Pump the brakes: How some communities slow drivers

When CAI’s Common Ground magazine asked readers whether they have problems with drivers speeding in their communities, a staggering 98% of respondents reported that they do, and nearly all (95%) use at least some form of speed control measures—from signs and speed humps to ticketing and cameras. 

The most effective solution to slowing drivers is probably unique to each community.

Bent Tree Community Association, a self-contained, gated community of 1,200 homes about an hour north of Atlanta, regularly uses radar to monitor drivers’ speeds. The 20-mph speed limit on the community’s 55 miles of roads is part of the association’s bylaws, as is the fine for exceeding that speed, according to Tom Fowler, CMCA, AMS, Bent Tree’s general manager.

If a homeowner doesn’t pay a fine levied for speeding in the community within 30 days, the bar code on his or her entry decal will be deactivated. Without automatic operation of the community’s lift-gates, the driver must enter and exit the community through the guest gates, which are manned and operated by security guards.

Dunes West Property Owners Association in Mount Pleasant, S.C., started using radar about five years ago to gather information about residents’, visitors’, and contractors’ driving habits within the community, according to General Manager John Watkins, CMCA, AMS.

Just north of Charleston and bordered by U.S. Route 17 on the east and the Wando River to the west, Dunes West covers 3,000 acres and includes 33 miles of tree-lined roads and 100 named streets. The roads throughout the community are intentionally curved, which—like Bent Tree— challenges even the most capable drivers to slow down.

The association shares radar data with local law enforcement, so police know when and where drivers are most likely to speed. It also encourages local law enforcement to issue tickets on the community’s private roads.

Dunes West’s radar also has been effective in controlling contractors who drive within the community, Watkins says. Several homes are still under construction in Dunes West; builders can purchase coded decals that open Dunes West’s automatic liftgates so contractors’ vehicles can come and go efficiently from the community. If radar indicates contractors are habitually speeding, the codes can be revoked, which could be costly for a builder.

A pilot Pace Car program has been slowing speeders down in the Riverview Community Association in Cochrane, Alberta, since 2017.

The program, which has been used successfully in other Canadian communities for years, relies on individual volunteer residents to commit to driving the posted speed within the community, to stop for pedestrians crossing the road, and to be courteous to cyclists and vehicles other than cars. Drivers place a decal on the rear window of their cars that says, “Community Pace Car—I drive the limit,” and signs are posted at either entrance to the community alerting visitors that “We are a Pace Car community.”​

“The idea is that any driver driving behind a Pace Car will notice the decal and … will drive the speed limit as well,” says Jennifer Foy, board president of the community of 400 single-family homes about 30 miles west of Calgary. She adds that to prevent road rage, Pace Car drivers are encouraged to pull over and let other drivers pass rather than confront them. “If (a Pace Car driver) gets someone on their bumper who’s honking or being aggressive, they just pull over and let them go around,” she says. “We’re not the police.”

No matter what solution your community develops, communication and transparency with residents are critical. Remind them about speed limits and the consequences of exceeding it frequently.

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Facing the press: Strategies to manage media coverage of community associations

Frequent headline-grabbing coverage of community associations can cast a bad light on communities that are well-run and consist of hard-working volunteers and professional managers. With social media, it doesn’t take long for a negative message to get out, or a crisis to happen.

Common situations that can lead to intense and often controversial coverage include special assessments and rules enforcement, especially surrounding things like flags, playhouses, and pets. Criminal activity, such as alleged fraud or embezzlement, also can prompt media calls.

You can ward off many possible public relations problems at the beginning by clearly communicating with residents, but if your community finds itself in the media spotlight, here are some steps you can take to address reporters and camera crews:

Identify a spokesperson. This can be a board member, someone on the management team, or a member of the association who has experience with the press. If they’re inexperienced, consider professional media relations training so they will be calm and confident rather than defensive. If you’re confronted with a major issue, you may want to seek help from your attorney in crafting a response or refer requests directly to him or her.

Prepare a media plan. Have a plan that spells out what to do when a staff member or manager is contacted by a reporter. Consider having stock responses for common queries. Make a fact sheet to hand out with basic information about your community, such as when it was built, how many homes it has, its amenities, social media accounts, and contact information of your media spokesperson.

Be accessible. Respond in a timely fashion to media requests. Avoid answering questions with “no comment.” Develop working relationships with any journalist likely to repeatedly cover your association, such as a local community or business reporter. Help them understand your community and associations in general.

Maintain transparency. The board should have a communications policy that allows residents to submit questions, comments, concerns, and complaints in writing. The board should respond to them in a timely manner. Regular and frequent communication can help decrease gossip and misstatements.

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Truth in fiction: 9 books that add an HOA twist to your summer reading list

“You can’t make this stuff up. Somebody should write a book about it.”

It’s a frequent refrain for community association board members, managers, and business partners, especially for those who have several years of experience and have collected numerous laughable, outrageous, and, sometimes, cringe-worthy stories.

Somebody, actually, somebodies, have written books set within community associations or that tackle many of the issues (neighbors, rules, pets, and more) you’re sure to recognize.

The beach is calling. The pool is inviting. The backyard is enticing. Take a seat, grab a book, and start reading.

A Man Called Ove (2014). By Fredrik Backman

Ove has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” When a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale that will shake one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. A New York Times bestseller and soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks.

A River to My People (2019). By Jason Green

Follow a collection of short stories about life in the suburbs and the funny and infuriating antics, behaviors, rules, and regulations of community life. There are droll tales of walking dogs, trying to get grass to grow, dealing with speeding by teenagers and parents, errant parking, the work and the pleasure of backyard swimming pools, homeowners association election politics, and so much more.

Cats, Chaos, and Condo Board Wars (2019). By Nikki LeClair

When elections for condo board president come around, Hilary Brandt lets her friends and neighbors convince her to run against the by-the-letter, long-sitting president—also known as Hilary’s number one personal critic. As the election campaigns launch, a romance-that-almost-was reappears, a coworker tries to steal a client, and her opponent starts to fight dirty. Is the chaos just too much?

Condominium (2014). By John D. MacDonald

Welcome to Florida’s Golden Sands, the dream condominium complex built on a weak foundation and a thousand dirty secrets. It’s the home of shortcuts, crackdowns, breakups, oversights, and payoffs. Add it all up, and the new coastline community doesn’t stand a chance against the ever-present specter of disaster: the dreaded hurricane.

High-Rise (2012). By J.G. Ballard

When a class war erupts inside a luxurious apartment block, modern elevators become violent battlegrounds and cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on “enemy” floors. Human society slips into a violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, recreate a world ruled by the laws of the jungle. Developed into a feature film, released in 2016, starring Tom Hiddleston.

Little Fires Everywhere (2017). By Celeste Ng

In Shaker Heights, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. When an enigmatic artist and single mother arrives with her teenaged daughter and rents a house from the Richardsons, the status quo in this carefully ordered community is threatened. Named book of the year by The Washington Post, NPR, Southern Living, and more. Soon to be a Hulu limited series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

The Condo Kids: The Case of The Disappearing Pool Monster (2019). By Jackie Burns

Excitement is just an elevator ride away for brothers Noah and Michael, who are best friends with all the other Condo Kids in their building. This tight-knit group of pals just want to have fun but always wind up in hilarious, sticky situations. The latest adventure finds the Condo Kids on the hunt for a mysterious underwater monster rumored to be living in the condo pool. This is the third book in a series for young readers.

The Pinball Lawyer (2019). By Marvin Nodiff

Condo lawyer Joshua Fyler is in a fight for his life. His clients are disrupted by weaponized drones, greedy investors, and corrupt lawmakers. Fyler ricochets from one crisis to the next as he tries to salvage his reputation. Written by a founding member of CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers and a retired community association attorney from St. Louis, Nodiff captures all the foibles of community association living in his sixth humorous and engaging novel.

White Elephant (2019). By Julie Langsdorf

A gaudy, newly constructed behemoth of a home soars over the neighborhood of Willard Park. When owner Nick Cox cuts down Allison and Ted Millers’ precious red maple—in an effort to make his unsightly property more appealing to buyers—their once serene town becomes a battleground. Newcomers and longtime residents alike begin to clash in conflicting pursuits of the American Dream, with trees mysteriously uprooted, fires set, fingers pointed, and lines drawn.

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Which Style Is Tops in a Dream Home?

Which Style Is Tops in a Dream Home? Modern, farmhouse, traditional, or rustic? Find out which architectural styles rank highest, and which TV designer people want to work with most.July 8, 2019By: Melissa Dittmann TraceyDesign & Arch...

Sign up here: 12 ways to recruit and retain volunteers

Volunteers play a critical role in making community associations vibrant and attractive places to live. Finding, motivating, directing, and maintaining volunteers’ interest, however, are challenging tasks.

Assigning association responsibilities to the right people, asking them to accomplish realistic tasks, and making them glad they did add to the challenge. Communities can perfect their recruitment and retainment strategies with the following tips and tricks.

Ask early. Start recruiting volunteers early. Tap into the excitement and energy people bring to their new home. Ask them to volunteer and get involved to channel that enthusiasm in a way that benefits the entire community.

Ask often. Many people will wait to be asked and, if no one asks, they may never volunteer. The best way to recruit is to personally invite people to get involved, rather than posting a notice in the newsletter, an email, or on social media.

Play matchmaker. Ask residents about their talents, interests, likes, and dislikes; then successfully match them with relevant volunteer roles.

Don’t overwhelm. Don’t overload volunteers, especially new residents, with too much work. Keep roles modest, and make sure they understand the monthly time commitment.

Respect their time. Start and end meetings on time, and always share the agenda a few days before a meeting so volunteers can prepare for the discussion.

Respect their ideas. When a volunteer shares an idea or recommendation, he or she is owed an acknowledgement, what the ultimate decision was, and why. If the idea isn’t appropriate, tactfully point out why without making it personal or attacking the idea.

Provide guidance. Have experienced committee members mentor and nurture newer members and provide them with the skills they need to take on greater responsibilities.

Educate. Providing relevant educational opportunities also is helpful and a wise investment in the community’s future.

Make it fun and rewarding. Build in time to socialize before and after a meeting, but don’t let it interfere with the purpose of gathering. Fun events build a sense of teamwork.

Make accommodations. People are more likely to volunteer if small accommodations are made to make it convenient. Be flexible and open to changes if it means greater volunteer participation. Consider asking your residents when they’d be most likely to attend meetings.

Build your bench. With more active, team-minded volunteers, your community can accomplish much more. It also will be in a better position when volunteers move or step down from their roles.

Thank gratuitously. Recognize volunteers for their efforts. Ways to express appreciation could include an inexpensive plaque or certificate of appreciation; public acknowledgement at the annual meeting; an expression of thanks on the association webpage; or a listing of volunteers’ names in the community newsletter or on social media. Keep in mind that board members typically are prohibited from accepting gifts.

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Pool patrol: Communities struggling to fill summer lifeguard positions

Warm summer days typically mean there are plenty of opportunities for adults and children to swim and splash in community pools. However, a shortage of lifeguards nationwide is limiting the hours, or even days, that pools are open.

Reston Association in Reston, Va., for example, has had several weekend closures at its 15 swimming pools since Memorial Day due to the inability to fill lifeguard positions. Laura Kowalski, the association’s director of recreation and environmental education, says that as of June 7, fewer than 160 applications for lifeguard positions had been received, compared to 180 applicants in 2018.

Kowalski has been working on a recruitment strategy since November that includes approaching sports leagues, schools, and universities in Fairfax County and neighboring Loudoun County to reach the target demographic of 15- to 20-year-old high school and college students. She also organized two job fairs in late May and mid-June. Reston’s goal is to obtain at least 200 applications. Starting pay is $10.50 per hour; those who serve as a pool manager earn a bit more.

Despite the trouble with hiring lifeguards, Reston Association has not considered implementing a ‘swim-at-your-own-risk’ policy at its pools. “That gets into safety and supervision issues. We have a lot of kids who come to the pool without any supervision,” Kowalski stresses.

Lifeguard shortages around the country are being attributed to several factors, including students taking on summer internships related to their academic programs. “For decades, we have been relying on the youth to fill these positions, and we just don’t have the numbers seeking employment as we have in the past,” says BJ Fisher, director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association.

Kowalski believes the lifeguard shortage in the Northern Virginia region is related to Fairfax County Public Schools’ schedule, which shortens the amount of time students can work in the summer, as well as teens having other jobs or competing activities.

“They go back to school earlier now than they have in the past, and so we’re looking at a shortened season for them to do all of the things they need to do: family vacations, internships, and just having some down time over the summer,” she adds.

Fisher suggests reaching out to older adults and retirees to address the lifeguard shortage. Some communities have looked into hiring foreign lifeguards, but there could be visa issues with that approach.

For Reston Association, recruitment efforts to fill the lifeguard positions will continue. Kowalski says the association is refining its onboarding process to get lifeguards started faster, including covering the fees to get them certified. She notes, however, that covering certification fees would have a financial impact on the association. “Our members would have to absorb it, or we would have to find some other non-assessment revenue for about $20,000.”

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Staging Hacks That Offer Some Summer Fun

Staging Hacks That Offer Some Summer Fun Cheer up your staging with some sunny design trends that can offer an inviting feel to your properties in the warmer months.June 17, 2019By: Audra SlinkeyStaging, Design Trends