Working in Partnership with Homeowners’ Associations

Wet meadow in bloom at Hamlet on Sunfish Lake
Wet meadow in bloom at Hamlet on Sunfish Lake

In 2008, Lake Elmo resident Sarah Hietpas called the Washington Conservation District (WCD) for advice. Her Homeowners’ Association, Hamlet on Sunfish Lake, was brand new and landscaping in many of the common areas had been left undone. The association board was concerned about preventing erosion and protecting water quality in Sunfish Lake and wetlands within the development, and was interested in restoring habitat in natural areas and enhancing buffers around the wetlands. After conducting a site visit at the Hamlet neighborhood and meeting with association board members, WCD natural resource specialist Rusty Schmidt put together a landscape plan that included expanding an existing wetland, creating native plantings at the entrance to the neighborhood, and planting tree glades within road medians and large expanses of open space in the development.  Schmidt also helped the Homeowner’s Association to apply for a community cost-share grant through the Valley Branch Watershed District that covered  50% of the project cost ($4,285), and to get planting assistance and an additional $2ooo in grant funds from  local non-profit Great River Greening.

In June of 2010, Hamlet on Sunfish Lake again reached out to the Valley Branch Watershed District, this time to remove invasive cattail and reed canary grass that had crept into the wet meadow planting and to add more than 1,000 new plants. With a $500 plant grant, the association was able to improve habitat in the wet meadow and incorporate more flowering plants for a prettier landscape.

Managing outdoor common areas in apartment, condominium, and homeowner associations can be challenging. On the one hand, most people who live in these types of neighborhoods enjoy having large lawns and open areas nearby without having to mow, trim, weed and maintain those areas themselves. On the other hand, the cost of hiring a landscape maintenance company can be expensive, and water bills from in-ground irrigation systems often pack a big punch as well. Meanwhile, residents also worry about how their neighborhood might be impacting the environment. Is their lawn care company applying more pesticides and fertilizer than the lawn really needs? Could they shrink their water bills and use less groundwater if the sprinklers were running less often?

The Washington Conservation District currently has funding available through a Clean Water Grant to help interested Homeowners’ Associations in Washington County complete projects that will help to reduce runoff water pollution, improve habitat, and conserve groundwater. Example projects include building raingardens, converting turf areas to native plantings, and retrofitting existing stormwater ponds to use stormwater instead of groundwater for irrigation. Often, an association will reach out to the Conservation District with a specific goal in mind – fixing a drainage issue, for example, or reducing their water bill. Landscaping projects can have multiple benefits, however, and experts at the WCD are good at figuring out ways to address problems while also improving the environment. In addition, education staff are available to meet with property managers and association board members to provide tips on what to ask for from lawn care providers to ensure healthy lawns that are “green” in more than one way.

If you live in an apartment, condo or homeowner association in Washington County, contact Jenn Radtke to learn more about the Washington Conservation District program and other resources available to you: or 651-330-8220 x.44.