On June 11, 2006, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, 25 residents of Hollin Hills convened the second monthly meeting of the House in the Woods Club. We met at the Sherwood Hall Library and in attendance were several past and present members of the CAHH Board, the Design Review Committee (DRC), the Special By-laws Committee, (SBC) and the Special Design Review Committee (SDRC), as well as many newer residents in the neighborhood. By the time of this meeting, the original Club had already garnered some notoriety, having petitioned the Board to hold a special meeting to discuss teardowns and having started inquiries into the DRC process. Rumors and suspicions were in high gear. So, the first part of the meeting was devoted to who on earth this new Club is and what it is up to. Here’s the background, followed by a summary of our Sunday meeting.
After reading in the May 2006 Bulletin about a potential teardown, several Hollin Hills residents got together on May 16 at the home of new Hollin Hills residents, David Armstrong and Noëlle McAfee, of 2306 Kimbro Street, to discuss the issue. This group included John Burns, Susanne Garvey, Hana Hirschfeld, Bob Kinzer, Gretchen Raber, and John and Paige Totaro. By the end of the afternoon they decided to call themselves the “House in the Woods Club” and to invite others to join. During the course of the meeting, information popped up that the DRC seemed to be approving the teardown. (As it turns out, this wasn’t exactly true.) The Club thought it might be prudent to slow things down so that the SDRC, which had been chartered to look into whether or not teardowns could be prevented, had done its work. Pursuant to the CAHH By-laws, the Club circulated a petition calling for a special meeting to discuss the matter, a meeting that would consider calling for a moratorium on teardowns until the SDRC had made its recommendations to the Board, and until the community had had a chance to revisit the DRC Guidelines. Within one day, the Club gathered more than enough signatures and sent the petition to Judy England-Joseph, the president of CAHH. Judy and David Armstrong had a long talk one night and, given legal issues that might put the covenants into jeopardy, they decided to amend the purpose of the meeting to simply discussing the issues. Subsequently the Board decided to postpone the meeting further until more legal information was in. How long the Board can postpone a special meeting petitioned by the community is something that the Special By-laws Committee is now considering.
Sunday’s meeting began with a discussion of what the House in the Woods Club is. The agenda read: “The House in the Woods Club is a newly formed Club of Hollin Hills residents interested in the past and the future of the community. We are a loose association open to all residents of Hollin Hills who are interested in maintaining the architecture, design and integrity Hollin Hills—something that could surely be said of virtually all residents. We hope to provide a friendly setting to discuss ongoing and developing issues of Hollin Hills’ architecture, aesthetics, and community. We hope that our regular open discussions will provide an unofficial venue for public deliberation on issues facing the community and that these deliberations might generate imaginative and productive proposals for maintaining the character of Hollin Hills.”
Aware that some people in the community seem to be concerned that this Club is trying to obstruct the processes already in place to handle Hollin Hills’ affairs, or that it is trying to be a shadow government, moderator Noëlle McAfee offered another frame of reference, drawing on her professional work as a political philosopher. She noted that any truly democratic society has both a well-functioning governing structure and a vibrant civil society and public sphere in which citizens vigorously and deliberatively discuss matters of common concern. These public deliberations might generate more reflective public judgment and public will that can make their way up to the level of policy making. In other words, the open meetings of the House in the Woods Club are not meant to usurp the work of the existing policy structures but rather to generate ideas and sound judgment that can inform and bolster these committees. The Club’s aim is to hold public meetings that can produce ideas that are then recommended to the various committees. Sometimes, of course, these “recommendations” will seem like a pain in the neck, a thorn always present in a democratic society. They are, however, offered with the best of intentions in an effort to preserve the unique character of Hollin Hills that we all cherish.
At Sunday’s meeting, the group did discuss the issue of teardowns. Even among this small segment of the community, there were significant differences of opinion as to how to define the issue and whether the “teardown issue,” however characterized, must be addressed with urgency. Bob Kinzer and others gave a history of the small number of houses that have been torn down in Hollin Hills, and some expressed concern that once two or three homes have been permitted to be demolished by choice, rather than by necessity, a precedent would be set and would be difficult to reverse. While differences remained by the end of the meeting, everyone seemed to agree that: (1) this is an appropriate time in the neighborhood’s history to discuss the issue; and (2) having a strong design review of whatever is built in Hollin Hills is key to maintaining design integrity in the neighborhood.
The rest of the meeting was taken up by two matters: (1) generating ideas about what issues the Club would focus on; and (2) developing suggestions for the CAHH Board and the SDRC regarding the DRC process and the DRC guidelines.
1. Items to address in the future fell into these general areas:
• The need to inform prospective and new homeowners of the covenants. The meeting considered developing literature that could be put in the Greeter Packet given to each new resident; providing material for realtors (an idea with a long and not very productive history) and finding other ways to inform homeowners of the covenants and design review process, including making this information more accessible on the Hollin Hills web site.
• Making the Club a knowledge and resource base for how to maintain a Hollin Hills house. The Club might hold regular meetings, with as much past and present DRC input as possible, on how to replace a roof, find window parts, or put in a patio, all in keeping with the Hollin Hills’ aesthetic. In addition to holding sessions, the Club could put information on the Hollin Hills’ website, or on its own website, and eventually put out pamphlets or a book to help homeowners. The Club might also hold semi-regular seminars on topics such as modern architecture and design and Hollin Hills’ history.
• Find ways to encourage homeowners to go to the DRC for early input and guidance.
• Provide ideas for strengthening the DRC Guidelines that the SDRC can take to the community for consideration.
• Publicize history of the Hollin Hills’ aesthetic.
2. Items regarding the DRC process.
• The Club discussed ideas for allowing greater community input into the DRC process. Gretchen Raber spoke to the already huge commitment and workload of the DRC members. In the past, very few people volunteered to be on the DRC, but now people are being turned away. There is growing community-wide interest in opening up the process to more community involvement. The Club considered ways to open up the process further, allowing community-wide input to the DRC process. These ideas will be presented to the SDRC in the near future.
• Another matter under discussion was whether and how to strengthen the Design Review Guidelines with more specific language as to what is in harmony and conformity with the community's aesthetic, perhaps focusing more on the original design.
• The Club was pleased to learn that the DRC will start holding its monthly meetings at a regular meeting place, such as Hollin Meadows School library.
These points were just touched on briefly. The discussion helped clarify what might be items for further discussion in future meetings.
To sum up, the House in the Woods Club is well on its way to being a venue for informal public discussion and idea generation for the community.
The next meeting of the House in the Woods Club will be July 9, 3 to 5 p.m., at the Sherwood Hall Library first floor meeting room. All residents of Hollin Hills are invited to be a part of this discussion group.
For more information, please email email@example.com
This piece was written by Noëlle McAfee with help from Barbara Helm, Larry Goldberg, John Totaro, Paige Totaro, and David Armstrong. Present at the second meeting were the above plus John and Elizabeth Higdon Brigden, Ann and Al Carr, Solveig Cox, Tim Day, Jere Gibber, Woody and Marjorie Ginsburg, Daniel Goldberg, J.G. Harrington, Hana Hirschfeld, Kevin Ann Huckshorn, Bob and Lee Ann Kinzer, Noel Mazade, Mary-Carroll Potter, Jay Pescoe, and Gretchen Raber.
For the name, we are indebted to Dennis Carmichael, who wrote the booklet A House in the Woods: A Landscape Aesthetic for Hollin Hills (1989).