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  )

May DRC Meeting Notes

by Lee Ann Kinzer

2109 Paul Spring Road — Window replacement given
administrative approval.

7221 Beechwood Road — Alterations to approved addition plan: (a) The air conditioning units are substantially larger than the space originally
allowed, requiring a different placement. Applicants were given
approval to extend the screening fence located near their carport and
place units behind this screen; applicants and DRC members agreed
that this location is not ideal (for noise reasons, not design
problems) and all agreed also to continue a search for a better
solution. (b) Applicants were given approval to add an additional
panel of screening to the screen porch, rounding the corner of the
house.

2403 Daphne Lane — DRC members agreed that plans were in agreement with the concept previously reviewed and gave approval for
construction. The applicant noted that the deck is slightly larger
and reported that neighbor notification had taken place Monday and
Tuesday of this week.

1805 Drury Lane and 1929 Martha’s Road — Both involve prefab sheds
already in place; neither homeowner had applied for DRC approval.
The committee will ask both owners to come before the committee.

Additional business: The next DRC meeting will be on June 6, followed
by August 1. July needs, if any, will be covered by special
arrangement.

John Burns has been named the new DRC member.

Next SDRC Meeting date changed to Wednesday April 25

Note that the next SDRC “town meeting” will be APRIL 25 not April 26

Here’s the agenda:

7:30 p.m. Welcome/Introductions/Purpose of Meeting

7:40 p.m. Further discussion about SDRC Survey Question 22:

Should any Hollin Hills resident be allowed to attend the monthly Design Review Committee meetings to voice opinions about the additions and renovations being discussed at that meeting?
Need additional community input on whether Hollin Hills residents should voice opinions at the DRC meetings or just attend to observe.

8:30 p.m. Further discussion about SDRC Survey Question 20:

Some areas are not currently addressed by the Design Review Guidelines. In your opinion, are Design Review Guidelines needed to provide direction in the following areas?

For each area you think should be addressed, should the Guidelines be prescriptive (specific requirements to be met), performance (more general direction and standards), or a combination of both prescriptive and performance guidelines?

Need additional community input on creating guidelines (prescriptive/directional/both) about:

• Design of a complete replacement of an existing house
• An addition that significantly changes the external appearance of the original house
• Adding and additional story
• Maximum height of a house
• Maximum ratio of house size to property size

SDRC to Hold Town Hall Meetings

Civic Association of Hollin Hills
Special Design Review Committee (SDRC)
Survey Follow Up Town Hall Meeting
The SDRC is seeking additional community feedback on topics related to the design review guidelines, neighbor notification and the DRC meeting process unresolved by the recent community survey.

Wed., April 18, 2007
&
Thursday, April 26, 2007
7:30 p.m.
Hollin Meadows School Cafeteria

Open Meetings & the SDRC Questionnaire

One of the items on the agenda for the civic association meeting this coming Tuesday night is an update on the Special Design Review Committee survey. If you filled out the survey, you may recall some questions about whether Design Review Committee meetings should be open to observers. As it turns out, this isn’t an academic question. For the past three DRC meetings, some applicants have requested and been granted closed sessions with the DRC. Except for immediate neighbors and the DRC, no one else is able to learn about proposed additions and renovations of these houses. This is so despite the fact that the covenants state that they can be enforced by “any other person or persons owning any real property situated in said development or subdivision.” (See the first paragraph of the Covenants.) If any other persons owning real property can enforce the covenants (not that things should ever come to that!) then certainly the authors of the covenants figured that they should be able to know what is going on. But with closed sessions, that’s not happening. Moreover, with closed sessions, the DRC only gets input from immediate neighbors, though the covenants indicate that all real property owners in the subdivision have standing in the process. The more closed sessions there are, the less information there is available for the community as a whole and the DRC itself.

When my husband and I along with some other people in the neighborhood started observing the DRC meetings last year, one set of applicants requested a closed session and the DRC complied. For many months thereafter, all sessions were open to the public. But then a few months ago an applicant again requested a closed session. The board weighed in and said that the DRC needed, because of that one earlier “precedent,” to let a session be closed when requested. Most sessions are still open, but one architect in particular is requesting that all her sessions be closed. One board member told me that this would be the protocol until the SDRC process of reviewing and revising the guidelines was completed.

Part of that SDRC process is the questionnaire we were all asked to complete this past winter. For anyone outside the SDRC and the board, this was the first time the wording was open to the public. The following is the wording of the first question pertaining to whether DRC meetings should be open:

22. Should any Hollin Hills resident be allowed to attend the monthly Design Review Committee meetings to voice opinions about the additions and renovations being discussed at that meeting?

The wording for this question is unfortunate, to say the least. It presumes that people want to attend meetings to voice their opinions rather than simply observe. There should have been a question asking whether observers could attend the monthly meeting, period. I and others who have observed the sessions go there to observe, not to voice our opinions. If we do speak up at all, it is between sessions and only to ask questions. We have never intervened, or even conspicuously coughed, when the DRC is considering a proposal. That would be completely inappropriate. It is only after the DRC has made its decision and the applicant has left that we might ever say, why did you decide this rather than that?

I have heard informally that, even with this wording, the majority of respondents answered “yes.” That’s pretty amazing, and if it’s true. it’s surely a testament that this community wants an open process for design review.

There were two other questions on the matter. Question 23 was whether applicants can request a private, preliminary session with the DRC. That seems perfectly reasonable and I have heard that most respondensts thought so too.

Question 24 asked whether an applicant with a proposal on the agenda could ask to have his or her session of the DRC meeting closed. I have heard that this question got a majority approval, seemingly contradicting the majority’s view on question 22. People want meetings open and they want the chance to close them. How can that be? Maybe this strange contradiction arises because the group of questions sets up a false choice: either there will be observers meddling with the process or there will be no observers at all. This would not have been the case had question number 22 simply asked whether observers could be present at meetings.

So, on Tuesday, if some people start to claim that the questionnaire results mean that the majority of the neighborhood wants to allow closed sessions, keep this in mind: Since the simple question of whether people should be allowed simply to observe meetings was never put to the neighborhood, we don’t really know what the neighborhood thinks. Let’s try to have some time to think through the right question in the right terms.

Notes on April DRC Meeting

April 5, 2007

By David Armstrong

DRC members Andrew Cheng and Suzanne McLees were not present.

1816 Drury Lane, addition: Closed session.

1924 Martha’s Road, addition: Applicant expressed interest in adding a railing to the roof of proposed carport project. A neighbor expressed objections on privacy grounds to the roof being used as a deck. The Committee had not approved a railing. The Committee granted final approval to the project without a railing. Applicant reported that neighbor notification is complete.

7305 Rebecca, shed: Shed approved with glass or solid doors. Applicant discussed replacing windows in house. Committee indicated that window replacement will require DRC approval.

2410 Nemeth Court, addition: Applicant presented preliminary drawing for proposed addition. Committee suggested that applicant consider adding exterior trim piece to mimic existing design features. Conceptual approval granted.

2215 Martha’s Road, renovation: Applicant presented preliminary plans for renovation project including a combination of walls and fences around property, decks and patios in rear of house and replacement of narrow window in front of house with glass blocks.  The Committee will visit the property in the near future.

Other Business: The Committee reviewed previous and pending projects. The Chairman reported that the applicants at 7200 Rebecca Drive had informed him that they will not proceed with proposed retaining wall, although the rest of the project will go forward.

Candidate interview: The Committee interviewed John Burns, the final candidate for the upcoming opening on the DRC. The Committee indicated that it would be announcing its choice to fill the opening in near future.

Notes on the February DRC Meeting

by Linda Hesh and Jere Gibber

1816 Drury Ln. — Closed Session

2312 Kimbro St. — Closed Session

1819 Drury Ln. — Closed Session

7200 Rebecca Dr. — The Committee gave final approval to the construction of a stairway and storage shed that will replace a deck. Approval of a new parking pad and retaining wall is on hold until an arborist can determine whether the construction will affect an existing tree.

The Committee interviewed three applicants for the position that will become open in May. The applicants were: Steve Polo, Eric Margry, and Karen Lang.

The Civic Association Board has asked the DRC not make a final selection for the open position until after the results of the SDRC survey have been reviewed and applicants apprised.