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.