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…That Governs Least


Next month my family will be moving into a home we’ve just built on a wooded lot on top of a modest hill. It features seven acres of tranquil views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a pond stocked with trout and plenty of trees and wildlife.
As idyllic as all that sounds, three little words drew me very close to nixing the whole deal: Property Owners’ Association. (insert screechy, scary music)
Now I understand the need for a little regulation. Goodness knows we don’t need someone buying up a bunch of lots for the timber, leaving the land stripped and eroded and flooding the road.

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But I’m also aware that good intentions can turn fascist pretty quickly. Okay, maybe “fascist” is too strong a word. Since it’s very fashionable these days to quote the founding fathers, I’ll quote Thomas Jefferson: The government is best that governs least.”
I’m sure Jefferson heard rumors that Monticello was going to be included in the Charlottesville Property Owners’ Association (which probably would have had James Monroe, whose home Ash Lawn is a stone’s throw away, as treasurer). There’s just no way that dome was going to fit into the neighborhood. (The proximity of the two along with James Madison’s Montpelier just down the road make Charlottesville one of our favorite day jaunts.)

Back in our financially leaner days, Dirtman and I were invited to spend the week at a friend’s home in a tony subdivision, several steps up from our rural farmette.
At the time our family car was a 15-year-old cherry red Tempo with no air conditioning, bought used and held together by regular visits to a kindly mechanic who knew we couldn’t afford a replacement. By the time we got to Pat and Ed’s we’d been driving in the heat for approximately five hours and were not at our freshest.
Ed told us he’d call ahead to the guard at the gate to let them know to let us in and, while the idea of having to pass a checkpoint sounded so-very-border-patrol, we gamely drove up to the little kiosk to announce our arrival. The guard looked the car up and down, turned his back and picked up the phone. There was murmuring and then he ended the call with, “Okay, I was just checking. You know how it is.”
You know how it is . . .
Later, as we sat around the table talking, lingering after a satisfying dinner, Pat looked at the clock and gasped, “Ed! It’s after 11!” Ed, in a panic, grabbed his keys and ran out the door.
“You can’t leave a car on the road after 11 o’clock,” Pat explained, now calm, “or they have you towed.”
I don’t know what was more disconcerting, the fact that you can’t park in legal areas after a certain time or Pat’s placid acceptance of the fact.
Take the case of our visit with my cousin Mark in New Jersey over the summer. As is the custom in my family, I felt no need to give him a specific time of our arrival since we were coming from a long distance away.
“Then I’ll mail you The Card,” he said.
“The Card?”
“You present The Card at the gate and they’ll let you in, no problem,” he assured me. I’d heard that before.
Dirtman threatened to sell The Card on E-bay.
Dinner was served on their deck overlooking a wide lawn. We were rather cramped and I suggested that we put a few of the chairs out on the grass…
“You can’t go out there!” Mark said in horror.
“You mean if the neighborhood kids want to go out and play tag or kick ball or something, they can’t use that perfectly good field?” I asked incredulously.
“There’s a park a block away,” he offered.
Later he showed me his bird feeder which was located two hundred feet away in the woods that edged the lawn. Bird feeders weren’t allowed any closer because of bird droppings. He indulged in his hobby using a high-powered pair of binoculars.
We discussed the pros and cons of having a neighborhood no-fly zone for birds and I observed that at least there weren’t any mosquitoes out.
“They didn’t have The Card,” Dirtman sneered under his breath.
It was horror stories like these that led to my initial resistance to buy any property subject to covenants. But our property owners’ association is rather low key and more intent on preserving the rusticity of the area rather than boss people around. It still annoys me to be told what to do and what not to do even if I was or wasn’t anyway.
We hadn’t even started building our house when the first meeting of the association was scheduled. I was laid up with the flu, leaving Dirtman to brave the meeting alone.
“How’d it go,” I asked when he got home. Then, adopting my cheesiest Nazi-German accent, I added, “Arrrr – all — our papassss – ein — ordah?”
“Did you meet Herr President?” I persisted. “An ego-maniac with a Napoleon complex?”
“No, he’s a nice guy actually.”
I guess with Dirtman as president of the property owners association I never have to worry my guests will need The Card.

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