Monday, January 28, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part I - Convincing My HOA

I have alluded in previous posts about big changes afoot. Huge, life-changing, dream-attaining changes.

Drum roll please....

By next winter, my horses will be home with me for good. My barn commute will be zero. My life-long dreams of having my horses outside my window and 100% in my care will be achieved. 

I am the very embodiment of the word "excited".

But let's rewind. Because this whole thing didn't happen quickly or easily, and I want nothing more than to document the story for myself to have in years to come. Over the next month or two, I'll publish a series of posts that include everything that went into the planning and preparation phase for this dream to become reality. Then, once we roll into the warmer months and I begin implementing this dream, I'll document all of the pieces involved in the land prep and construction.

A Seemingly Far-Fetched Idea

I live in a homeowner's association (HOA) in an area that serves as a vacation destination and second-home to many folks from the DC area and beyond. My HOA is comprised of 14 residences and, of those, we are the only 100% full-time residents. One other gentleman is here 80-90% of the time. All others are only here for multiple long weekends and/or extended summer stays. 

We're situated on top of a big flat ridge that was formerly a farm. I can run a 1.1 mile loop from my house and only gain something like 75 feet in elevation. It's pleasant to have both remarkable mountain views from a high vantage point and also have flat land. As such, the very large majority of the homes in the HOA are positioned so that they can enjoy 180-270° views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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With a view like this (and this is only one third of the view!), it's understandable why people want to have homes up there!

The lots are large, folks tend to own several, and the homes are really spaced out. There are limitations on buliding size,  what materials you can build and side your home with, and other limitations on how the appearance of your yard etc. must be kept. Most folks mow their lots immediately around their homes and a local fellow comes up to hay the unmowed areas for his cattle. In the grand scheme of HOAs, it's pretty nice and relatively relaxed. 

Since moving up here full time in 2017, I've dreamed of bringing the horses home to one of the vacant lots. But the cost of land in this area coupled with the HOA rules forbidding horses (and cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. - it's quite a long and inclusive list!) kept my dreaming at bay. Even if the HOA adjusted the rules, I couldn't imagine dropping that kind of money on such a small parcel of land.

After Dave and I married and I began exploring boarding options in earnest, I realized that every option in our local area was going to be expensive because it's a vacation destination. And so I decided that before I pursued other options for land in the surrounding area, I would at least ask a friend (a past HOA president) if the option for horses in the development even seemed feasible. I knew it would very, very likely be a quick "no", but I also knew if I didn't at least ask I would always wonder "what could have been".

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Standing at the far edge of the lots looking toward the house. Gonna have my work cut out for me getting rid of golden rod!

And so when I saw my friend out and about one day this past summer while Dave and I were walking, I popped the question.

"Hey. I've got a kind of crazy question for you. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be, but I've got to ask or I'll always wonder. Do you think the HOA would ever make an exception to allow horses?"

He pondered it for a second before replying, "Well, I love horses. I think having horses up here would be wonderful. I'd be your biggest supporter - my grandkids would love it! I think others would probably be up for it, too. But we'll have to be strategic about how you approach it and ask..."

Cue: a shocked expression on my part!

After I recovered from my initial shock at not receiving what I was certain would be a "no", a smile slowly spread across my face and my mind began whirring with possibilities.

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Standing below our house looking toward the end of the lots. Barn will be just left of center nestled in the trees. 

Following that initial conversation, I put pen to paper and drew out the first draft of my plans to share with my friend. I met with him and we discussed my idea and how best to move forward. With his expert guidance and understanding of the HOA, its residents, and history, I put together a proposal for the executive committee to review and consider.

In a shorter time than I imagined, I received a reply from the executive committee. They were in favor of my proposal. The next step I needed to take was to prepare a presentation for the annual HOA meeting on October 28.

I had a solid 2-2½ months to prepare my presentation. It was both a gift and a curse to have that much time! I had plenty of time to prepare, certainly, but I also had ample time for my mind to run amok wondering will they/won't they be in favor and will this/won't this dream actually happen?

The Presentation AKA The Day of Reckoning

Finally, the day of my presentation arrived. An agenda had been set out prior to all HOA members, and item 6a read, "Permission to allow horses on 2 or more lots as requested by Liz Stout..."

All through the start of the meeting, I was nervous. I knew the executive committee was in favor and the path forward sounded straight forward enough, but if anyone had a strong objection to my plan, the whole thing could come crashing down.

Finally, it was my turn to present.

Ever-prepared, I had brought a laptop, projector, and had prepared a well-practiced presentation. I don't think any of them expected this! I laughed and made a joke about my nature to be well-prepared and overly-organized, and then went right into my presentation.

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I set the stage by sharing my background as an equestrian, a biologist, and a West Virginia native. I briefly shared the type of riding I do and noted my years of experience working at other barns and my copious visits and observations of other barns local and abroad. From there, I noted that my ideas of a good horse farm revolved around not only providing safe fencing, adequate food, water, shelter, and care for the horses, but to do this in a manner that conserved the resource (land), was aesthetically pleasing, and mindful of the viewshed.

To support these claims, I then proceeded through slides that:
  • provided a first-draft of ideas for fencing and barn placement/design and noted that any barn design would, of course, be subject to review by the architectural committee
  • shared that fencing options would be visually appealing and that the barn would be situated on the landscape in such a way that other residents wouldn't see it unless they were on the edge of our property
  • shared my plans for pasture rotation and a dry lot in order to preserve and promote healthy pastures 
  • noted that I would have a manure management plan and would position the composting bins in such a way that prevailing winds would push any smell away from the other homes
Farm Draft
A rough sketch of my current plan. I drew the barn per measurements in Google Earth and it looks mighty small if that's
 supposed to be accurate! In reality, the roof will probably be similar in dimensions to the garage (left of the house).
  • included a simple viewshed analysis with photos of my hopeful property from various vantage points to prove my claim that the change wouldn't have a large visual impact to the HOA
  • included a short list of benefits that would result from my proposal, keyly keeping spaces open so houses wouldn't be on top of one another and lessening the burden on our spring-fed water system by preventing future home development (oh, and horses use infinitely less water than a human would - especially with my plans to have a rain-fed trough for the rainy parts of the year)
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly because it was a damn well thought out presentation, the few questions I received were clarifying questions that I more than had the ability to answer. Largely, I received a wealth of compliments - from nearly every single person in the room! - for my well thought out presentation, attention to detail, and conscientious consideration of my plans and land management.

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Running through future pasture 1 on Griffin in 2017.

A few other small matters were addressed on the agenda following my presentation before the vote was put forward. While these other items were discussed, a sense of calm settled over me. I'd done all I possibly could. The praise was nice to receive. I was even more cautiously optimistic than I'd been, but my mind still halted any sense of jubilation or excitement. It just seemed crazy to think that this whole thing could actually happen. 

Ten to fifteen minutes later, it was time for everyone to vote. I locked eyes with my friend who had helped so much to this point. Ever the master of the pokerface, he cracked the tiniest of smiles at me, a twinkle in his eyes. 

The HOA president announced my request to the room for a vote. Every single person raised their hand in the affirmative to accept the exception and allow horses. It was official.

I smiled, shyly, still in disbelief that this thing was going to really happen. My friend caught my eyes again, grinning in earnest now. I returned the smile and then glanced back down at my notes simply shocked at the reality of everything. 

The meeting adjourned shortly after the vote. I thanked my friend copiously, answered a few general horse questions for others, and told the lady who currently owns the lots I would be purchasing that I would reach out after the HOA paperwork for the exception was finalized. 

Once in my car and back in range of cell service, I stopped and sent out a couple texts to those closest to me, whom I knew were waiting to hear how it went. "UNANIMOUS YES!" I declared. Victorious excitement filled me after that. I turned up the music in my car and grinned all the way home.

61 comments:

  1. Congrats! That's awesome. I think that's also probably the only positive story I've ever heard about an HOA.

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    1. OMG I know. I had to keep myself from Googling anything to do with HOAs while I put it all together because there are so many stories that don't turn out this way.

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  2. omg yay, that's so freakin exciting!!

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    1. I've basically been vibrating with excitement for months haha.

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  3. Wow, this is so exciting! Congratulations!

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  4. You're so amazing! Congrats!

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  5. That is so awesome!! Excited to hear about your farm, it’s so fun that more bloggers I read are bringing horses home!

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  6. Best text ever!! Don't forget to save room for some grumpy old redhead. 😜

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    1. They DID write "no more than 4 horses" into the agreement...

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  7. Congrats!!! So excited for you!!!! A life long dream being realized is the best and I can’t wait for you to get to experience them at home.

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    1. Baaaaaaaasically my inner dialogue these days lol!

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  9. That is so wonderful and exciting!!! A huge congratulations to you :)

    We have somewhat of the same issue here - we have three parcels of land in a row and we are being prevented from building a barn/horse pasture on our 3rd lot because in accordance with regulations, a home must be built on the lot first. But the home is going on lot #1, not lot #3. And we are having issues attempting to consolidate the lots as well... it's been so frustrating. Your story gives me hope!!!

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    1. OMG that sounds so frustrating! I'll cross my fingers for you. Hopefully it will work out in short order and you can fulfill your dream!

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  10. Absolutely well done! I'm so excited and happy for you!

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  11. Holy cow!! And kudos to you for being willing to undergo such a tough process to make the changes necessary for your dreams to come true!! Can't wait to follow along on this journey! 😁 Having horses at home is so special ❤️

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    1. The process was so daunting to think about, but I knew I HAD to try or I'd always "what if" myself. So grateful it all is working out.

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  12. You never know until you ask! Congrats, and cheers on making a dream come true 🥂

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  13. I don't know if you'd be up for pursuing this.. but one of the most popular series in EQUUS magazine has been Bobbi Jo Lieberman's series about her building a place in NM while still living in TX. With your writing and photography skills, I'll bet they'd entertain another series after Bobbi's is done or supplement it.

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    1. Oh! Now that IS an idea. I'll look into those posts and see how Bobbi did it. Very cool. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  14. omg I don't know why but this post made me emotional. How wonderful and exciting for you to finally get that barn commute down to 0! It's my dream to have my horses outside waiting for me one day, and I should be so lucky that it be in such a beautiful place as yours!!

    congrats!!!!!

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    1. <3 Thank you. May every horse-crazy girl have this chance!

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  15. YAY!!! How incredibly exciting! The teacher in me is very proud of your excellent presentation skills hahaha. ;-)

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    1. OMG. I am a presentation Nazi. From the appearance of slides to the manner in which the presenter delivers the talk - it's gotta be professional and as friendly as possible to the audience. It irks me to no end when people do a poor job on presentations lol. I've also geeked out and taken a few professional development courses on how to better hone the message of these types of things. Nerd alert!

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  16. Ahhhhh so exciting! Congrads to you for putting together such an air-tight presentation!!!

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    1. Thank you!! Will pick your brain more as things move forward. The 😊

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  17. OMg this gives me hope that HOAs can actually listen and be open minded! Way to go! This is so huge and so amazing!! I can't wait to see it come to fruition!!

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    1. Gosh, I know. The HOA thing intimidated the hell out of me. So grateful they were reasonable.

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  18. OMG, that is so exciting. I can only imagine what you went through. IT helps that horses can add to the 'cachet' of a place! If you came to our place you would have no idea where the manure is- we have it away from the barn and hidden.

    Are you to put in a riding area? What kind of fencing?
    We have a dug well for our barn (it was original to the property) and we feed it via rain barrel that collects the water off the roof. Works great.

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    1. Might pick your brain about the manure in future! I'm flexible on some aspects of how I move forward with that.

      The next post will have all of the details on plans so far! 😁

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  19. This is so cool! And awesome that your HOA went along with it too.

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    1. I'm so happy they were on board with it all.

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  20. OMG - so exciting!!!! Way to win them over with your thoughtful presentation! Can't wait to see how the rest of the plans all come together.

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    1. Thanks! Plans on the design to follow shortly. 🙂

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  21. I was shocked to read that you are part of an HOA. It never would have occurred to me. That certainly could have complicated things. Glad you got your unanimous vote in your favor. Congrats!!!

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    1. Impressively, most of the developments in Canaan are HOAs. A lot allow horses, too!

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    2. So bizarre! NJ is so much more populated than WV and yet the HOA's are relatively few and far between...

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  22. That is amazing! Great job :D I am so proud!

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  23. GO YOU!! This is incredible! What an incredible feeling to be actively making your dreams come true. Best of luck with this plan, I can't wait to watch it unfold through your blog!

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  24. That's so exciting! I know it's my dream to have my own horses in my backyard someday.

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  25. OH MY GOSH Liz I am Sooooooo Excited for you!!!! I can't freaking wait till this all comes to fruition! 👏👏👏

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    1. Me either! Going to be an exciting few months.

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  26. WAHOO!!!!!!!!!!! What a win! Congrats!

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