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The Greening of Mt. Si Cottages – The Story of Meeting a Condominium’s Landscaping Challenge at No Cost
The Mt. Si Cottages Condominium, built in 2007, is a group of 44 freestanding cottages located in Snoqualmie Ridge, WA. The units are part of the City of Snoqualmie’s ordinance that for every 800 or so regularly priced homes constructed in the city about 50 affordable housing units must be built. The streets of the community form a “T”; the top of the “T” is a street which is bisected by a dead-end cul-de-sac. Four units on each side of the top of the “T” are on the main street and face a group of upscale town homes constructed by a different builder.
The affordable housing condominium’s common elements and garden beds were only minimally landscaped with a few ferns, lavender and small bushes. The cottages were built on an open concept around little greens. But what could have been a charming cottage community was marred by bare foundations, gaping spaces between porches and gardens and eleven unattractive utility box areas planted smack in the middle of the greens. At the top of the “T” the contrast between the plantings of the Mt. Si cottages and the upscale townhomes across the street was so obvious that the townhomes builder actually spent thousands of his own dollars to add trees and shrubs to the eight Mt. Si cottage gardens that fronted his development’s sales office and main entrance.
A Landscape Committee was created by the Board of Directors in the spring of 2008 but never activated. Concerned about the poor comparison of Mt. Si Cottages’ landscaping with the townhomes community directly across the street, and its possible effect on Mt. Si Cottages’ property values, a group of homeowners asked the board to activate the Committee in the fall of 2009. One homeowner volunteered to chair it. Nine homeowners joined the Committee, one of whom was the liaison to the Board
At its first meeting in September, 2009, the Landscape Committee established its goal: “to maintain and enhance the landscaping of Mt. Si Cottages in order to create a sense of beauty and pride of place for our homeowners that will make and keep our community attractive and maintain our property values for the benefit of all the residents.” Objectives were set by the Committee and submitted to the Board for their approval.
Because the Association had been struggling with an inadequate Reserve Fund, the board liaison made it clear that there was no budget for landscaping beyond the contract with the landscape company that maintained the lawns and shrubs. Whatever the Committee wanted to do to improve the appearance of the cottages would have to be done at no cost to the community. On this news the Committee added a second goal: “to lower the cost of landscaping to the Association in order that the money saved can go into the Reserve Fund.” Since the Board was dissatisfied with their landscape company at that time, the Committee recommended a new company which was consequently hired by the Board lowering the annual landscaping cost by 50%.
To raise funds for its work, the Committee obtained permission from the Board to participate in the Snoqualmie Ridge community garage and yard sale two weeks after its first meeting. Donations were solicited from the residents and $230 was raised.
One of the first problems the Landscape Committee tackled was the dead, dying and missing shrubs and trees that were on the master landscape plan submitted by the builder to the City’s Planning Department. The board had been considering using funds from the Reserve to replace the missing trees and shrubs. A copy of the master landscape plan was obtained by the Committee and, after consulting with the Planning Department, the City replaced two dead trees along the street for which the City was responsible. We also discovered that the builder’s bond with the City for the trees and bushes they planted in the common elements was due to expire within 30 days. Because of our concerns, the City’s Planning Department sent out their Arborist to compare current plantings with the builder’s master plan. He flagged 23 trees that needed to be replaced before the City would release the bond. At the City’s request the builder replaced the trees within the 30 days. This saved the HOA several thousand dollars in tree replacement costs.
The Committee’s objectives, approved by the Board, were:
- To work as the liaison with the landscape company to make sure that the lawns, shrubs and trees are properly maintained and pruned and the sprinkler system kept in good working order.
- To identify and prioritize areas that need additional planting and to bring these priorities to the Board.
- To work in a timely fashion on the approved priorities filling in landscaping where needed.
- To create a procedure for homeowners to remove or add plants to their unit’s front gardens.
- To develop an approved plant list for Mt. Si Cottages.
- To communicate with residents about ideas for planting window boxes and seasonal flowers and to invite them to participate in planting parties to enhance the landscaping at Mt. Si Cottages.
The top priorities established by the Committee in September were to add plantings around the utility boxes in the greens, plant daffodils around the trees on the street, add plantings along the bare foundations of the houses facing the main street and to fill in other sparse areas with plants. A master plan for the work was approved by the Board in October, 2009.
The Committee drafted a letter for Board approval which was sent out to all homeowners in October. The letter announced the creation of the Landscape Committee and invited all residents to participate. It was explained that the Committee would be operating at no cost to the community, would raise its own funds and thanked all the residents who had donated items for the garage sale. Planting and window box workshops were announced for the Spring. The procedure for adding or removing shrubs and plants in the common areas of the units’ front gardens was outlined: a homeowner could either contact the HOA manager or the landscape Committee chairperson directly with their request. A Landscape Committee member would then meet with the homeowner, review the approved plant list and help the homeowner with their choices. The homeowner would then submit a modification application, including a drawing of the proposed plant changes, for Board approval. All applications and changes were kept on a master list by the Landscape Committee chairperson.
The first site chosen for planting improvement was a particularly large and unattractive group of utility boxes right on the main street of the cul-de-sac. Funds from the garage sale were used to purchase shrubs and topsoil. One member of the Committee who owned a horse farm donated buckets of prime manure and tools. The utility companies were contacted and they came out and marked the location of the utility lines into the boxes. On Saturday, October 24th, 2009, a group of ten adults and children volunteers gathered at 9 a.m. and by Noon an ugly eyesore had been transformed into an attractive garden. The three hours of hard work was enlivened by good conversation and lots of laughter as we dodged the water from the hose handled by one of our Junior Mt. Si Cottages Gardeners. We all got to know one another better and the feeling of accomplishment was rewarded by the positive comments and “thank you’s” from other residents as they drove by.
In November, 2009, a member of the Committee and the chairperson dug up and transported 15 mature boxwood shrubs which were donated free to Mt. Si Cottages. That month, three more utility box areas were planted by the Committee and 150 daffodils were planted around the trees along the cul-de-sac with the assistance of Committee members and their Junior Gardeners.
The Landscape Committee was very busy in 2010. Residents enjoyed the daffodils along the street which greeted them in the spring. Two community garage sales earned $600 enabling the Committee to turn the final seven utility box areas into gardens. Carpet roses were planted on a slope at the end of the cul-de-sac and, with encouragement and assistance from the Committee, residents turned their empty window boxes into lovely creations with trailing petunias and geraniums and a host of other flowers. Inexpensive perennials, which would propagate and add more plants at no cost each year, were planted along the foundations. Owners of the cottages facing the cul-de-sac donated funds to buy shrubs which the Committee planted to cover the ugly gap between their gardens and porches. In addition, a troubling situation was solved when, through Plant Amnesty, the Committee located 15 free mature boxwoods and planted them at the top of a steep slope at the border of the property. This created an attractive natural barrier to a dangerous wetland which was attracting the small children playing nearby.
Most of the work has been done and just needs to be maintained in the future. Now, when you turn the corner from the beautifully landscaped main street of town homes into our little cul-de-sac, you are greeted by charming cottages covered with flowers around greens with 11 gardens. If you look hard you might even see a utility box or two. Mt. Si Cottages has been greened…at no cost to the community.
By by Sue Swanson
Chair, Mt. Si Cottages Landscape Committee