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 email@example.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.