The Edgemoor Neighborhood Association meeting on September 5, 2013 was held in the Fairhaven Middle School Library and was attended by 31 residents. John Ericson presided over the meeting and introduced our speaker, Attorney, Phil Serka, who agreed to attend the meeting and speak about rules which govern height restriction on trees and vegetation. When Edgemoor was first developed by the Larrabee family, few if any covenants and restrictions were in place. As more of the neighborhood was developed over time, it was done so in bits and pieces and each development had separate covenants, conditions and restrictions (CCRs). At the time, there was no effort to tie these together.
Today there are four legal methods which can restrict heights of trees and vegitation. These are subdivision covenants, private property covenants, common law, and zoning regulations.
Subdivision CCRs are enforcable by property owners within the subdivision, but do not carry over to a neighboring subdivision. They can only be enforced by legal means, which can be very expensive. CCRs are not enforced by the city planners, nor are they even taken into consideration when issuing permits. An example of this is a recent court case in Clarkwood, where CCRs resrict subdivision, however a permit was issued to subdivide a property. The court determined the subdivision was not allowable due to the CCRs in place for that subdivision.
Private property CCRs are agreements between property owners, which are often tied to the title. An example of this would be when one property owner agrees to pay another property owner for view rights, which restricts the height of trees and vegitation on the second property.
Common law methods of regulating property rights are laws determined through actual court cases, which can help determine the outcome of a legal dispute. The previous example of the ruling on the case in Clarkwood could help defend a future dispute over subdivision. Currently there is no common law ruling on restriction of heights of trees and vegitation. The most common instances of rulings in cases of vegitation disputes is on property boundaries, or when trees are determined to be dangerous to a neighboring property.
There are zoning regulations in the Whatcom County Code (2390.050 Views and aesthetics) for height restrictions and set-backs of walls and fences. Generally, the city planners have stayed put of the business of enforcing regulations in the code on the height restriction on hedges. Zoning rules do not give private property owners the right to enforce the code, so legal means are currently not in place to do so.
Meeting attendees asked questions and sited pros and cons of trees impacting views in the neighborhood. A show of hands determined about two thirds of those in attendance were there because trees and vegetation are impacting their view. The other third were there because they want to protect their rights and not be forced to trim or remove trees and vegetation.
The consensus of the discussions was that the only effective means of controlling heights of trees and vegetation in the neighborhood are by working together with your neighbor toward a compromise that would benefit both parties.
Thank you to Attorney, Phil Serka, for helping us to understand the legalities regarding height restrictions on trees and vegetation.
A short treasurer’s report was given by Diane. She stated due to issues with online banking, we are now back to hard copy bank statements. She reported our funds are getting low and we will need to start collecting dues or donations in the future. It was suggested the board send out a paper mailing asking for donations each year as we have done in the past. When asked if this was legal, John stated that it is legal to collect donations, however, there are regulations by the Government for us not to tie dues to voting rights. Donations to ENA are tax-deductible and may be sent to ENA, PO BOX 4420, Bellingham, WA, 98227.
Reported by Sandie Koplowitz