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Task Force on Yard Solutions for a 21st Century Garden City

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Does anyone have problems in their GHI yard, or solutions to suggest for others? Then leave a comment here or even better, come to this weeks’ Board of Directors meeting to comment on a task force being proposed to explore solutions in GHI yards. (The meeting is Thursday, June 2 at 7:30.)

Below is the proposal as it was enthusiastically endorsed by the Architectural Review Committee and the Woodlands Committee. Also, a task force such as this was recommended in the recent Historic Preservation Task Force report.


A Task Force to Explore Yard Solutions for our 21st Century  Garden City would survey members about needs and wants for their yards, and explore solutions. Environmental and historic preservation concerns would also be explored. Such a study of GHI yard needs and possibilities has never been done.

Goals include:

  • Better enabling members to enjoy their yards for gardening, experiencing nature, recreation, relaxation, and socializing.
  • Improved neighbor relations.
  • More plants being added to yards, which results in better stormwater management, provision for desirable wildlife, and other environmental improvements.
  • Enhancement of the original architecture of homes and iconic openness in the community plan.
  • Greater clarity of options available to members, and a user-friendly process for approval of improvements, when approval is necessary.
  • Greater visual appeal of the GHI community to potential buyers and for the enjoyment of existing members.
  • Inclusion of some solutions that are affordable and low-maintenance.

Topics to be considered could include:


1. Screening Members need screening for many purposes, including to:

  • Visually separate sitting areas from passersby on a street or sidewalk, so as to avoid the uncomfortable “fishbowl” effect.
  • Block an undesirable view.
  • Separate garden sitting areas from next-door neighbors, enabling members to have private time in their yards.
  • Create gardens, a process that starts with providing some degree of enclosure.


2. Fencing Members need fencing to keep in dogs and children – and where desired, to mark property lines.

3. Sheds (outdoor storage structures)

4. Clothes lines, rain barrels, swale protection bridges, impervious surfaces (except those stormwater-related topics being studied by other committees) and other miscellaneous topics as assigned to the task force.

5. Plants – Needs and solutions include:15

  • For screening purposes listed above. Plant choices and their costs, ability to succeed as screens, and maintenance needs would be addressed and compiled.
  • Better stormwater management.
  • Provision for wildlife.
  • Creating gardens for member enjoyment and recreation.
  • Low-maintenance design and plant choices.

The Need

When Greenbelt was built as a garden city, the plethora of sheds, fences and screens was never envisioned, nor visually planned for. Over the years, GHI rules governing what members can and can’t add to their yards changed in response to complaints but with no big-picture vision of what purposes the rules might serve. Also, it can be hard to know what’s allowed and what’s not.

That evolution has resulted in these 21st Century problems, about which members are expressing their concerns and frustrations:

  • Current prohibitions on screening prevent members from enjoying time spent in their yards, due to openness to passersby and close neighbors.
  • Members in many courts are required to choose chainlink when installing new fences, despite their preference for another material.
  • There are no rules about lattices, though staff tell members they are not allowed. Thus, the abundance of them throughout the community is confusing. and newcomers are advised by their neighbors to act first and ask for forgiveness later rather than ask and be denied the screening they need.
  • When members who know of the restrictions on yard privacy choices want to know what their purpose is, there’s no clear response. Enforcement seems inconsistent or unfair, which means less respect for and compliance with the rules, more neighbor complaints, and more enforcement actions required of staff, the ARC and BOD.
  • Members interested in greening-up and beautifying our community seek a vehicle for weighing in on prominent yard items like sheds, fencing, screens and tall hedges.  

Proposed Task Force Process

To be determined by volunteers for the Task Force, but ideas include:

1. Asking members what their needs and wants are for their yards.

2. Seeking further examples of yard problems/needs and possible solutions from GHI staff, BOD members, and GHI committees.

3. Studying these solutions, as well as those suggested by people with expertise in historic preservation, stormwater management and other environmental issues in the yard, plants, garden design, curb appeal, etc.

4. Collecting images of and information about the pros and cons of each (including cost and upkeep).

6. Presenting solution options to members, staff and committees for feedback.

6. Compiling findings and exploring ways that members and GHI could implement the best solutions.

7. Proposing action items to the BOD, including revisions to rules, helpful suggestions and illustrations on the GHI website, etc..

The project would be short-term – concluding within 2 years –  and because it’s a task force and not a committee, no staff or Board of Directors time would be needed.

UPDATE: The task force was approved by the GHI Board of Directors and has begun its work.
Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct the nonprofit Good Gardening Videos.org.”

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