6 steps for reviewing plans with an HOA architectural review committee

Note: This week’s column was written by Charlotte architect J. Richard Alsop. In response to our last column on how to work with architectural review committees, we received the follow inquiry from a reader:

Q: Our house plans have gone through three reviews with our Architectural Review Committee and their consulting architect, and we have been turned down each time, often for reasons not identified as requirements in our community’s architectural guidelines. The reasons appear to be based on personal opinions. What can I do?

A: Your community’s declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CCRs) likely define the role of the Architectural Review Committee (ARC), and may contain some specifics with respect to the design of homes in your community.

Any architectural requirements spelled out in the CCRs cannot be changed by the ARC. The community’s architectural guidelines, on the other hand, are more fluid and can be revised. Make sure you are using the latest version.

The ARC should follow the guidelines and not allow variances except under extreme conditions. However, it would be impossible to quantify every possible requirement for a design, which is why the ARC is given considerable leeway in interpreting the requirements. Also, the ARC is not required to follow precedents and may place a moratorium on certain designs or elements of a design approved for earlier homes.

Meet with your architect or residential designer and go through the six steps listed below. Evaluate your home’s design with a critical eye. Make any required modifications and then meet with the committee and go through the same six steps with them. If the committee has a licensed architect as a consultant, they will be able to give you very specific objective feedback.

1. Is the placement of the home on the lot appropriate with respect to setbacks, topography and streetscape? Site plans generally show setbacks and easements. The site plan should also show the topography “both existing and proposed.” An unnatural fit, requiring extensive excavation or fill, for example, may cause a design to not be approved.

2. Are the masses balanced? Look at the overall configuration of the home. Is it one big box – sometimes appropriate, sometimes not – or does it consist of a variety of boxes and other shapes or masses? Are they well-composed and in proportion to one another? ARC guidelines infrequently address massing, but poor composition of the major and minor masses is often a major factor in the ARC decision.

3. Do the roof lines tie the massed elements together successfully? Are there large areas of roof that are featureless? Is the roof appropriate to the style of the home or the aesthetic theme of the community? The roof should add aesthetic appeal to your home.

4. Are the windows, doors, porches, balconies, chimneys and bays organized in a pleasing manner? Are you leaving large wall areas blank? Are windows sizes and configurations varied in an appropriate manner? Does the window configuration appear arbitrary? Your interior layout may result in poorly composed exterior elevations. All elevations are subject to ARC review, with the ARC placing tighter requirements on highly visible ones.

5. Are trim and details appropriate to the style of the home? Look at windows, doors, soffits and fascia, frieze boards, and other details to determine if these items complement the style of the home.

6. Finally, are the finish exterior materials appropriate to the design? Do you have full elevations with only one wall material, or are you mixing in a balanced manner several materials such as brick, stone and stucco on the elevations to create more visual appeal?

Your CCRs will identify any recourse or appeal from an ARC decision, but CCRs often give ARCs “exclusive jurisdiction” over any building within the community. But by adding some structure to the review process, problems can be identified and most often worked out between owners and the ARC.

Originally published in the Charlotte Observer on April 26, 2014.

2 thoughts on “6 steps for reviewing plans with an HOA architectural review committee

  1. Tjhe board of directors with the help and assitance of an attorney who is unfamiiar with NC statutes re Condominiums revised our legal documents one year aso, which included such things as property claims changes. Now that two property claims have arisen resulting from frozen water pipes in the walls, the board has allowed one to be paid and denied the other unit owner the right to have the claim filed and investigated by an adjuster. The alternative unit owners have is to seek legal advice and help which is expensive, what do you advise? There are two sets of unit owners here in our condo association, those on the inside and those on the outside looking in.

    • If you suspect the rights of owners have been compromised, and you are not getting satisfactory answers from the board, you have no choice but to hire an attorney to look into it for you. However, I must warn you that in most circumstances a lawsuit to challenge the validity of an amendment must be filed within one year of the date the amendment was recorded. With regard to the damage claims you referred to, perhaps the first one never should have been filed with the HOA’s carrier, and the board realized this after the fact? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

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