscape maintenance contract:
http://sarasota.extension.ufl.edu/fyn/Pubs/FYNCommunityGuidelines-Broc.pdf

A list of landscape maintenance professionals certified in Best Management
Practices of the Green Industries:
http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/professionals/certification_lists/cert_county_name.shtml

Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Laws, Ordinances, and Restrictions

State Statute, adopted 2009—prohibits HOAs and local governments from
prohibiting Florida-Friendly Landscaping™:
http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0300-0399/0373/Sections/0373.185.html

For the up-to-date version (September 2010) of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Model Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions for New and Existing Community Associations, go to http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/CCRs_Sept-20-2010_final.pdf

Florida Friendly Guidance Models for Ordinances, Covenants, and Restrictions
http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/professionals/services.htm

A list of considerations for Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ guidelines for architectural review boards.
http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/materials/ARB_FFL_consideration_guidelines03_23_2011.pdf

Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Handbook—provides the basics of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ with a summary of the nine principles; checklist for homeowner recognition of a Florida-Friendly Landscape; and the FFL design guide and plant list:

http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/homeowners/publications.htm

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design, 1st ed. (2010) is intended as a companion to The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook (4th ed., 2009). This guide is intended for homeowners who want to take the next step and design their own Florida-Friendly Landscapes. Included in this book is information on landscape design strategies, a landscape planning worksheet, and the FFL Plant List containing many of the UF/IFAS-recommended Florida-Friendly plants for each region of the state.

http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_v090110.pdf

Thinking about converting to a Florida-Friendly Landscape? Get easy step-by-step directions that spread the effort over time and budgets: See “Adopting a Florida-Friendly Landscape: Steps for Converting a Typical Development Landscape to a Florida-Friendly Landscape.”
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP39600.pdf

Incorporate the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping with a new concept developed at UF/IFAS:
Community ButterflyScaping: How to move beyond butterfly gardening to create a large-scale butterfly habitat.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP42000.pdf

http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/professionals/services.htm

University of Florida Community Guidelines

http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/FYN/Pubs/FYNCommunityGuidelines-Pub.pdf

Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, NATURAL RESOURCES; CONSERVATION, RECLAMATION, AND USE

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0373/0373.html

Nine Principles of Florida Friendly Landscapes

http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications/files/ffy-tipcards.pdf

Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program – Community Association Managers Kit

http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/community_association_kit.htm

St. Johns River Water Management District

Waterwise Plant Database

http://publicserver2.sjrwmd.com/waterwise/search.jsp