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Subject: Who is responsible for the strip of land between sidewalk and curb?
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JoanG
(Maryland)

Posts:29


07/17/2008 6:32 PM  
Our small 5-year-old community -- 61 homes -- has, like many others, trees planted in that strip of land that runs along the sides of all roads, between the sidewalks in front of homes and the curb. (And what the heck do you call that strip? We've been calling it the "parkway," but I'm not sure this is correct.) For the past several years, the HOA, of which I am about to be president (someone talk me out of this fast!!) has been trying to maintain the trees that are planted in the parkway. We, the HOA, figure that the aesthetic value of the trees is a community-wide concern, and should thus be our responsibility. Even though we've had the trees inspected by a tree maintenance firm, treated for infestations, fertilized, etc. last fall, we ended up having to replace about 10 of them that were just not making it. We had Treegators placed on them, and tried to get homeowners to keep those filled, but most didn't bother. The new trees are not doing so well, and some that were planted when the community was built are dying too. The tree guy inspected recently, and here's his evaluation:

The trees were planted in the substance that is supposed to be soil in our neighborhood, but is in fact clay and rock. No addition of top soil was made when the trees were originally planted. In addition, insufficient excavation was done around the root balls to give the trees any hope of having their roots penetrate into the surrounding rock and clay “soil.”

The heat and drought of the past summers stressed trees that were already stressed by the poor planting practices described above.

These young trees – and all of the trees are young – need additional watering throughout the spring, summer and up until the ground freezes, but homeowners aren’t doing this. Some homeowners pile mulch up high around the base of the trees which causes the trees to put out lots of little thread-like roots into the mulch, rather than spreading roots into the ground, although we asked in the newsletter that they not do that. Trees surrounded by too much mulch do not get the water or any nutrients put into the soil. Instead of mounds of mulch, the mulch should be formed into a saucer shape so that water flows toward the base of the tree and the base of the trunk is not surrounded by the mulch. The mulch then helps to hold the moisture around the base of the tree, and rooting can happen below it. Also some home owners use colored mulch which the guy says is not healthy for the trees.

The tree guy made the following recommendations: Ideally, we could take many of the trees out, have the planting sites excavated sufficiently to allow growth and have the holes filled with real soil before planting. Obviously this is an expensive proposition. Or we could continue to try to save the existing trees (some are beyond saving and have to be replaced) by getting Treegators for many more trees and somehow convincing homeowners to keep them filled. In addition, we could get them all fed and treated more aggressively.

My husband and I reinstalled all the treegators from last fall on the trees that appeared in worst shape to us (this was before the tree guy's visit) and I put a note requesting that homeowners fill and maintain them. Only a few homeowners have complied. And we also discovered that one of the trees on the parkway is a tree that a homeowner planted without going through the architectural review process – we know this because it’s an entirely different variety of tree! (And this is one of the two homeowners in the neighborhood who have not paid their HOA fees for several years.)

So, do we hire a company to water the trees – another expensive proposition – or tell homeowners that they must maintain the trees or risk fines from us? And bottom line, does the HOA even have the responsibility of doing this work in the parkways, or is that the responsibility of the individual homeowners? I just re-read the covenants, over and over and over... and nothing refers to that land. I looked at the plat for the community, and I can't tell who the parkways belong to.

Have any of you dealt with this -- I need direction, I need help!!!
thanks so much,
Joan
SusanW1
(Michigan)

Posts:5202


07/17/2008 7:16 PM  
I would call it the easement and because the association planted trees there, they, in effect, are taking responsibility for them.

Tough call on the trees. The problem could be fixed, but I agree with the tree installer about the bad soil & hard ground not letting roots develop (that's why the mulch sprouted suckers, the trees were looking for moisture.)

Assess the costs vs. taking them out and simply installing grass there. (But then, who would take care of the grass?)
MaryA1


Posts:0


07/17/2008 7:17 PM  
Joan,

I would suggest speaking to the city/county. I would think the Planning & Zoning Dept should be able to help you. If these are city/county streets and sidewalks, you may find they are responsible for that strip of land. Otherwise it could very well be easement that the individudual h/o's are resp. for. On the other hand if the HOA owns the streets then it may be the resp. of the HOA. Isn't this something the HOA should have checked into b/4 spending all the money on trees and upkeep???
JoanG
(Maryland)

Posts:29


07/17/2008 7:41 PM  
Yes, Mary, that certainly would have been a good move on the HOA's part. And, Susan, are you saying that because the HOA planted trees -- even though the one they planted were replacements for trees planted by the developer -- that act of planting makes the land by default HOA property? I will contact the planning & zoning department and see what I can learn...
thanks for your responses! Joan
JoanG
(Maryland)

Posts:29


07/17/2008 7:43 PM  
I meant "even though the ones they planted" not one... and the grass is being cut by homeowners with no problem...
GlenL
(Ohio)

Posts:5139


07/18/2008 1:06 AM  
If you decide to try and save the trees by digging out a pocket for them don't forget to have the local utility companies (Gas, Electric, Cable, Water and Sewer) come out to mark their lines before you dig or the HOA could be looking at a hefty repair bill. Most States have a toll free number for this service and do it free of charge. Also depending on the type of tree and its growth rate if you have overhead wires above the trees expect the utility companies to show up at some point and "trim" them back. The companies the utilities hire to do this are not interested in aesthetics and usually butcher the trees. (At least here they do)

I used to live in a small city and our property ended at the sidewalk; which we as homeowners were responsible to replace if they became damaged and clear of snow. On the other side of the sidewalk was a strip of land approx 8 foot wide before the street. Most of the streets did not have curbs and this was the so called parking strip even though this was not our property the city required the homeowners to maintain it or they would cut it and bill the homeowner. One creative soul bless his heart decided that if he was responsible for it then he could do as he wanted with it and plowed it up in front of his house and planted corn; the city was not amused and the next year it was back as grass.

"Common sense is like deodorant--the people who need it most never use it."
JeanneK3
(Maryland)

Posts:555


07/18/2008 6:09 AM  
I agree with Mary. It is very likely, no matter what you planted, that the county is responsible for the maintenance of that strip. This is the case many times in Howard County.
GeraldT4


Posts:1022


07/18/2008 6:18 AM  
JoanG - The description of the grass area in between the sidewalk and the street is commonly referred to as the "grass bay". Maintenance of this area usually falls to either the association, or the homeowner. In my HOA we gut the grass and maintain the trees in this area, but others vary. Replacement of the trees and budgeting for that expense usually falls to the association of which all owners fund. I highly doubt the town/borough is going to assume the responsibility and expense. Your governing documents (public offering statement P.O.S.) probably grant an easement of this area to both the association and the borough. Those documents may have Exhibits which are descriptions of the land owned by the association. A more detailed and enlarged drawing of the entire association may be on file with your borough planning department.
KirkW1
(Texas)

Posts:1665


07/18/2008 6:19 AM  
I will make a couple of assumptions:
1) The streets are public
2) Your HOA does not maintain the front yards

In these cases, maintenance responsibility will fall to either the city (or county if they maintain roads) or the homeowner. I would call city code enforcement to get more information. In fact, you should get to know someone there as they can be a great help in many matters.

Now you have an additional hurdle before you simply require the homeowners to maintain the trees. You have to look to your documents regarding landscaping and the requirements thereof. Making them either keep it alive or remove it is easy. Stopping the removal may present a problem. Here you have to look to your documents. Do they have any minimum landscaping required? Also, do they require approval before substantial change occurs?
DonnaS
(Tennessee)

Posts:5671


07/18/2008 11:52 AM  

In my Florida association, that is called an easement, and part of the homeowners responsibility to maintain, repair and replace when nescessary, such as dead trees and grass. There are similar strips of land along the sides of every 4 or 5 homes, which are called easements. It is my lawn but the association has the rights to access it for inspections and maintenances of the wild area behind each property. There is no questions as to who maintains this property. Look on the deeds to homes and you will see that it is included.
GeraldT4


Posts:1022


07/18/2008 12:01 PM  
Posted By DonnaS on 07/18/2008 11:52 AM

In my Florida association, that is called an easement, and part of the homeowners responsibility to maintain, repair and replace when nescessary, such as dead trees and grass. There are similar strips of land along the sides of every 4 or 5 homes, which are called easements. It is my lawn but the association has the rights to access it for inspections and maintenances of the wild area behind each property. There is no questions as to who maintains this property. Look on the deeds to homes and you will see that it is included.




An easement, by definition is the right or freedom to do something or the right to prevent someone else from doing something over the real property of another.

The area in question, while an easement, is commonly referred to as a grass bay.
MaryA1


Posts:0


07/18/2008 12:16 PM  
Gerald,

I, for one, have never heard the term "grass bay", but I have heard the term "easement". Perhaps the former is a New Jersey thing??? In AZ most of the easement areas are landscaped with stone. Would you New Jerseyites call that a "stone bay"?
DonnaS
(Tennessee)

Posts:5671


07/18/2008 12:19 PM  

Gerald,
Long time since we spoke,
Anyhow, "GRASS BAY"??? which means? (probably easement)
GeraldT4


Posts:1022


07/18/2008 1:10 PM  
An easement is a term used to broadly describe the power of use of property. It can therefore apply to all kinds of physical property. There is usually more than one piece of property in an association that is an easement. It would reason one must be more specific in describing the area itself. In other words, if you said to someone, "the easement", wouldn't they ask which one, or what area? Once again, IN MANY associations the strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb is called a grass bay.
DonnaS
(Tennessee)

Posts:5671


07/18/2008 1:22 PM  

Gerald,
Thanks for the explaination and it is correct according to wikipedia, etc. In our area, we just use "streetside easement" because no one has ever heard of "grass bay" Learn something new every day, don't we.
DwightT
(Idaho)

Posts:664


07/18/2008 2:05 PM  
FWIW: I've always heard it referred to as a "parking strip". Wikipedia doesn't have that term, but if you google it you will find several references for it, including on the city of Portland, OR website.
EllenS1
(Florida)

Posts:1148


07/18/2008 2:53 PM  
Donna,

In my Florida townhome community our docs cleary state that the association is responsible for maintaining the trees and grounds. I guess they are all different.
JoanG
(Maryland)

Posts:29


07/18/2008 3:04 PM  
Hi all

I think we might need to give up on this conversation about what to call the " grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street." I found this info on another website where they too got bogged down in this issue - - http://ask.metafilter.com/22919/Terrace-ownership

"To the majority of Americans, the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street is called simply the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street. However, in some parts of the country, it has acquired specific names. In the Midwest and West, it is often called the parking or parkway, and in Washington State it is the parking strip, according to the survey conducted by the Dictionary of American Regional English. In the Upper Midwest, it is also known as the boulevard or boulevard strip; around the Great Lakes and in the Midwest, it is sometimes a terrace; around the Great Lakes and in especially northeastern Ohio, it is also called a tree lawn. In Massachusetts it is a tree belt; in the Atlantic states, sometimes a grassplot; and in Louisiana and Mississippi, neutral ground. Some of these words are also used for the grassy strip in the middle of a street or highway."

Here's another interesting post from that same site: "One thing I'd like to clear up is that when it comes to property rights, who "owns" a piece of land is not necessarily that useful a thing to know. You may very well own the land that the sidewalk and tree belt are on, but your rights and responsibilities may be severely restricted on land you own that is within the right of way. The right of way IS a kind of easement; easement is a general term for any right to your land that you grant to another. You can grant a driveway easement to a neighbor with a "landlocked" parcel (One without direct street frontage). This enables him/her to build and maintain a driveway on a piece of your land and use that driveway to access his/her parcel. You can grant this easement in exchange for a sum of money or just out of the goodness of your heart."

Anyway, when it comes to the correct terminology, we're all right! Which, unfortunately still doesn't resolve my original issue. What I have now learned is that the strip, here in Baltimore County, MD, must be accessible to the County, but they won't maintain it. (Sounds like an easement to me.) If something is done on it that violates their codes, it's up to us, the HOA, to bring the liens against the homeowners. Our problem is getting cooperation from the homeowners. As I wrote in the beginning, we're a small community, and so far (knock wood) have not had to become the bad guys to any great extent. We're going to try again to convince folks to fill up the gators; get more gators for the rest of the trees; get everything treated, and try to explain via notices, which don't get read, and meetings, which aren't attended, what this is all about!
Joan
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