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How to work with an HOA architectural committee

By Michael Hunter
Michael Hunter
Charlotte attorney Michael Hunter focuses on community and condominium association law for the firm of Horack Talley. E-mail questions.

This week’s column was written by J. Richard Alsop, AIA. Alsop is a partner in Charette Architects, PLLC. He supports more than a dozen architectural review committees in the Carolinas and Florida.

The challenge to any Architectural Review Committee (ARC, ACC or ARB) is to make the review process an added value to the homeowner so that the product at the end of the process is better because of it. This requires an owner to engage with the ARC in the early stages of design.

The design process includes three steps:

•  Schematic design, which comprises single-line concept plans and elevations coordinated with your topographic site plan.

•  Design development, which clarifies materials of construction and includes wall sections and details.

•  Construction documents, which include the highly detailed drawings and specifications used for contract pricing and construction.

The make-up and authority of the ARC is defined in your Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. The members of the committee will likely be persons who have been through the review process for their own homes.

In many cases, they will have built their homes when costs were higher, and they may be sensitive to the submission of homes of a lower value than what exists in the community. They often object to designs having trendy front elevations that pay little attention to site placement or other prominent elevations. Plans from Internet sources often fail for these reasons.

For a home that is unique, adapts to the site and the community, and reflects personal preferences, the party building the home will likely engage an architect or residential designer. Architects receive formal education and examinations before licensing and have more uniform standards of practice. There are no requirements for becoming a residential designer, but there are many in our community who are quite talented. Their standards of practice do widely vary.

Making the review process work involves laying the proper groundwork and early communication with the ARC. Here are suggestions for doing this:

1. Ensure that your design professional has experience with the architectural style in your community and understands your CCRs and ARC guidelines. Review his drawings and specifications, and speak with builders and owners whose homes have been constructed from his documents.

2. Walk through your neighborhood with your designer looking at composition and details of the homes, how well they fit the topography of the site and their landscapes.

3. Look critically at your budget. Ask your designer to provide you with an opinion as to whether the home you are contemplating will meet the community standards of value and aesthetics.

4. Include three opportunities to review the design, corresponding to the schematic design, the design development and construction documents.

5. Submit for the schematic design review. After initial comments by the ARC, if you have more than a minor item to resolve, ask to meet. Your designer should attend as well. The ARC and its consulting architect will be able to articulate its concerns at that time.

6. Following the design development submittal, you can expect final comments from the ARC with respect to the design and material specifications. If there are new items not previously ruled upon, ask for clarification. The construction documents review will be the confirmation that there were no changes to plans going out for construction.

If you have an interest in engaging an architect for your home design, you may wish to contact Kate Shelton, executive director, Charlotte Section American Institute of Architects, kate.shelton@aiacharlotte.org or 704-369-2302.

Charlotte attorney Michael Hunter represents community and condominium associations for the firm of Horack Talley. Email questions to home@charlotteobserver.com. Not every question receives a reply. Find his blog at www.CarolinaCommonElements.com.

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