by Noelle McAfee
Paige Totaro and I sat in on the January 2007 Design Review Committee meeting where two proposals were put before the board, people were interviewed to fill openings on the committee, and several interesting issues arose – issues that Paige and I think the community should think through seriously as it goes through the process of revising the Design Review Guidelines. In short, these issues include letting material other than brick be used for fireplace walls, letting built-up roofs be replaced with shingle roofs, and letting 8-inch wide planks be used instead of the traditional 4-inch wide T-111 siding. Applicants have their own practical and aesthetic reasons for proposing such changes and the current guidelines are loose enough to allow them. But we should all think about how such changes might alter the community’s aesthetic.
First up was the residence at 7416 Range Road. The Design Review Committee granted conceptual approval for an addition that would involve new siding and replacing the old built up roof with shingles. DRC member Andrew Cheng said that he preferred built-up roofs to shingles but that so long as the roof would be fully replaced with shingles, the change was okay. The main issue that was discussed was the planned new siding: Hardi-Plank rather than the traditional T-111 siding used throughout Hollin Hills. The committee seemed to be most worried about having a mix of old T-111 siding and the Hardi-Plank siding. The applicant and his architect, Rebecca Bostick, argued that all the siding would be painted the same color, and the change would not be visible from the street. The committee still seemed to be concerned that the siding might not be consistent enough. When later asked, by this observer, why allow the new siding at all, the committee responded that the old T-111 siding tends to rot, while the new siding, made of fiber-cement, is much more durable.
Here’s my concern: Hardi-Plank used to come in 4” widths, but not any more. Four-inch vertical siding is decidedly modern whereas eight-inch siding seems much more traditional and staid. My guess is that Hardi-Plank siding made its way into the repertoire of approved materials because it had been available in a scale that mimicked T-111. When Hardi-Plank dropped the 4-inch scale, the DRC should have dropped Hardi-Plank.
After conceptual approval was granted and the applicants left, one DRC member asked why the shingle-roof proposal was approved without any discussion. Other DRC members said they preferred built-up roofs but couldn’t deny them under the current guidelines. They said that shingles seemed to be okay on gable roofs, but probably not on flat or low-slope roofs. The applicant had said he wanted shingles because when he cleaned the moss off his built-up roof the rocks came off as well. He wanted shingles to avoid moss. But, as we discussed later, even shingle roofs get covered in moss, and if moss gets stuck to rocks, you can just shake the rocks back on to the roof. We discussed this some more after the meeting without getting much of anywhere.
The second proposal was from the architect-owner of 2403 Daphne Lane. This was her second meeting before the DRC. The last time she was there the committee asked her to do further study on her plan to use ground-face block, rather than brick, for a new fireplace wall on an addition that they had otherwise approved. After that meeting the applicant conducted an impressive study and she came back on this January 10 meeting with an extensive set of photographs of Hollin Hills fireplace walls and of the wide-spread use of ground-face block. The issue, though, that one of the DRC members noted, was that while ground-face block might be used widely, it hasn’t been used widely for fireplace walls. The applicant noted one precedent: the new house on Glasgow Road. After much discussion, the Committee decided that the proposed scale of the wall and the choice of the ground-face block worked well together and it granted conceptual approval.
After the second applicant left, the committee began interviewing candidates to fill two spots on the DRC, one now to replace Ray Goodrow and another to later replace Andrew Cheng. The committee seemed open to filling those spots with people with different design temperaments, saying that it would be good to have someone open to change balanced by someone more conservative, that is, I guess, your “new” open-minded modernist and your “old” staunchly modern modernist. If I were applying, I know I’d be considered one of the latter.
Throughout the meeting, DRC members repeatedly brought up the possibility of changes to the Design Review Guidelines. The current guidelines, as I noted above, leave a lot of room for subjective interpretation. This current committee seems to take this as reason to approve most things that are not explicitly prohibited – such as shingle roofs — rather than use their discretion to only approve things that they think are truly well-designed. But why take that attitude? One member noted that he has sometimes approved designs that he didn’t really like simply because they met the minimum of the guidelines. The DRC seems to want to avoid the “bad old days” when the DRC had a reputation for being quite strict and conservative. They don’t want people to fear or avoid going before the DRC like they did once upon a time.
When were those days? Why not have a little more gumption? Why can’t we all push for the kind of design we’d all be proud of? The DRC’s job is not to give a pass to the minimally passable but to make sure that additions and modifications are in harmony and conformity with the rest of the community. There is a lot of latitude, and we as a community should push for using this latitude well. When proposals are not truly in harmony and conformity, they should not be approved.
Oh, I almost forgot: as Rebecca Bostick was leaving she mentioned that the proposed tear-down on Drury Lane may not be torn down. Apparently they will be back to the DRC with more modest plans.