Monday, May 17, 2010

Building a Rain Garden in a Planned Community: Tips for Dealing with Your POA

The Hilton Head-Bluffton Leadership Class of 2010's Legal team has prepared a set of tips designed to help residents of planned communities navigate their property owners associations' landscape covenants -- on their way to building beneficial and beautiful rain gardens in their communities! The team compiled the tips through online research, POA interviews, and site visits. At the conclusion you'll find an extensive list of links taking readers directly to the POA and/or ARB in communities throughout Southern Beaufort County.

OK, so you’re interested in building a rain garden – good for you! You’re planning something that is good for the environment and your community at large. Please keep in mind, however, that some communities place restrictions on what you can and cannot build, and this extends to landscaping as well. This article will give you a few pointers on what to look for in your community.

Just like county or municipal governments might place zoning restrictions on properties within their jurisdiction, some communities place rules on homes and lots within their borders. These rules are typically called Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs for short or simply Covenants) and they guide how a community is built and maintained. CC&Rs are normally recorded in the County records so that all owners in the community, existing or prospective, are aware of the restrictions.

These CC&Rs typically establish an organization or association that administers the day-to-day operations of the community. This organization is often called a Property Owners Association (POA) or something similar like HOA for homeowners or COA for community owners. The POA may also establish committees or boards to help in governing the community, and an Architectural Review Board (ARB) is likely to be a key part of this structure.

The ARB will publish rules that guide the design and construction of improvements within the community. The ARB may look at issues including the design of the house, color, aesthetic issues, grading, and even landscaping of the property. Since a rain garden would be considered part of the landscaping, you should check with your POA or its ARB to make sure your planned improvements are allowed.

In general, the ARB is likely to be interested in making sure the rain garden is compatible with the POA rules and the surrounding areas. They may be interested in the design to make sure it is aesthetically pleasing. Since some POAs also check to make sure drainage isn’t a problem, they may ask how your rain garden is graded so that stormwater doesn’t flow onto a neighbor’s lot. On a related note, one POA even asked us how deep the rain garden was going to be since they didn’t want a safety hazard for children or pets. Of course, the rain garden should only have a shallow depression, so that shouldn’t be a problem!

You may have already sketched or planned your proposed rain garden, and a few key points will help you to prepare for your trip to the POA. For example, is your rain garden part of a new house construction project or is it a retrofit to an existing home? If it qualifies as new construction, then just add the rain garden to the landscaping plans being prepared by your architect or landscape architect. If it is a retrofit of a portion of your existing landscaped area, then you should check with your POA as to whether a permit is required.

Is the rain garden large or small? In one large community, the architectural guidelines noted that we only needed a permit if our rain garden was going to modify a significant portion (25% or more) of the existing landscaped area.

Is your project simple or complex? One POA staff member that we interviewed indicated a simple rain garden is just a part of the landscaping but if we added a rain barrel with attachments then we would need to get a permit.

Where on your lot will you build your rain garden? At one POA, we were told that there wouldn’t be any problem with a rain garden in the back yard or courtyard area since those areas weren’t visible from the street or by the neighbors. However, they indicated there may be more scrutiny given to a rain garden in a prominent or visible area by the roadways.

Keep in mind that the POA and its staff members are generally looking to protect the residents in the community, and your ability to provide good information on your proposed rain garden will help them make an informed decision. We have heard first-hand from various POAs that rain gardens are welcome – and we hope you get to build yours soon!

Online Resources

Hilton Head Plantation – Architectural Guidelines

Sea Pines Plantation – ARB Guidelines

Palmetto Dunes – ARB Policies, Procedures and Guidelines

Indigo Run – ARB & Other Documents

Palmetto Hall – ARB Guidelines

Port Royal Plantation – Plans Approval Board Guidelines and Procedures

Spanish Wells – Plans Approval Board Home Page
Windmill Harbour – Rules and Regulations

Long Cove Club

Shipyard Plantation

Wexford Plantation

Rose Hill Plantation – Architectural Standards & Review Procedures

Colleton River Plantation – Architectural Review Board Webpage

Moss Creek – ARB Guidelines & Procedures

Baynard Park

Rose Hill

Old Carolina

Colleton River


Sun City – Riverbend

Palmetto Bluff

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