Planting Trees and Shrubs within Limited Common Elements (LCEs)

Grounds 2004-06-02


Households are free to plant trees and shrubs within their LCEs, which have an expected maximum growth height of 20 feet high or less without approval from the grounds committee, provided they follow specific guidelines. The proposal aims to address issues related to tree planting, which can cause conflicts among neighbors and damage to in-ground infrastructure.


I. One of the community's responsibilities is to define any restrictions on what individual households can do with their limited common elements or LCEs (our front and back yards), and then households are free to do as they please with their LCEs within that framework. The community has already defined the fence policy. The purpose of this policy is to address issues related to planting trees and shrubs.

II. Trees and shrubs are lovely and long-lasting additions to the GO landscape, providing many potential benefits such as:
* relief from wind and sun
* nesting habitat for birds and other creatures
* beauty, color, variety
* food for wildlife
* sound baffling

III. Trees and shrubs also can cause controversy among neighbors who have differing priorities with regard to shade, landscape views, flower gardens, and other factors.

IV. Digging holes for trees or shrubs can cause damage to in-ground infrastructure (e.g. - underground gas, electric and water lines). Tree and shrub roots can likewise impinge upon in-ground infrastructure over the long term. Branches can rub against the sides and roofs of buildings, causing damage or allowing easy access for wildlife into attic spaces.

V. Our LCEs are small. For Buildings I-III and V-Xii, front LCEs extend out 12 feet (measured from the front door) and rear LCEs extend out 20 feet (measured from the back door). For the A units in Building IV, this situation is reversed (12 feet in back, 20 feet in front). Exact measurements can be verified on the Great Oak Master Plan. Any tree or shrub planted within an LCE will therefore always be within 10 to 20 feet of a building.


(1) Households are free to plant trees and shrubs within their LCEs that have an expected maximum growth height of 20 feet high or less - without seeking approval from grounds committee - provided they follow the procedure outlined in (7) below.

(2) All trees should be planted at least 10 feet away from the foundation of any building. Depending on expected size and growth form, shrubs should be planted at least 3-5 feet from the foundation of any building.

(3) A household wishing to plant a tree or shrub in a Common Element (e.g. - in front of their unit but beyond the 12 foot LCE limit or elsewhere in a Common Element) must make a written proposal to the Grounds committee. In most cases, there should not be a problem with planting in the common land between a front LCE and the central asphalt walkway (where applicable - a few households do not have more than 12 feet in front). However, Grounds does need to evaluate each proposed location, especially to look at snow piling issues in the winter, underground utilities, potential root damage to concrete or asphalt, et cetera.

(4) A household wishing to plant a tree or shrub within their LCE that is expected to grow greater than 20 feet high, must make a written proposal to the Grounds committee. Grounds will work with that household to figure out if the proposed plant is feasible in the desired location.

(5) In keeping with community values and our existing landscape plans, Grounds recommends the selection of native tree and shrub species for the Great Oak landscape. The Natural Areas Preservation division of the City of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department maintains a list of plants native to southeastern Michigan at:

(6) Individual households are expected to prune their trees and shrubs (to keep branches from rubbing against buildings, to avoid introducing carpenter ants or other vermin into buildings, to prevent the accumulation of dead wood, etc). It is also expected that individual households will water and otherwise care for the trees and shrubs they plant. The community, however, ultimately is responsible for maintenance of our landscape. Therefore, Grounds reserves the right to notify households of any recommendations or plans to prune trees and shrubs, and to carry out pruning or other care of trees and shrubs if necessary.

(7) Every household wishing to plant a tree or shrub should follow these steps:

(a) Gather information about the expected final size, and any other properties, of the tree or shrub species in question.

(b) Talk about your plans with your neighbors. Even a small tree or shrub may have some effect on a neighbor's yard - view, sun, etc. If you are not able to reach agreement with your neighbors about the tree, the Great Oak Conflict Resolution team is available to provide assistance.

(c) Check the safety of the desired location. Depending on the size of the tree or shrub to be planted and how the hole is to be dug, it may be necessary to call Miss Dig (the Grounds committee recommends that planting holes be dug by hand). It is the household's responsibility to evaluate this aspect and take any needed action to make sure, to the degree possible, that the tree or shrub will not do damage to underground infrastructure during planting or after. NOTE: The community should soon have an "as built" diagram from the township, which is supposed to show the actual locations of all underground utilities.

(d) Plant!

- Creates a process so households can plant trees and shrubs in their LCEs if they want to without any further process with grounds committee
- May prevent the bad feelings that have happened at other cohousing communities when there was no agreement in place about dialogue with neighbors before trees were planted
- May prevent utility accidents
- May prevent some long term building damage

- Takes time to talk with neighbors
- A particular type or location of a tree or shrub a household wanted might not always be approved by Grounds or be amenable to neighbors
- Does not stipulate any big-picture oversight of what's being planted and where


Also discussed 5/17/04.
Policy refreshed on March 15, 2023.

Process Comments:

0 standasides