About 10 days ago the Washington Post had an article about a fight over one couple’s right to maintain a meadow on their property, which sits within a subdivision consisting of large homes on very large lots. This is in Loudon County, Virginia, which happens to be the wealthiest county in the nation.
Mike and Sian Pugh’s 5.6 acre lot includes a 2 acre meadow that had been a cow pasture (the subdivision was built on the site of a former dairy farm). The Pughs have been adding native plants and mowing the former pasture every spring. “They love sitting on their porch and watching the butterflies, birds and deer visit,” according to the article.
Even though it was mostly hidden from view, the Homeowners Association (HOA) demanded that the meadow be mowed more frequently, severely limiting the land’s wildlife value. The HOA and the Pughs ended up in court, where the Pughs ultimately prevailed, thanks to the vagueness of the HOA rules.
The fight isn’t over, though. The President of the HOA intends to push through stricter rules which would force the Pughs to give up their meadow. The subdivision, incidentally, is called Farmington on the Green. It sounds like the kind of place that ought to be filled with meadows. Maybe it would be more honest to call it Farmington on the Lawn.
My first reaction to this story was: what do the Pughs do with the rest of their 5.6 acres? Is it all lawn? And think of all the acres of useless turf throughout Farmington on the Green. What a waste.
I’m going to make a wild guess that HOAs like this one are full of people who love property rights and loathe regulation of all kinds. And yet, many are ready to sacrifice individual freedom on the alter of property values.
After their tactical retreat in court, the HOA newsletter noted with sorrowful sanctimony: “The only real loser is a homeowner who has their greatest asset diminished by a noncompliant neighbor.” In other words, the “noncompliant neighbor” should really put the good of the collective ahead of his own selfish desires. This is not the philosophy found in Atlas Shrugged.
But there’s something more: do the HOA leaders really have any evidence that the Pugh’s meadow diminishes property values? The article doesn’t say, but I doubt it.
The president of the HOA hinted at another motivation when he said: “There’s a principle involved. If you have one exception, how do you hold a neighborhood to a standard?” That sounds a lot like enforcing conformity simply for its own sake. But read the article and see what you think.
This article makes me consider our own home, and how the neighbors enjoy our front garden of unruly wildflowers. I am so glad we live in a community where a man or woman’s home is their castle, or meadow, as the case may be.