Notes from an observer at the June 6, 2007 DRC meeting

by Paige Conner Totaro

There were six proposals on the agenda for the June 6, 2007, meeting of the Design Review Committee. But because three of the sessions were closed to observers, I was only able to observe three sessions plus the status review of other issues before the Committee.

After discussion with some other meeting observers, I’m experimenting with a new way to report on DRC meetings. We want to talk more about the issues that arise in the meetings than we do about specific home projects. I would love to hear your responses to these changes.

At the June 6 DRC meeting, these are the some of the issues that arose.

Several issues were brought to the forefront with a neighbor’s proposal to replace a shed with a prefabricated one, as well as a brief discussion of another neighbor’s construction of a shed without prior approval from the DRC.

First, I think it’s important for the community to know that with a very few minor adjustments, a prefab shed from the mega home improvement store might be approved by the DRC. The DRC can look at a prefab shed and suggest several design changes, such as removing trim from around the door to make the door flush, painting it the same color as the house, and making sure that any windows are in conformity. This will vary from shed to shed, so people should always consult with the DRC before installing one.

Several of the issues brought before the DRC involved construction that began without DRC approval. This is a tough situation for the DRC and for the neighborhood as a whole. How should neighbors address this problem when it arises? How should the DRC address this? A non-conforming shed can appear overnight. What should happen next? The DRC noted that temporary structures are often given more leeway than permanent ones. But what if a structure is technically “temporary” — say that it doesn’t have a foundation — but likely to remain in place for a decade or so?

What if the construction in question goes far beyond the import of a shed and involves new construction on three or four sides of a house visible to neighbors and the street? How far can or should the DRC and civic association go in halting such construction and pressing the homeowner to go through the DRC process ? We do all buy our Hollin Hills homes subject to design covenants.

A couple of other issues came up at the meeting, and I do not by any means want to imply any any fault on the part of the current DRC members, because these issues involve more procedural questions that have likely been in place for years. I’ll be sending my comments to the SDRC, too, so they can possibly consider them as they work on their report.

First, there’s a question of how clear the DRC’s decision might be to the applicant. In one session I observed, the committee discussed at length how a proposal for replacing a shed could be done in a way that would make the replacement more in harmony and conformity; these included details such as using T1-11 board, making the trim around a door flush, and painting the shed all one color. At the end the Committee approved the replacement, pending neighbor notification. My question, as an observer, was this: had they approved the replacement only if the requested changes were made? Or did the homeowner just need to make her best effort to make those changes if possible? Should there perhaps be a written approval notice given to the homeowner to clarify exactly what has been approved? This language could then also be used in the neighbor notification, and could also be noted in the DRC’s spreadsheet (see below). I wasn’t able to ask the question at the meeting because the next group had arrived for their closed session, but I hope the homeowner had a clearer idea than I did of what had been approved .

Second is a question about DRC recordkeeping. At the meeting, I saw (from afar and without seeing any detail) a large spreadsheet of cases pending with and decided by the DRC. The DRC Chair noted that he had given administrative approval to a few things between meetings, and that those things did not need to be noted on the spreadsheet. So this brought to mind a few questions: first — what is administrative approval and when and by whom can it be granted? Second — why not note it in the spreadsheet? I am all for institutional memory, especially in volunteer decision-making groups, to ensure consistency in decision-making, and to strengthen the DRC’s case in certain situations. (E.g. “we’ve declined approval for these types of gutters x number of times, so we can’t approve them now unless there’s been a change in their design” or “we’ve approved this type of prefab shed x number of times so we can grant administrative approval if the same changes are made and the location is okay.”)

Last is the issue of closed sessions. Personally, I can understand and appreciate the desire for homeowners to have closed sessions early in the process, but I think the earlier the meetings can be opened to the neighborhood, the better. How the DRC interprets the Guidelines in any given case has consequences for all of us, especially in so far as any given decision becomes a precedent for decisions down the road. For this reason, I think, especially for cases of first impression (new technologies, new materials, new design issues) or cases of major renovations, the community should be invited to comment to the DRC before the DRC makes its final decisions.

I must say that I enjoy attending DRC meetings, and I am always impressed with the work that the DRC members do. They have great respect for the homeowners who come before them and they clearly put a lot of time into these volunteer positions. I may come away with a lot of questions, but I always learn something when I attend.

(Editor’s note: The DRC’s report of the June 6 meeting has just been posted and can be found at http://www.hollinhills.org/drc/drcReport.php?period=062007  )

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