Observing the DRC Meeting, Wednesday, January 10, 2007

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.


5 Responses to “Observing the DRC Meeting, Wednesday, January 10, 2007”

  1. barbara ward Says:

    Why the assumption that because people differ with your view of how the DRC Guidelines should be applied they “lack gumption”? Everyone in the community does not agree agree with your view that the Guidelines require a strict adherence to a 1950’s view of community architecture.

    It is important to remember that decisions by the DRC must not only be guided by personal taste, but also by the law. The law requires that homes be in “harmony and conformity.” Over the years that requirement has been interpreted to allow many types of roofing material – – there are many shingle roofs in Hollin Hills – we cannot farily or lawfully ignore that fact. “Harmony and conformity” is not a precise term and the “lack of gumption” to which you so derivesly refer reflects that fact.

  2. Noelle McAfee Says:

    Dear Barabara — To clarify, by “lack of gumption” I meant that the DRC members should hold out for what they think is truly good design, not what I think is good design. On reflection, I shouldn’t have used the phrase. I think DRC members have a lot of courage and integrity and I apologize for giving the wrong impression. Still, I stand by the point that the DRC should fully use the authority it has.

  3. David Armstrong Says:

    In response to Barbara, the DRC’s job is to make sure projects adhere to the guidelines. Its power is to refuse approval to those that don’t. The guidelines are quite clear in stating that built-up roofs, used brick and T-111 are to be encouraged. The only roofing material mentioned in the guidelines (under Section 5. F.) is built-up. It says explicitly, “Roofing materials that retain the visual appearance of the original built-up roofs are encouraged.” I don’t see shingle roofs mentioned anywhere in the guidelines. As far as exterior materials, the guidelines repeatedly mention painted wood and some clapboard, used brick fireplaces, and painted concrete block panel — not anything like fiber-cement.

    Somehow over the years materials not mentioned in the Design Review Guidelines have gotten approved — so much now that these cases are being used as precedents for new proposals. From the reports of the meetings, I gather that some of the DRC members are uncomfortable with some of the proposals and are trying to “encourage” homeowners to use the right materials. If the DRC is uncomfortable with a project, it should withhold approval. I understand the desire to accommodate homeowners who which to do something else with their houses. But that’s not the DRC’s job. It is entrusted with protecting the community by upholding the guidelines. It should use its authority to do so.

    As for these precedents, just because some structures have been built that fall short of the guidelines does not mean that now it is okay to continue following suit. I’ll close with the last paragraph of Section III of the guidelines: “One purpose of guidelines such as those contained in this report is to encourage homeowners to meet and strive toward community design standards. Obviously there are many examples in Hollin Hills of departures from these recommendations. You don’t need to feel compelled to tear down all your ogee gutters or replace expensive doors, sheds, etc. But, when the opportunity for replacement of gutters, windows, roofs, fences does occur, you should move toward the guidelines. As these improvements are made, the appearance of our community is maintained and enhanced.”

  4. barbara ward Says:

    David – Unfortunately the courts of Virginia do not agree with your interpretation of the DRC’s obligations. In making its decisions the DRC cannot legally ignore what it has allowed many times in the past and if it does, it will not be enforced by the courts. I think it imperative that we not attempt to so narrowly confine the DRC that homeowners in the community start igoring it or worse, that the community and homeowners start suing eachother. It has happened in the past and the scars are still felt by many. Just because there is a renewed interest in “mid-century modern housing, we should not abandon how this community has traditionally dealt with issues.

    More importantly, it is now almost 60 years later and better building materials are now available. Ooriginally these houses were cheaply and quickly built, they were not intended to become museum pieces. The orginial hollin hills houses were not energy efficient and in fact many of the original homeowners found the houses difficult and expensive to heat. Other maintenace problems also beame evident in the early years, and wood and high humidity in the houses was and is one of the big problems. I and many others have replaced large portions of the siding due to rot and other problems. I do not enjoy repeatedly spending money for this type of upkeep. There are a large number of houses where t-11 board it was not used originally. The community has not found these houses destroy the harmony of the community. If there is a new product on the market that does not cause my house to significantly alter the look of my home in relation to others in the community, then the DRC needs to seriously consider that product.

    While I agree that the DRC is not obligated to accept every new product that may be proposed, if the DRC is to continue to receive majority support in this community it must be open to new building materials that allow the homeowner who wishes to improve his property to make a long lasting and financially prudent investment in the residence. Unless these new products are going to result in a vastly different look that is in jarring contrast the surrounding homes it should be seriously considered.

  5. David Armstrong Says:

    Barbara, the attorney hired by the Civic Association, Mr. Diaz, made it very clear that our guidelines are entirely enforceable. Virginia courts have repeatedly upheld guidelines such as ours. There is no legal risk for the DRC, therefore, in enforcing the guidelines.

    That aside, I’m puzzled why this has become a legal debate. The guidelines are very clear in stating that when it is at all possible, homeowners should move toward closer adherence to the original look of Hollin Hills, not further away. I do not think anybody has suggested that homeowners cannot add double-glass windows, insulation or other features that do not change the basic look of their houses. I am also unaware of anyone suggesting that new materials should not be used. But 8-inch-wide paneling and shingle roofs, no matter what they’re made of, do not seem to conform with the guidelines. Some members of the DRC seemed, from what I understand, to have had concerns with these projects, and yet they were approved. I think that was Noelle’s point.

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