The following article submitted by Marilee Watts. Association Member
SU Note: Ms. Watts comments, as indicated in red font below, represent a response to SOA Board Member Bill O’Donnell’s stated problems and solutions (i.e., as indicated below in black font) for Aesthetic Guideline Committee changes as was presented at the December 2020 Board Meeting;
Summary of Proposal for Discussion: AGC Updated Guidelines
Board Meet)ng of December 17, 2020
Presented in reference to Agenda Item 7.m: AGC Updated Guidelines.
As a homeowner who previously was selected to sit on the AGC, here are my responses based on my experiences during the 20 months on that Committee. Clearly, some processes may have changed and there have been additional revisions to the AGs since the position was eliminated by the previous Board. I offer these comments based on memory of this experience which I found to be a collaborative exercise with amiable discussions to reach a consensus.
To make for a more streamlined and cost-effective application process, the following rules are adopted to be used by the AGC:
All projects at the present time must be reviewed by the entire committee and this delays small projects from being completed in a timely manner. Every member of the committee except the board member charges for their time to analyze the plans. In order to justify the charge, they must pour over the plans and find something that they can comment on or reject in order to justify their existence. This wastes the time of the homeowner and unnecessarily burdens the homeowner with extra costs and delays because of some small item that one of the professionals is uncomfortable with. All support the delay because that means that they get to review the plans over again and charge again for the second review.
1. FAST TRACK APPLICATION: For building projects of less than $100,000 or landscaping projects of less than $50,000 otherwise at the discretion of the committee, the AGC will accept Fast-track applications wherein the homeowner may meet with a quorum of the AGC in person to go over the project details relative to a checklist that contains all the relevant CC&R rules and stipulations. If the project complies to the CC&R rules as listed in the checklist, then it can be immediately approved at that initial meeting by a quorum of the AGC. In this case there will be no fee charged to the homeowner.
To suggest the professionals purposely delay approvals of a submittal is extremely unprofessional and without merit. The Desk Review process (and reduction in fees) was implemented by the previous Board to address the ‘smaller’ submittals and is outlined in the newest AGs Fee Schedule. It is the homeowner’s responsibility and that of their contractor, to ensure the submittal is complete and accurate. Are all the specifications of the AGs met? Is the submittal legible? Are the necessary forms included? If it is submitted on the Monday before the AGC meets the following Thursday, it is very likely it can be approved (IF it is complete) and a response is provided by the Aesthetics Director that same date or shortly thereafter. The Aesthetic Guidelines are applied no matter the size or valuation of the project. Smaller lots may still have detailed plans for submittal; estate lots or custom lots will have more detailed submittals.
Delays in approval or denial can be costly to the Homeowner and the SOA. For every meeting that is staffed by FSR we have a salary to pay. In addition the opportunity costs that go along with delays can be enormous. Just one month delay can cost the homeowner thousands in lost revenue if the housing market changes for the worse.
The Aesthetics Director is a First Service employee and not a member of the SOA staff. If the homeowner is on a specific timeline, it is their responsibility to ensure the submittal is as complete as possible to avoid delays.
2. For non-fast track projects that involve more subjective or complete analysis, and where questions have been answered by the homeowner the AGC commits to getting an approval answer to the applicant by their next meeting date.
Again, if the submittal is accurate and complete, the homeowner may get approval and notice before the next AGC meeting date. The Aesthetics Director sends the approval/denial notification to the homeowner; this notice does NOT originate from the AGC
There are several professionals on the board that determine the fate of the application. They are paid $120 per hour and some of the professionals overlap. Each meeting cost approximately $3,600 in payments to the professionals to determine the size of rock acceptable for ground cover. The rock has nothing to do with engineering or architecture, yet everything to do with aesthetics. However, there is no professional license needed to determine aesthetics. If engineering decisions are made the SOA is liable if there is a failure.
3. The CC&R requirements and aesthetics shall be the sole basis of approval or denial of applications. Going beyond this into investigations of structural analysis or drainage issues are beyond the scope or responsibility of the AGC, noting that homeowners have already agreed to the CC&R’s as a signed agreement at the time of purchase of the home and such documents already specify certain conditions and restrictions. Where a permit with the city of Reno is required, the AGC shall rely on the city of Reno to make proper determinations and acceptance of project requirements such as drainage, structural, grading, environmental, etc.
As stated above, the PUD specifies the AGC must approve any submittal confirming compliance with the SOA AGs, BEFORE it is sent to City of Reno for building permit application. As homeowners we sign the agreement to abide by all the governing documents of the SOA and this is why it is important for the applicable AGs to be administered consistently throughout the community.
The aspect of policing infractions of homeowners is counterproductive. All homeowners are fearful of someone who arbitrarily drives around to find something wrong with the community resident’s homes. The climate of fear is counter to a happy community living in harmony. All homeowners have agreed to the CC&Rs when they purchased their homes and must live with neighbors in harmony. 95% of the results of the applications generated by homeowners are never seen by even their neighbors because the changes reside in the backyards. Yet we spend time and money policing frivolous inspections that no one will ever see.
4. After approval by the AGC, a final inspection as per the CC&R’s Article 6, Section 8 is not required but may be performed at the option of the AGC. It will be made known that even if an inspection is not performed, the SOA will still investigate and respond to neighbors complaints due to non-compliance issues including a failure to build to approved plans.
The AGC final inspection of a project to verify Compliance with the approved submittal, is a protection for the SOA and the Homeowner. If a future claim is to be made, both sides can substantiate the acceptance of the project. The AGC inspection of ‘backyard’ projects is to protect homeowner and SOA property values which are based on the entire building and lot; not just what is seen from the curb. The Compliance drive by is a different function. Previously the Community Standards Committee which consisted of homeowners, two board members and the Compliance Director from First Service, had responsibility for compliance. A homeowner has the right to notify the SOA of a perceived infraction, but they are not obligated to so, and should not be relied upon for this function.
The SOA is holding thousands of dollars from homeowners for years because a former board at some time did not pass their inspection. But who really cares? The prosecutors care. But if their neighbors don’t care, then the homeowner lives in a community that no one cares yet they can’t get their money back because the board of directors care. And the SOA cannot spend the money because it is encumbered.
5. Former applicants who have submitted deposits that have not been returned can apply for a variance, and if approved then those deposit funds will be returned to the applicant.
There has been turnover within the staffing of the Aesthetics function of First Service, which has had impact on continuity in the processes. Coupled with the increased amount of submittals due to return of building in Somersett, there have been disconnects along the way. If a homeowner believes they are owed a refund then by all means, they should address the issue. I have known FSR staff to be helpful when approached.
The cost of operating the AGC committee is unsustainable. Four qualified professionals are costing close to $40,000 a year to review plans. Aesthetics is a subjective term, yet we are paying qualified engineers, architects and Landscape designers thousands to give an opinion on what is subjective. Lay people can do the same without cost. Contract services can be obtained whenever necessary and the full array of professionals is not necessary to determine what looks good.
6. As per the CC&R’s Article 6, Section 1, the Committee shall have one qualified member of the design trade and the BOD has the sole authority to appoint or remove members. There must be a minimum of 3 members of this Committee, including board members serving on this Committee. The Committee may contract for professional services as required.
The requirements in the PUD, CC&Rs and Charter specify members of the ‘allied physical design professions,’ not just the ‘design trade.’ The professionals on the AGC have been required since the PUD, CC&Rs were established; compensation for their services was only raised to $120/hour in the past few years. This is an hourly rate far less than they would be charging in the Open Market. An average AGC meeting is 2 hours, with the four professionals at $120/hour a typical meeting would cost $1000. The average number of submittal reviews is 20 (this varies of course) so that equates to $50 per review. Some submittals may require a second review so that would be $100 for those reviews.
Aesthetics is indeed subjective but the AGC is tasked with performing Objective reviews. Aesthetics encompasses a myriad of issues which are outlined in the AG booklet. A homeowner should not be asked to solely perform the duties as specified by the governing documents, as this subjects the SOA to unnecessary liability. There is a Reference Guide for the NV Design and Construction Industry called The Blue Book, compiled for building officials, design professionals, contractors and the public. “The regulatory bodies responsible for assembling this manual protect the public by assuring their registrants and licensees are qualified to competently provide professional design or construction services in their respective disciplines.”
It is costly and redundant to require two application approvals.
7. Sierra Canyon residents who have undergone approval from the Sierra Canyon Architectural Review Committee (ARC) will not need further approval from the SOA AGC.
The SC ARC (and other Sub-associations) can have less stringent requirements but not MORE restrictive. The sub-associations may have different review processes due to the size of the homes/lots within them. For example, The VUE architectural review committee disbanded due to the loss of a Board member on the committee (as required), and to eliminate the duplicate submittal process. Therefore, all submittals go directly to the SOA AGC. The Vue is 153 homes compared to 1,212 in Sierra Canyon, so a major difference in volume of submittals. Now that both sub-associations are ‘built out’ the volume of submittals is probably based upon renovations.
The SOA AGC and the SC ARC have met in prior years when the SOA AGC first removed approval capabilities from the ARC, due to their continued approvals of non-compliant submittals. After much negotiation, the SOA AGC and the SC ARC created and signed a MOU to address which submittals the ARC would be allowed to approve.
Presently appeals of any decision of the AGC must be appealed to the AGC. This makes no sense. An appeal should be administered at a higher aggregated level of decision making.
8. Appeals of AGC decisions shall go to directly to the board.
The homeowner can ask to appear before the AGC in person. If the homeowner is not satisfied with the AGC decision after this meeting, the homeowner can then request to appeal to the Board for a variance.