Re: private vs. public space
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2001 17:04:01 -0700 (MST)
> who makes decisions about which
> pieces of land, the individual household or the community.

Legally speaking, all land at Wasatch Commons (Salt Lake City) is common
except the front porch and a small space around the back patio of each unit,
which is "limited common area" (LCA).  However, it's clear from the proposal
deciding on the LCA that it was done that way to avoid having to resubmit a
plat everytime a unit changed hands and the new owner wanted more or less
"yard" than the previous owner.

The units are laid out in a tight S-curve, to preserve green space.  One
irony that has struck me is that, of the members who were in the group
during site programming and therefore presumably chose that layout, almost
all reserved units on the outside.  The units with the least-private yards,
inside the S, mostly got reserved when nothing else was available.

The original programming called for fences only for certain units --
apparently the low-income agency required it for its units, and some
dog-owners selected units against one property line with the idea that "dog
row" would have fenced yards.  No fences have ever actually been erected.

The landscape committee at Wasatch Commons wanted to know where we needed to
plan and where we could ignore. About a year before move-in I did a survey
asking, did members want individual "yards" or everything common?  About
half said common. It became apparent people were thinking in terms of
flowers, with someone else doing the work, presumably us.  A horrified
committee member went to talk to people, explaining that since the committee
was not interested in being a full-time grounds crew, common areas were
going to be low-maintenance -- in other words, groundcover, like vinca or
rug junipers, and few or no flower beds unless people did them themselves.
She came back with nearly every survey changed to "individual yard."

Later, yards were consensed to be the area in front to the edge of the
emergency vehicle access or "central path" (from 4 to 20 ft), halfway to the
next unit on the unattached side (about 10 ft), and 15 feet behind the unit,
to the property line, or as requested.  While the land is commonly owned,
you might say the resident is allowed vegetative rights.  In addition,
residents may "adopt" areas not adjacent to their unit for landscaping.
Residents are supposed to clear it with the community before planting trees
or building structures (I believe legally they are supposed to sign a lease
agreement for the land under the structure).  In practice that hasn't always

Most parents have grass in varying amounts.  Many nonparents (such as
ourselves) have landscaping that isn't kidproof. Despite being asked not to,
the kids frequently trample through anyway.

This still leaves a fair amount of common area -- the central path, several
lawns, a play structure (two more awaiting assembly), a vegetable garden, a
dozen fruit trees, a patch of Siberians elms known as "the wild area," three
drainage swales, and strips along the parking lots and driveways.

I wrote several lengthy messages about the central path last year in
response to a question about hardscape alternatives; see the archives. Where
the path is paved with grass-pavers, residents got their choice of
groundcover -- grass, woolly thyme, creeping thyme, or white clover (based
on our experience, I do NOT recommend clover).  So for some households the
path acts as a part of the front yard.

The kids spend a great deal of time playing and building "forts"
(construction debris, broken furniture, other trash) in the wild area, which
the site programming had designated as a quiet, meditative area.  This makes
a couple of us who were looking forward to that unhappy.

The landscape committee has considered taking its own steps to stop people
shortcutting from the parking lot across a common area, because the lawn is
looking increasingly ratty and will have to be aerated and reseeded.  No
fair for other people's laziness to increase our workload.

Kay Argyle
Wasatch Commons

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