HOA demands family remove playground it previously approved
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Updated June 25, 2018 9:03 PM
It never ceases to amaze me just how fickle and child-unfriendly a homeowners’ association can be.
The latest HOA outrage causing a stir on social media takes us to southeastern Wisconsin, to the Prairie Creek Ridge deed restricted subdivision in Oconomowoc.
On Friday, TMJ4 News interviewed homeowner Tim Sanders at his home, a half-million dollar family dwelling on two spacious lots, in an upscale neighborhood governed by a homeowners’ association.
Sanders’ home occupies one lot. Near the rear of the adjacent lot, a magnificent playground is surrounded by a privacy hedge. There’s no question about it. With its flat terrain and lush green lawn, it’s a child’s paradise.
Sanders designed the yard especially for his 6-year-old daughter, Ashlin, who recently received a kidney transplant. You see, Ashlin has been very ill since the age of 3, when she suffered from an E-coli infection that caused her kidney failure.
The report contains photographs of Ashlin on better days, when she was able to enjoy her playground. Her father said the little girl is looking forward to playing outdoors again, as soon as she can recover from her recent surgery.
Also according to TMJ4 News, the family purchased their new home two years ago, to be closer to family members and doctors who provide ongoing care for their daughter.
Sanders says he obtained written approval (by e-mail) from the HOA board President at the time, prior to installing the playground and surrounding hedge. But now new members on the HOA board have written to the homeowners, informing them that they must remove the playground and the privacy hedge. In their judgment, it doesn’t meet ‘harmonious’ standards of appearance.
No, I’m not making this up. See for yourself.
Oconomowoc neighborhood fights over sick child’s playground
By Coreen Zell
Posted: 5:24 PM June 22, 2018
Updated: 8:11 AM June 23, 2018
There is a fight going on over a little girl’s playground in Oconomowoc while she fights to stay healthy in the hospital.
The family’s neighborhood association told the homeowners they need to make changes by next week.
It’s important to have this playground when my daughter gets home from the hospital because it’s hope,” said Tim Sanders, dad.
E. Coli led to kidney failure for his daughter three years ago. The Sanders moved to Waukesha County to be close to family and Ashlin’s doctors in Madison. She had a kidney transplant on Father’s Day and is expected home soon.
“Today (Friday) they pulled a PICC line in her chest where they administer fluids and things of that nature,” said Sanders.
The Sanders own two lots. Their home is on one and a playground with trees surrounding the property is on the other.
Tim Sanders said the former Home Owners Association president approved the playground and trees. An email said, “Permission was granted for the rainbow playground set.” It went on to say the trees were also approved.
“We are not breaking codes,” said Sanders. “Everything was permitted.”
Sanders said the new HOA board wants him to take everything down. A letter said, “In order to obtain and maintain harmony in appearance…”
Read more (Video):
Social media buzz
The vast majority of comments on TMJ4’s Facebook are in support of the Sanders family and little Ashlin. Check out the comments, made by hundreds of folks who have nothing good to say about HOAs in general.
I did a bit of internet sleuthing, and discovered that, last fall, Tim Sanders organized and hosted a well-received Block Party in his new neighborhood. Apparently, Sanders is popular and well-respected in Prairie Creek Ridge.
Remember, Sanders says his playground was completed several months ago, with HOA approval.
It’s also clear that the majority of Sanders’ neighbors support the family. One of them has even organized a GoFundMe page for Ashlin and her family.
So…what’s happening a Prairie Creek Ridge?
My best guess: It’s the typical HOA pattern of dysfunction. Everything in the community can be A-OK, even great — until it isn’t.
One obsessive neighbor with power and influence, or one new board member with a personal agenda, can turn a friendly neighborhood into a war zone overnight.
Do Prairie Creek Ridge’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions prohibit play structures for children?
The answer is about as clear as mud. Since I’m an ordinary housing consumer, and not an attorney, I can only offer my personal insights based upon what’s written in the CC&Rs. So here goes.
Reading CC&Rs posted on a home builder’s website, you will not find any specific restriction against play structures.
However, Architectural Control Committee (ACC) approval is required prior to any improvements on the lot or home, as shown below. The broad language appears to grant the ACC more or less absolute power to accept or reject any proposed improvement “not in conformity with these or future restrictions.”
Get out your crystal ball. There’s no telling what future restrictions will be enacted.
A picture helps to tell a story. So here’s the Sanders’ property in a satellite image from Google Maps. The double lot leaves plenty of space for the play structure. The trees along the border provide privacy for the homeowners and their neighbors.
Assuming the homeowners asked for permission and received it, can the HOA now reverse its decision?
Here’s where things get dicey.
If the Declarant (developer) still maintains control of the HOA, the CC&Rs may be have been recently amended, or they could be amended in the near future, without any vote of the homeowner members.
This is common language in many CC&Rs. While construction is still active in the subdivision, a developer, in conjunction with home builders, can change the rules of the HOA game at any time, without your knowledge or consent.
If/when the homeowners take control of the HOA board, then any amendment to the CC&Rs requires owners of 75% of lots to vote in favor. But since construction is still active at Prairie Creek Ridge, the developer, Kaerek Homes, might still appoint affiliates to the HOA board — essentially controlling the amendment process.
Coincidentally, HOA’s official website has been “down for maintenance” all day, as of the time this post was written.
So, unfortunately, members of the public don’t have any easy way to find out who serves on the HOA board or its ACC. Nor could I verify whether or not Prairie Creek Ridge is still developer-controlled.
So much for transparency.
But it gets even more complicated.
Another section of the CC&Rs reflects just how long the HOA has to decide whether or not a home or landscape improvement is in violation: up to a full year.
Looking at these few provisions of the CC&Rs, is it possible that a Prairie Creek Ridge HOA could approve a landscape plan and a playground and then, after it’s in place, amend ACC standards (create entirely new rules) to make both the play structure and the trees out of compliance? And, assuming that less than a year has gone by since the playground and hedge have been installed, can the HOA order Sanders to remove just about everything from the second lot he owns?
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
But it’s certainly not the first time an HOA has decided to reverse its approval for a home or landscape improvement. This is a common pattern of behavior for HOAs.
It will be interesting to see how far Prairie Creek Ridge HOA takes this matter.
In the meantime, public opinion leans heavily in favor of allowing Sanders to keep Ashlin’s backyard oasis, and soundly against the institution of association-governed communities.
CC&Rs signed by Developrer of Prairie Creek Ridge, and owner of Kaerek Homes
Bryan Baumann, current President of Prairie Creek Ridge HOA
Oddly enough, the HOA’s website is “down for maintenance.”
Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the developer of Prairie Creek Ridge as Korndoerfer Homes. According to a representative of Korndoerfer Homes, the developer of Prairie Creek Ridge is Kaerek Homes. Korndoerfer is one of the home builders.
Here’s what happened next:
Tim Sanders tells me that Ashlin is doing well after her surgery, and, following media attention to the story, the HOA has backed off of the playground and hedge issues.