The HOA Denies our Amendment

While we were working to close the construction loan, we were still waiting to hear from the HOA regarding our roof slope. As you may recall, in order to sell the HOA’s architectural committee on our design, one of the changes we made was to increase the roof slope from a 1:12 as planned (1 foot of rise for every 12 horizontal feet) to a 2:12 slope. When it turned out the 2:12 slope would be significantly more expensive (and, in our estimation, uglier), we asked for permission to return to the 1:12 slope.

We didn’t hear back for a couple of months. But by that point we had abandoned the winter build plan, so we had some time. And then it was the holidays. And then… then we still didn’t have an answer.

We checked on the status in mid-January. We talked things over with one of the Board members, who said that it was his understanding that the architectural committee was going to deny our request for the amendment, reasoning that the roof was just “too flat.”

We reached out to the committee, and they confirmed the denial, saying the design was “too flat” and didn’t conform to the guidelines. This was pretty frustrating. As we’ve mentioned before, both the 1:12 and 2:12 plans conformed to all of the “musts” in the architectural guidelines. And neither conformed to the preference of a 5:12 or steeper roof.

Our Appeal

The HOA guidelines allowed us to appeal a decision of the architectural committee. Since the roof slope was a big deal, both in terms of cost and aesthetics, we decided to exercise our appellate right. Here is what we said, with some light edits:

Dear Members of the [Board],

We are writing to appeal a decision of the Architectural Review Committee (“ARC”), which denied our request to reduce the planned roof slope of our project at [address] by approximately five degrees. The ARC has already approved of a set of plans; this appeal pertains only to the roof slope alteration. We believe the proposed alteration to the plans is a relatively small one, which will serve to improve the aesthetics of the project and reduce build costs.

I.            Project Background

We began the project of designing our future home shortly after purchasing the property in May 2019. We were mindful of [a section] of the Bylaws, which provides, in part, that “[it is important to consult the architectural committee early]”

With that in mind, we reached out to ARC members in June, 2019, with a conceptual sketch of our project and specifically asked whether the ARC would likely take any issues with a relatively flat roof. See Ex. 1 (email), Ex. 2 (sketch). Shaun, our architect and builder, followed up regarding the issue in early July. [The Committee] declined to address the issue before reviewing a full set of plans. See Ex. 3 (email correspondence).

We submitted a full set of plans to the ARC in August 2019. See Ex. 4 (original plans); 4a (plat).

To put it bluntly, the ARC didn’t like the plans. See Ex. 5 (ARC response to initial plans). We took their notes to heart, and addressed them with a variety of design changes. See Ex. 6 (our response); Ex. 7 (approved plans).

After some follow-up correspondence, the ARC approved of the revised plans in September. See Ex. 8 (approval).

II.          The Proposed Revision

The approved plans include a 2:12 roof pitch. Unfortunately, changing the plans from a 1:12 pitch to a 2:12 pitch – a change of approximately 5 degrees – presented some unanticipated engineering problems. Basically, the steeper pitch will require either thicker trusses, increasing the distance between the windows and roofline, or a lot more money. We were sensitive to the ARC’s interested in a more complicated roofline, so we wanted to maintain the two separate planes, but we proposed a change to the approved plans: a return to the 1:12 slope, while maintaining the two different planes.

We requested the change in writing on October 17, 2019, while also answering the ARC’s questions regarding landscaping. See Ex. 9 (cover letter); Ex. 9a (attachment). I followed up on the request Nov. 8. On Nov. 25, [a Committee member] replied that the ARC has agreed to “defer to the Board of Directors on the issue,” and also copied [a Board member] on the email, suggesting that he may be “of more value in this regard.” See Ex. 10 (deferral email).

Shaun had a call with [the Board member] to discuss some of the structural issues, and corresponded further with [the Board member] and the ARC. Then things trailed off during most of December, without any word from the ARC or the Homeowner’s Board. We noted that [Section Something] of the Covenants provides that if the ARC fails to approve or disapprove any submitted plans within 21 days, “the approval of the Committee shall be presumed.” But it was the holidays, and we didn’t want to force the issue with our neighbors.

I followed up on the issue via email on Jan. 21, 2020, asking about the status. [A Board member] asked me to call him, so I did. We discussed the issue in some detail, and he relayed his understanding, which was that the ARC is rejecting our proposed slope change. I wrote to ARC to confirm whether this was the case, and we received the ARC’s formal denial of the change on January 22, 2020. See Ex. 11 (denial).

The written denial triggered this appeal, pursuant [Section whatever] of the Covenants, which provides, in relevant part [language regarding our appellate rights].

III.        Why the Revision Makes Sense

A slightly flatter roof looks better and is cheaper to build. There also isn’t much difference between a 1:12 slope and a 2:12 slope. And finally, principles of basic fairness support approving the change.

A.   It Looks Better

Shaun, [a Board member], and the Summit County Building Inspection Department all agree – the question before the Board isn’t a matter of structural engineering. We can, and will, build a relatively flat roof that won’t leak and won’t fall over. So what is left is an aesthetic judgment.

It’s hard to really argue aesthetics, other than to say that we believe that this:

image.png

Looks better than this:

image.png

The lower slope is also more efficient, allowing for less dead space in the building. It shortens the building’s profile, providing for less of a large, unbroken plane, which was a concern of ARC’s. It also provides for better sightlines for our neighbors. And maintaining the dual planes of the roof, combined with the additional plane from the second-story deck, maintains architectural interest. Especially when combined with the large, custom windows. While the ARC’s initial notes on our design compared it to modular homes the Committee has rejected in the past, we believe the house’s design makes clear that this is a custom home worthy of our neighborhood.

B.   It Doesn’t Look That Different

As I mentioned above, it’s hard to argue aesthetics. Either you think the 1:12 looks better than the 2:12 (like we do), or you don’t (like ARC). But either way, the two designs also don’t look all that different. A determination that the 2:12 pitch is acceptable – which has already been made – but the 1:12 pitch is simply “too flat” feels like an arbitrary one.

C.  Principles of Fairness Support the Change

In his January 22, 2020 email, [the Committee member] states that “The Applicant is not satisfied with this collaborative agreement.” That’s a pretty broad mischaracterization of where we are coming from.

As the email traffic shows, we took ARC’s notes on our initial design to heart, and we made significant design changes to try and address ARC’s concerns. That’s what got us to the approved plans.

We aren’t requesting a change because we were dissatisfied with the approved design. We are requesting a change because of unanticipated impacts the 2:12 roof had on window, wall framing, and roof truss issues, which all combine to move the roofline away from our feature windows and require us to use structural steel in the wall, increasing our build costs. Absent those consequences, we would have moved forward with the build as-planned. But given those consequences, we thought it was appropriate to request an amendment to the plans, particularly since we believe the lower 1:12 slope will be (1) cheaper to build; (2) better looking, and (3) more efficient.

We have tried, at every stage, to work with the ARC by submitting early-stage plans, pointing out the flat roof slope, and asking for feedback. When the clock ran out on ARC’s 21 days to give us a response on the proposed change, we didn’t try to lie in the weeds and “presume” they approved, or try to sneak the change past them in hopes nobody would pull out a protractor to find a 5 degree difference.

We also hope there is a place in our neighborhood for a simple, primary residence for a young family. One that efficiently uses both space and material.

IV.        Conclusion

Thank you for considering our request. We recognize that you and the members of the ARC are busy people, with plenty of pressing concerns. If at all possible, we’d like to be present when the Board considers this proposed change, so that we can field any questions you might have. We plan to attend the upcoming board meeting. But in the meantime, please let us know if we can provide any additional information, or field any questions you may have at this stage.

In close, we ask you to approve of the proposed change to the roof slope, so that we can get ready to break ground on our mountain home, and enjoy this wonderful neighborhood.

Thank you again for your time.

The appeal was set for its own board meeting, which I attended with Shaun.

Mini Book Reviews

Meanwhile, I’ve been back to reading architecture and design books. Design Secrets: Architectural Interiors didn’t do much for me. It was pretty focused on “architectural” spaces — areas that look like they’re part of a catalog spread or a museum lobby rather that somewhere that actual human beings live. Sort of along the lines of the annoying neighbors’ house in Christmas Vacation. Total Design had the same problem (and is now dated enough to recommend a phone jack in a guest bedroom for “checking email”).