Residency in the Canterwood neighborhood is coveted by some in Gig Harbor. The gated community boasts a golf course, tennis courts, beautiful homes and plenty of greenery.
But some of that greenery has lead to a contentious showdown with the Canterwood Homeowners’ Association for residents John and Kathy Arroyo.
The Arroyos moved to Gig Harbor from California more than 20 years ago, and they had their house built in Canterwood in 2000.
“We really are proud of this place,” Kathy, 70, said while standing in her kitchen.
She then pointed to a sign above an country-style kitchen cabinet that says “2001.” “We designed it ourselves.”
When the couple bought their plot and started building, they were attracted by the greenery and the closeness of the trees. Nearly 16 years later though, the couple realized the trees could pose a risk to their home.
The couple made a request in partnership with their next door neighbors at the time to cut down the trees since they were situated between the two properties. When the request to the HOA was denied, the neighboring parties appealed.
Almost two years, a few heated exchanges and some thousands of dollars in fines later, all but one tree remains between the homes.
The trees, the Arroyos say, are dangerous because they are so close to both rooflines that if any of them were knocked over during a storm it could create significant damages to the respective houses. The roots are tearing up some of the stone pathways in the side garden and the roots are encroaching on the Arroyo’s septic system, which has the potential to be damaged and need costly repairs.
“We feel like we are stuck now,” John, 70, said. “Really, it seems to us that the HOA cares more about the look of trees than it does our safety.”
CANTERWOOD’S HEFTY HOA
Caterwood has a significant HOA contract homebuyers must sign before becoming a resident of the gated community.
An HOA is a authority group, usually designated by the original neighborhood developers, which oversees community standards such as paint color, landscaping, decorative art, noise levels, trash collection and more. HOA groups can also provide community amenities such as the tennis courts, events and more. Anyone who chooses to buy a home in Canterwood must sign and agree to the HOA community standards.
When the Arroyos moved to Canterwood they knew they would have to sign an HOA contract, and that when they wanted to make large improvements to their home and landscaping they would need to be pre-approved by the HOA.
“We were never sure what side of the property line the trees were on,” John said. “So we just decided to split the costs with the neighbors.”
The neighbors with whom the Arroyos teamed up with to remove the trees have since moved out of Canterwood (not because of the tree dispute, the Arroyos said).
The couples were quoted just over $3,000 to have the trees removed by professionals, and in December 2015 they submitted a request to the HOA to have the trees removed. According to documents submitted to The Peninsula Gateway by the Arroyos, only one of the three trees was approved to be removed.
The couples then decided to appeal the HOA’s decision citing personal physical risks, windstorm dangers, landscape damages, septic tank damage and fire hazards as reasons to allow all three trees to be removed.
“We appreciate the importance of trees for carbon sequestration,” the appeal letter states. “We will gladly plant new ones someplace else where they can grow a safe distance away from people’s homes.”
By February 2016, the couples received a second denied request from the HOA. Just a couple weeks later, a tree located in another neighbor’s front yard fell during a windstorm.
“It barely missed his roof,” John said.
A photo of the large fallen tree shows the tree covering the top of the neighbor’s garage. Worried, the couple received a quote of more than $5,000 for tree property damage from their insurance agent.
When the issue of the tree removal was brought up again with the HOA, Kathy said board members said because the couple did not hire an arborist to assess the issue and because they did not originally cite a septic tank issue, the denial would not be appealed.
That’s when John took it into his own hands. In October 2016, he decided to change the date on the previous approval given to him by the HOA to cut down the first tree to have a second tree removed.
“I admit that I did that and it probably wasn’t right,” he said.
Before the tree removal could be finished, the HOA saw the work and had it stopped before the tree was cut down. After that, the Arroyos were fined more than $6,500. Later, a land study was completed by the Arroyos, and it concluded the trees were not on the Arroyo property but the neighboring property.
The HOA LETTER
According to a letter dated July 5, 2017 from the office of Roberts Johns Hemphill law offices, which represents the Canterwood HOA, when the Arroyos originally requested to remove the three trees, the Canterwood HOA denied the request because “Canterwood gave more weight to retaining the mature trees and resetting the stepping stones rather than removal of the tree and resetting the stepping stones.”
The letter also states the couple never gave the HOA any information about there septic system until a year later, when the couple received a determination from Hemley’s Septic Tank Cleaning Service.
“Canterwood does not agree that its decisions regarding the removal of trees must be uniform,” the letter states. “If the Arroyos felt the information they provided to the (HOA) and the board was sufficient to justify their request, they could have proceeded to superior court to obtain a declaratory judgment that the trees could be removed.”
Joe Jackowski, president of the Canterwood HOA, did not respond to emails from The Peninsula Gateway regarding follow-up questions surrounding the Arroyos’ case.
THE NEXT STEP
Although John and Kathy believe they were fined unfairly and that the trees are still a danger to their home, they feel stuck.
“We don’t have any next steps now,” John said. The couple has contacted legal advice, in which they were told the HOA could be liable only after “a calamity occurred.”
Because this is a possible health and safety hazard, the couple could look to the county to see if there is any authority above the HOA that would allow the removal of trees.
For now, the Arroyos have to hope the trees don’t do any damage in the near future, and that other residents who choose to move into Caterwood don’t face the same headaches.
“We get a lot of new residents; there’s at least four homes for sale around us,” Kathy said. “We just want people to know about this.”