Changes to the Great Oak Landscape: A Proposal to Empower the Grounds Cmtee

Grounds 2004-04-19


The Grounds Committee is empowered to propose, review, revise and approve changes to the Great Oak landscape.


Our bylaws and book of agreements spell out that the community has the responsibility of providing for oversight, maintenance and repair of Common Elements (CEs; i.e. - common land) and some aspects of Limited Common Elements (LCEs; i.e. - front and back yards).

The Grounds Committee was formally established in a proposal adopted by the community on February 17, 2003 (see appendix). The two major areas of activity for Grounds, as outlined in the adopted proposal, are:
* Grounds Planning and Maintenance issues, and
* Land Use Review.
The purpose of the present proposal is to provide details about how Grounds intends to go about its business, in particular with respect to the Land Use Review function originally envisioned in February 2003.

Now that Great Oak is entering the first growing season since being occupied, Grounds seeks express authority from the community to establish a process for timely review and approval of proposed landscape changes. This process would apply to:

Changes to CEs including the following examples
(not intended as an exhaustive list):
* A proposed final Great Oak site plan, developed from our original site programming, the work of University of Michigan Landscape Architecture students, our community work on Landscape Day in January 2004, and the ongoing efforts of the Grounds Committee (encompassing such landscape elements as the Basketball Court, Common House Green, Garden, Gathering Nodes, Play Structure, Playing Field)
* Proposed new plantings in CEs (e.g. - additional trees, shrubs, perennials)
* Proposed new construction in CEs (e.g. - fences, paths, arbors, benches)

Changes to LCEs including the following examples
(not intended as an exhaustive list):
* Proposed fences in LCEs that are outside the scope of the previously approved fence proposal
* Proposed plantings that extend beyond the boundaries (as defined by the Master Deed) of an LCE
* Proposed placement of an A/C unit outside of an LCE

(NOTE: issues related to planting trees in LCEs will be addressed separately from this proposal).

This proposal is based on the assumption that it is desirable to have an empowered committee, smaller than the full community meeting, that could generally handle these proposed changes. The question was also considered whether these proposals could be handled by the existing empowered ARC (Architectural Review Committee), but it was felt that landscape requests are of a sufficiently different character that it would be too much work and too far outside their scope to ask ARC to assume that responsibility.

Committees such as Design, Construction and Common House have been making binding decisions on behalf of the community all along. Their work has often been driven by external factors such as construction deadlines, or the need to get in and start using the Common House.

As the community moves to a place where those external factors no longer apply, it seems like a good time for committees to adopt procedures for making decisions that include formal processes for community input. Through this proposal, Grounds is voluntarily subjecting its work to a level of community input and scrutiny that has not been a regular part of committee work at Great Oak.


The Grounds Committee will be empowered to propose, review, revise and approve changes to the Great Oak landscape.

The process described below will apply to:
* Proposals developed by the Ground Committee
* Proposals developed by a Great Oak member or members.

Submitting a Proposal to Grounds
Whenever possible, proposals to Grounds should be made available both in electronic form (via email to grounds@ and in hard copy to the convenor of the Grounds Committee.

Announcing Proposals
Grounds will post a hard copy of every proposal on the Common House bulletin board, send out an email to announcing the proposal, post information about the proposal on the Wiki, and (if the timing is appropriate) announce the proposal during committee reports at the next business meeting.

Community Review and Comment
Members of the community at large will have a one-week Comment Period from the time of initial posting to submit feedback on the proposal to the Grounds Committee.

After the one-week Comment Period has ended, Grounds will normally take up to two weeks to review feedback, negotiate changes, and arrive at a decision. More time may be needed, however, with complex or controversial proposals that require additional discussion or research.

Some proposals will need to be modified after the Comment Period. If Grounds deems the changes to a proposal to be significant enough, Grounds reserves the right to subject that proposal to a second Comment Period.

[NOTE: Primary responsibility for additional research and modification rests with those initiating the proposal.]

Arriving at a Decision
A meeting of the Grounds Committee must meet a quorum of three (3) Grounds committee members to ultimately accept or reject a proposal.

Grounds will announce all decisions by email to and during committee reports at the next full community meeting, post the decision to the common house bulletin board, and publish decisions on the GO Wiki site. The Wiki will be the primary archive to record decisions and note general landscape-related principles that arise from Grounds deliberations.

If Grounds feels a proposed change has far-reaching implications, is somehow likely to be high in impact, or if Grounds does not feel it has enough guidance or precedent for how the community would wish Grounds to act, Grounds reserves the right to bring the proposal to a full community meeting for decision.

Conversely, if a proposal is very straightforward and low in impact, Grounds may choose to approve that proposal without a Comment Period. With time, experience and precedent, Grounds hopes to develop guidelines for fast-track approval of certain types of proposals.

The following factors should be considered in creating a Grounds proposal, as they represent some of the criteria to be applied to proposals by the Grounds Committee:
* Is the change adequately described in the proposal
* Is the proposed change safe (from structural, public safety, environmental, etc. perspectives)?
* Does it comply with local ordinances?
* Are the upkeep, maintenance, and replacement costs (time and labor) accurately described?
* Is the necessary maintenance similar to other required maintenance?
* Is it substantially the same as a previously-approved change?
* What is the impact on adjacent or nearby units? Have the immediate neighbors been consulted, and are they in favor?
* Is the proposal consistent with community values?
* Do the benefits to the household and/or community outweigh any negative impact on neighbors, the community or its appearance, or the environment? Have pros and cons been adequately explored?

* Provides immediate process for review of landscape changes.
* Provides everyone an opportunity to provide input on proposed landscape changes.
* Does not set forth fixed standards or criteria for assessing certain proposals.

* May seem too process-heavy or lengthy to some.
* Does not set forth fixed standards or criteria for assessing certain proposals.
* May not provide enough time for review/comment by all community members due to current time demands on all GO members.
* May require an unrealistically swift response from Grounds.


Adopted 2/17/03 by the community as part of the Three Committee Proposal that established Grounds, Buildings and Common House Committees.

Grounds Committee

The basic scope of the Grounds Committee is everything to do with the grounds, including landscape, gardens, waste handling (removal, recycling and composting) and hardscape (asphalt and concrete areas such as driveways, parking areas and sidewalks).

The Grounds Committee will have two major foci:
* Grounds Planning and Maintenance issues, and
* Land Use Review.

The Land Use Review Committee may or may not be a separate subcommittee of the Grounds Committee; this will be left up to the Grounds Committee to decide.

The Grounds Committees work has already started under the Landscape Committee hat, and will simply transition to the Grounds Committee. In addition, the Land Use Review Committee (alternate monikers welcome) will need to be established before folks move in, as some members no doubt intend to begin planting when they move in. Items that would need to come before the Land Use Review Committee, as set forth in the Book of Agreements, might include
* Wetland and prairie restoration projects
* Planting ideas (outside each unit's yard - for example, in the gathering nodes)
* Proposals for adding features (e.g., a gazebo, koi pond, volleyball court or statue) to the site.

The Grounds Committee will need a convener and an email list ( In addition, it will be a standing committee, and so will have a steering representative and a liaison with InfoCo.

This committee will become active immediately on approval by the community.


Also discussed on 4/7/2004

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