For the Record: A Response to Judy England-Joseph’s Column

To: Residents of Hollin Hills

From: David Armstrong

The President’s Corner column in the current (July/August 2006) issue of the Hollin Hills Bulletin misrepresents several recent events. In reference to a petition (signed by more than 70 Hollin Hills residents) calling for a Special Meeting to discuss a temporary moratorium on teardowns in the community (until the Special Design Review Committee has completed its work and the residents have had a chance to consider its findings), Civic Association President Judy England-Joseph writes that an unnamed individual has begun “citing Virginia State Law guiding association activities as if to suggest that we are not acting in good faith or with the community’s best interest at heart” in scheduling the Special Meeting. It seems that I am the individual to whom Judy refers. She also writes that she has “seen one or two people make a lot of noise, misrepresent issues and circumstances, and essentially poison the well for others.” I don’t know whether she is referring to me here as well, but I think it is unfortunate that she perceives and represents matters as such. I would like to set the record straight so that we can all work together for the good of the community.

My citation of Virginia law occurred under the following circumstances: At a House In The Woods Club Meeting on July 9, 20006, Civic Association Secretary and Bylaws Review Committee member Dick Seltzer stated that, as a result of the delay in calling the Special Meeting, the Bylaws Committee was considering language that would clarify how quickly the Board should call a meeting for which the Association membership had petitioned. Dick also indicated that he believed the Committee was considering recommending that the Bylaws be amended to state that such a meeting be convened within 45 days of the Board receiving the petition. On this point, I mentioned that it was my understanding that Virginia Law seemed to indicate that a court, upon request of any member of the Association, may set a date for a Special Meeting if it has not been called by the Board within 30 days of receipt of the petition. As I explained to Dick in an email message later, I offered this observation in the hope that it might be helpful in the ongoing efforts to revise the Bylaws and Guidelines. I also sent him a link to the relevant section of the Virginia Code. (See: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+13.1-840) At no point, either at the meeting or in my subsequent email, did I make any suggestion that the Board was “not acting in good faith” or did not have “the community’s best interest at heart.” In fact, Dick wrote back praising the day’s meeting and the ideas that it had generated. He added: “You are right that a member can go to court and have the court set a meeting date if a special meeting date has not been set by the organization within 30 days after the date [of] the demand. . . . That said, this citation does not imply that a Special meeting has to be held within 30 days, it is just that if a meeting date has not be set within 30 days someone can ask the court to set the date.” This is a point, as I indicated to Dick in a reply, on which we both agree. In his note, Dick also acknowledged that he and I both want “the best for HH.”

Judy, however, had a very different reaction. After apparently receiving a copy of my communication with Dick, Judy sent me a note stating, “Suggestions that we are intentionally delaying the opinion letter [from the lawyer hired by the Board to looking into the question of tear downs and other issues] or have some ulterior motive to that of the serving the community as best we can is outrageous and offensive.” I wrote back to her explaining that I had made no such suggestion. I expressed my hope that the matter had been clarified, yet, as her recent column demonstrates, Judy still seems to misunderstand my position.

In her column, Judy states that the same unnamed person (me) “asked that I [Judy] change the stated purpose of the special meeting when he represents only one of the 39 households that signed the petition.” Again, this misstates the facts. Shortly after the Board received the petition in May for the Special Meeting, Judy and I spoke by phone to discuss where things stood and how matters might proceed. During that conversation, Judy expressed the Board’s concern that if the Special Meeting were to result in a vote to place a temporary moratorium on teardowns, it could place the validity of the community’s covenants at risk since, according to the preliminary judgment of the lawyer hired by the Board, the Association has no authority to ban teardowns. Although that issue is far from settled, I expressed my belief that, given the Board’s concerns, the other petitioners might agree to a proposal to amend the purpose of the Special Meeting to exclude specific reference to halting teardowns if the Board would call the meeting. Judy indicated that she thought that would be a workable solution and would submit it to the other members of the Board. The following day, Judy emailed me, writing, “I felt you and I had a very good conversation [last] night and the amended agenda topic is a good one.” Subsequently Judy wrote to the SDRC saying, “The conversation was very productive and I truly appreciated the time he [David Armstrong] took to talk with me about their concerns.” In that same note to the SDRC, she wrote:

“He said that he understood the situation the Board was in, given the advice from legal counsel regarding our authority to control teardowns, but the petitioners still want a meeting and want a meeting sooner than the Board feels is advisable, given the outstanding legal questions. As a result of our conversation, he proposed a change in the agenda to focus more on getting homeowner input about the future of the community from the standpoint of teardowns, major renovations, etc. He feels the meeting would help determine how strongly people feel about preserving Goodman homes. He believes the petitioners want very badly to have a meeting to talk about the path we are on and whether the community wants the path to change.”

Noting that “these issues are at the heart of your committee’s charter,” she suggested that the SDRC host an “an open forum to get community input.” It’s not clear from that note whether she thought this meeting would replace the special meeting; yet no Special Meeting was immediately called, despite our conversation.

Judy also writes in her column that two petitioners have contacted her “quite upset that we have not scheduled the special meeting.” The two people I know of who contacted her about the timing of the Special Meeting are my wife, Noëlle McAfee, and our neighbor Hana Hirschfeld. They wrote to her, but were not “quite upset” – though they were worried about the effects of delaying the meeting. In a very reasonable letter to Judy in May, Hana wrote:

“It is my understanding that the committee formed to update the guidelines will be working on a questionaire which will be sent to all residents and base their recommendations on the results. This process will be necessarily slow. In the meantime, whether we like it or not, quite a few people are becoming frustrated and upset. Would it not be possible for this committee and the DRC to meet with all concerned residents earlier than July and so forestall what might otherwise become an acrimonious, long term issue? July in H.H. is like August in Paris – too many people out of town. An earlier meeting should help these committees clarify their task and reassure the community that their concerns are being addressed. . . . I really hope we can all see this through promptly and in a cooperative spirit.”

Judy’s reply suggested she shared Hana’s concern. “I, too, am concerned about homeowners being on vacation during the summer as the issue of teardowns comes to a head,” Judy wrote. “June, July and August are all equally bad months for resolving important issues.” Yet the meeting was still not called.

In her column in the June Bulletin, Judy wrote that the date of the Special Meeting would be set “as quickly as possible and practical, once the legal analysis is in hand. If everything goes as we hope, the meeting will be held no later than the middle of July.”

As date approached with no date set, Noëlle attempted to contact Judy to inquire about the status of the meeting. She learned that Judy was in Italy and would not return until July 10. On July 11, having learned that the Board had received a draft response from the lawyer, I sent a note to Judy. It read: “Welcome back. Can you tell me the status of the Special Meeting. Also, would it be possible for us to see the response you receive from Mr. Diaz. Thank you in advance.”

Judy responded with her reasons for the delay and then, inexplicably, closed her note as follows: “Suggestions that we are intentionally delaying the opinion letter or have some ulterior motive to that of the serving the community as best we can is outrageous and offensive.”

I replied, “Thank you for getting back to me. I am not aware of anybody suggesting that the Board was intentionally ‘delaying the opinion letter’ or had ulterior motives. I certainly did not make such suggestions. My questions to Dick Seltzer, as I’m sure he’ll confirm, were about the rationale for the delay of the Special Meeting, not about the Board’s intent. My questions to you were simply about the status of the Special Meeting and whether the community might be allowed to see Mr. Diaz’s letter. I hope this clears up the matter.” I received no reply.

On July 25, I sent a note to Judy asking whether the Board had received a final version of the letter from their lawyer and if she could tell me the status of the Special Meeting. Judy wrote back saying the Board had received what she believed would be the final draft the day before and hoped to have a formal version within a few days. She also indicated, apparently in reference to the Special Meeting, that she was also “checking on dates of availability among the Board members and the attorney and should have a date set so we can mail a notice out to everyone next week.” We now understand that, to accommodate summer schedules, the meeting will probably be held in September.

Finally, Noëlle and I were surprised by Judy’s remark in her recent column, that, “Most of us moved to Hollin Hills not because it was a Goodman neighborhood but because of the reputation of the community and the people who live here.” It seems to us, and to many others with whom we’ve spoken, that in Hollin Hills architecture and community are interconnected. Noëlle and I, like so many others, were first drawn to Hollin Hills by the architecture, but within days of moving here fell in love with the neighborhood because of the sense of community, its friendly and open atmosphere, and its habits and institutions, from the Fourth of July picnic to the occasional potluck parties at the pool. We think there is a strong connection between the ideas that animate these houses in the woods and the ideas that make us a progressive and tight-knit community.

Living in a glass house calls for a lot of courage and openness, qualities that make this community special. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of all the volunteers who serve on the committees and the Board and hope we can put these unfortunate misunderstandings behind us.

PS—Before posting this message I wrote to Judy explaining that I planned to respond to her column. I added: “It occurs to me . . . that you may now see things differently than you did when you wrote your piece. If that is the case and you wish to correct the record, we would be happy for you to post your comments on our website in lieu of my posting my response.” Judy wrote back saying that she did not agree with the “tenor and tone” of my response but declined my invitation citing other responsibilities.

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A Quote from 1956

“It is perfectly OK to wear Bermuda shorts anywhere in Hollin Hills, whatever the occasion. More formal affairs require knee socks. It is also OK to have no furniture or decent lighting, but it is not OK to have a knicknack shelf.” — from the Hollin Hills Bulletin, as quoted in Hollin Hills: A History into the 4th Decade, p. 52.

Report on July DRC Meeting

Following is the House in the Woods Club’s report on the Design Review Committee meeting of July 11, 2006.

English-Stonehouse residence, 7408 Recard Lane. Shed and landscaping.  Mr. English presented a one-page computer sketch of an idea for augmenting his  front yard.  The plan calls for creating a new parking area, erecting two walls to block the view of cars from the house, constructing a shed next to one of the walls, and landscaping.  The Committee decided that Mr. English should go to the County to find out about the restrictions on the height of walls and the placement of shed in the front yard.

Wickham residence, 7406 Recard Lane.  Carport.  The Wickhams submitted the
final construction plans for their carport.  The Committee approved the plans.

Volkman residence, 2400 Daphne Lane. Shed.  Contractor Robert Fina appeared on behalf of the Volkmans.  Mr. Fina submitted drawings for a shed to replace one that is in bad repair.  The new shed would be slightly smaller than the original and would be of similar design.  The DRC approved the plans.

Issues discussed without owners present:

Blandford residence, 1809 Paul Spring Road.  Fence.  No plans were presented but
some ideas for changes to a previous submission were discussed.

Silverstein residence, 7718 Elba Road. Fence.  The Committee discussed whether a backyard can be fenced.

The Committee briefly discussed the status of various project that are currently pending. No addresses were mentioned so it is not possible to provide details of those discussions.

July 9 Meeting of the House in the Woods Club

The House in the Woods Club, a newly formed group of Hollin Hills residents interested in the past and the future of the community, held its third monthly meeting on July 9.  For this session, the club convened a forum open to all to discuss design review issues. Our featured guest was Chris McNamara, the head of the newly formed Special Design Review Committee, chartered to revisit the design review guidelines and process. More than fifty Hollin Hillers attended, including past and present members of the civic association board and other committees of the association.

The meeting provided a space for the community to raise issues that the SDRC could put to the community in its upcoming survey, which will become the basis of its recommendations to the civic association.  There were a number of lively issues:  How wide should community input and involvement be in the DRC process?  How much weight should be given to the privacy concerns of those going before the DRC versus the community’s right to an open and transparent process?  And how can the DRC “harmony and conformity” standard be better defined and more effectively enforced?

These weren’t simply abstract questions. One of the pressing concerns to many in the community is the issue of teardowns and what might replace them. Present at the meeting were a range of people, from some averse to any teardowns to one who was in the process of petitioning the DRC for a proposal that involves tearing down some portion of a Goodman house. Speaking up in any meeting calls for courage, but none more than the courage of our neighbor who came knowing that her proposal to the DRC was causing a good deal of controversy.  The ensuing discussion was remarkably productive, civil, and useful.  What emerged seemed to be a sense that the DRC process — formally and informally — needed to be more open, transparent and effective.

Another issue addressed at the meeting was the fate of the Special Meeting that 39 members of the Civic Association had petitioned for in mid-May largely because of the proposed teardown. (Article IV, section 2 of the bylaws reads: “Special meetings may be called by the President or the Board of Directors or by written petition to the President of not less than twenty-five (25) members.”) The purpose of the meeting was to discuss whether to put a moratorium on DRC approval of any teardown until the Special Design Review Committee had completed its work., which had started the petition, It was not what CAHH Board president Judy England-Joseph described it as in her June column in the Bulletin: an opportunity for the community “to voice its opinion as to the proper interpretation of the scope of DRC authority with regard to a teardown.” Given the misunderstanding, the Board decided to postpone the special meeting until about mid-July when it had heard back from a lawyer as to whether the DRC had such authority. But now as mid-July approached, that meeting had yet to be called. Civic Association board member Richard Seltzer spoke up at the meeting to give his account for the delay, namely that the lawyer they had consulted to clarify issues had still not clarified them enough to make a meeting productive.  Others in the meeting made the case that the Board had no authority to delay a meeting duly called by the membership. The matter is still unresolved, though Seltzer promised that the meeting would be called as soon as the Board felt it had the information needed. Seltzer added that, as a member of the By-Laws review committee, he could report that this committee was proposing language that would clarify how soon the board needed to call a meeting petitioned for by the membership.

Even with some disagreements, in the end, the meeting seemed to succeed in its principal aim to provide a space for informal public discussion and deliberation on matters affecting the community.  Many at the meeting observed that this informal space for public discussion can provide ideas and energy for the Board and formal committees of the Civic Association.  They need not be in competition but can work together for the good of the community.

At the meeting, the House in the Woods Club also began forming committees that could become valuable resources for the community, including one that would find resources to help maintain Hollin Hills houses, one that would maintain a website, and another that would serve as the speakers and special events committee. Though some in attendance expressed concern that these committees might be duplicating efforts already undertaken by the Civic Association and the newsletter recommendations list, others countered that the club activities could expand on these efforts without putting an additional burden on the Civic Association.  In addition, an online recommendations list could be updated immediately, and could list specific producers and sources of building materials to assist those looking to preserve the look and feel of the original Goodman houses.    Members of the House in the Woods Club look forward to holding these meetings regularly as well as occasional forums on broader issues of Hollin Hills history and nuts-and-bolts seminars on maintaining one’s own bit of architectural history.  Please send ideas to houseinthewoodsclub@gmail.com.  Also visit our new weblog, Hollin Hills Talks, at https://hollinhills.wordpress.com.  You can add a comment to any article posted there. And if you’d like to author an article, let us know.  If you prefer the telephone rather than the Internet, feel free to call me at 703-768-2235.  And please join us at our next meeting, scheduled for Sunday September 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Sherwood Hall Library meeting room.

–Noëlle McAfee for the House in the Woods Club

PS—For those not familiar with our group, The House in the Woods Club is a loose association open to all residents of Hollin Hills who are interested in maintaining the architecture, design, community and integrity of 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. Our aim is to hold regular open discussions that 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. The club itself takes no position on issues, though many of its members – like most residents of Hollin Hills – have their own opinions on things.

House in the Woods Club presents ideas to SDRC

The Special Design Review Committee (constituted to review and revise Hollin Hills’ Design Review Guidelines) invited the House in the Woods Club to present the ideas it has compiled on how the design review process might be revised. Members of the Club presented those suggestions at the SDRC’s meeting on July 12, 2006. What follows is that presentation. Your comments are welcome!

July 12, 2006

House in the Woods Club Suggestions for the SDRC

Following is a list of items the House in the Woods Club has compiled for the Special Design Review Committee to consider putting before the community by including them in the survey regarding the Design Review Guidelines that it is preparing. The list includes a variety of ideas that emerged in our Club’s discussions, but it does not represent a consensus of opinion among the Club members – rather, it is a list of items that Club members suggested as timely issues worthy of consideration.

It is our hope that the SDRC survey will result in revisions to the Guidelines that will: (1) permit enhanced community knowledge of and involvement in the DRC process; (2) facilitate the DRC’s ability to enforce the design specifications; and (3) help ensure that new construction reflects the community’s view of how the “harmony and conformity” standard should be interpreted.

DRC Meeting Procedures

We suggest that the SDRC consider:

1. whether the DRC can post the time and place of all regularly scheduled meetings;

2. whether the community can be notified of all special (i.e. not regularly scheduled) DRC sessions at least 24 hours in advance;

3. whether all DRC meetings can be open to observers;

4. whether specific criteria should be established for closing DRC sessions;

5. whether the DRC can post its agenda in real time (i.e., as it is updated);

6. whether specific criteria can be developed for denying requests to be added to the DRC agenda;

7. whether the DRC can publish/post more detailed descriptions of the actions that it takes in each session;

8. whether the DRC should be required to keep full and complete notes of all its discussions at each session and report them fully to the members of the Civic Association; and

9. whether the DRC should return to the practice of including a non-voting “emeritus” member, in an effort to provide an historical perspective for the short-term regular members of the committee.

Neighbor Notification

We suggest that the SDRC consider:

1. whether neighbor notification can be expanded to include the entire community, not just contiguous neighbors;

2. whether the entire community can be allowed to weigh in on plans, not only the contiguous neighbors;

3. whether the entire community can be allowed to view plans some specified number of days (perhaps 14) before they are considered by the DRC;

4. whether, to avoid possible conflicts, the names of those commenting on plans should not be disclosed to the homeowner. Only the DRC would know who submitted the comments;

5. whether to avoid conflict with friends and neighbors, DRC responses should also be anonymous; and

6. whether the process of neighbor notification can be undertaken by someone other than those making the alterations. Perhaps the DRC could notify neighbors that plans are available for viewing by the entire community prior to the next DRC meeting;

Guidelines Relating to the Harmony and Conformity Standard

We suggest that the SDRC consider:

1. whether the Guidelines can be revised so that the “harmony and conformity” standard is measured against the original Hollin Hills aesthetic and not the aesthetic of subsequent new construction;

2. whether there could be a requirement that, if a house is torn down, some specified fraction (perhaps 50 percent) of the original house be rebuilt, following the original plans, consistent with modern code and material considerations;

3. whether stronger wording is needed to reinforce the current Guidelines’ statement that an addition should not overwhelm the scale of the original house;

4. whether the DRC should develop a list of guideline details and checklists which will help architects and homeowners generate alterations which are in harmony and conformity; and

5. whether the DRC should develop prescriptive harmony and conformity guidelines in areas which can fundamentally affect the aesthetic character of the community and the environment for near neighbors. These might include:

– The percentage of an original house that can be demolished without being rebuilt as it originally existed.

– The percentage of the original roof that can be altered without being rebuilt as it originally existed.

– Criteria for determining whether a second story can be added to a one-story house.

– The maximum size of an approvable addition.

– Criteria for determining whether incursion of an addition or alteration into the sight lines of neighboring houses is allowable.

– Guidelines for informing (in advance of approval) the community at large and the near neighbors in the approval of significant alterations.

– Establishing the weight given to the opinions of near neighbors and of the community at large as to the appropriateness of any proposed alteration in determining whether a project is approved.

July DRC Agenda

Following is the agenda for the July 11, 2006 Design Review Committee Meeting:

HH DRC – July 2006 Agenda

8:00 English-Stonehouse Residence, 7408 Recard Lane, Shed and Landscaping

8:30 Wickham Carport, 7406 Recard Lane, Carport

9:00 Volkman, 2400 Daphne Lane, Shed

Other Issues:

• Felicity and Bob Blandford, 1809 Paul Spring Road – Fence

• Silverman, 7718 Elba Road, Fence

• Update on outstanding projects

• Next meeting: Time and Place

Please note that the date listed for the meeting on the civic association web site  (www.hollinhills.org) is incorrect.  The meeting is Tuesday, July 11, NOT the 13th, as posted.

Agenda for July 9 Meeting

House in the Woods Club Meeting & Community Forum
Sherwood Hall Library

July 9, 2006, 3 to 5 p.m.

Agenda

I. Synopsis of last meeting https://hollinhills.wordpress.com/2006/06/14/hello-world/.

II. Status of the special meeting.

III. Follow up on ideas that emerged from our last meeting. Need volunteers to coordinate efforts:

– Resource Committee. Locate manufacturers who can fabricate replacements for specialty HH items such as: low-profile casement windows, smooth T-111 siding, and odd-sized doors and door frames. This would allow the DRC to require that windows, siding and other features be replaced in-kind without creating undue hardship for homeowners.

– Preparation of Greeters Packets. As discussed, this would include materials that greeters can provide to new HH residents that would provide information about the HH aesthetic, increase awareness of the covenants and the DRC process, and encourage new owners to go to the DRC early when planning an alteration to their home.

– Creating a HITWC Knowledgebase. This would involve colleting and disseminating information about resources available to HH residents. This might include everything from where to buy appropriate furniture and fabrics the proper construction of a HH roof. Could also be a column in the Bulletin or on the website.

– Developing and maintaining a HITWC Website. Maybe use the site already started: https://hollinhills.wordpress.com/

– Speakers and Special Events Committee. Hold events throughout the year.

IV. Running up costs. Need a treasurer and small contributions.

V. Community Forum: discussion of design review issues affecting Hollin Hills with members of the Special Design Review Committee, including its chair, Chris McNamara.

VI. Date and topic for next meeting.