Recently, Colorado House Bill 21-1229 passed, increasing protections for property owners within HOA-guided communities. The bill keeps Homeowner Associations (HOAs) from prohibiting xeriscape, nonvegetative turf grass, and renewable energy-generation devices (like solar panels).
The Thirsty Urban Landscape
Professor Austin Troy, department chair director of the Presidential Initiative on Urban and Place-Based Research at CU Denver’s College of Architecture & Planning, thinks the bill is a step in the right direction. “HOA rules requiring turf grass or prohibiting xeriscape don’t make sense in this climate zone,” he said. In “The Thirsty Urban Landscape,” a study presented at the 2017 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Conference, Troy and other researchers analyzed outdoor residential water-consumption patterns in Denver. “Our results show that homes that are part of an HOA use a staggering 10,493 more gallons on average than those not in HOAs,” the paper stated.
These findings underscore previous research showing that “HOAs have the potential to either facilitate increased or decreased use of water—to be a help or a hindrance to water conservation efforts,” according to Troy. Associate Professor Jody Beck, who teaches in the Landscape Architecture Department, also points out that Denver HOAs need to consider water consumption. “Extensive green lawns are almost never an appropriate expression of responsible citizenship in the arid West, if by responsible citizenship we mean the conscientious use of limited shared resources,” he said.
Lawns Reflect Community Norms
Beck, who researches the political nature of landscapes, discusses grass lawns within the social context of neighborhoods. “The public-facing aesthetics of one’s home and lawn have long been about signaling agreement with the norms of a community,” he said. “HOA rules that enforce conformity with a particular aesthetic are, ultimately, about enforcing conformity with a particular vision of what it means to be a good citizen of that particular community.”
The bill also keeps HOAs from putting “unreasonable restrictions on renewable energy generation devices,” including solar panels. Aesthetic objections to solar panels will no longer be a legal right for HOAs. “Prohibiting solar panels seems anachronistic to me,” Troy said. Beck put this section of the bill in environmental context: “The expanding use of solar panels to support the energy needs of our society is an appropriate response as we face ever greater impacts of climate change due largely to the use of fossil fuels.”
Property owners with units in the governance of HOAs in Denver and across Colorado now have more rights to increase water conservation and generate clean energy. Beck summarized the bill’s implications: “House Bill 21-1229, which allows individual owners to take appropriate actions to live responsibly in the arid West, is a positive next step toward changing the norms of our greater community toward the inclusion of environmental responsibility in the aesthetics of home and yard.”