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ARC review committee continues attack on terminology
By Bob Adair

For the better part of two hours the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) ad hoc review committee charged with evaluating the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) guidelines wrestled with precise terminology, or lack thereof, found in the guidelines.

The committee approved the minutes of the previous meeting.  This was important because in approving those minutes the committee affirmed that its recommendation to the OPA board would be to allow the building area on lots exceeding 2,000 square feet to expand up to 55 percent of the county-approved building space based on a sliding scale from 2,000 up to 5,000 square feet of building area. The current limitation is 50 percent.  Primarily the committee based this increase on the fact that most requests for exceptions to the limitation fall within that five percent added space.

Committee Chairman Skip Carey asked committee member Gail Kretschmar to produce a “clean” document that reflected the revised guidelines.  He said the introduction, sections 100.1 thru 4 and sections 200.4 thru 6 had all been reviewed and a clean version was required to make sure there were no contradictory elements.

The subject of height limitation was reviewed.  Mr. Carey reminded the group that a height restriction of 45 feet was selected as a “thinking point,” and matches the county limit. The current guideline states, “No single family structure shall exceed thirty-five (35’) in height or three stories, measured from the average grade around the house foundation to its highest point of the roof.”  This limitation is presently found under the Specific Design Requirements, however the committee is recommending that it be moved to the General Guidelines section of the document.

After some additional discussion the board elected to set the height at a 40 foot maximum since most of the requests for exceptions to the height of the structures falls within the additional five feet.

The committee revisited the subject of where a potential homebuilder should go initially with the conceptual or printed plans for the structure. It was decided that it was in the best interest of the builder to visit the ARC before going to the county for the necessary permits. The group elected to eliminate the chart titled Ocean Pines Building Permit Procedure, which appears on an unnumbered page in the front of the guidelines.

Another encumbrance to the process that has its roots in wording or terminology is the title ARC itself.  At present the term encompasses two distinct groups; the OPA architectural inspectors, the department under Bill Nelson, and the Architectural Review Committee itself, currently chaired by Walt Boge.  The first group is responsible for ensuring that residents are in compliance with the restrictions and guidelines set forth by OPA. They also review the building plans and put them before Mr. Boge’s committee if some type of adjudication is required.  Historically the inspection and review group is blamed for decisions rendered by the volunteer committee.

The ad hoc committee decided to send a letter to the OPA board requesting a change in the title of the inspection and review group. The group will be titled the Architectural Review Administrator with the committee element retaining the title of ARC.  This may seem frivolous but it should help clear up the responsibilities of each element of the current ARC.

At the previous meeting on June 21 local builder Bill Rakow told the committee the ARC guidelines contained very confusing terminology when it comes to the use of words such as variances and adjustments. He claimed there is a real need to define “variance” and “adjustment” and where they are applicable, which is in the OP Declaration of Restrictions, not in the ARC guidelines.  Mr. Rakow indicated the term “exception” would be more applicable to approval of a request to exceed some portion of the guidelines.

Mr. Rakow provided the following recommended wording in the guidelines:
Definition.  A variance is an authorization by the committee (ARC) for an owner to deviate from the restriction that is contained in the Declarations of Restrictions (DR) approved for each Ocean Pines section.
Condition for approval.  In order for the Committee to approve a variance the owner must show that the restriction presents practical difficulties and imposes an unnecessary hardship on the owner from the strict application of the restriction.  These standards are stated in the Declarations of Restriction and the burden of proof lies with the owner requesting the variance.  A variance may be granted by the Committee when such variance is in conformance with the intent and purpose of the DR and is not materially detrimental or injurious to the other properties in the neighborhood.

Notification of Adjacent Property. As a courtesy, and at the discretion of the Committee, adjacent property owners to the owners requesting the variance will be notified of the proposed variance and their comments requested.

The following is Mr. Rakow’s recommended words dealing with exceptions to the guidelines:
Definition.  An exception to the Guidelines may be authorized by the Committee.  An exception is not a variance in that it is an authorization to deviate from restrictions developed by the Committee and approved by the Board of Directors and not those restrictions specifically identified in the DR. (note.  Limitations relative to height and area coverage do not appear in the Declaration of Restrictions for any section but they do appear in the guidelines.) 

Condition of Approval.  The Committee may approve an exception to any restriction contained in these Guidelines for the same reasons as for a variance but the standard of proof is not as high.  Any exception that meets the needs of the owners requesting the exception should be considered and should be approved if the request if approved will not be materially detrimental or injurious to adjacent properties.

Case-by-case Review.  The Committee is tasked to review each request for an exception, carefully considering the needs and desires of each owner and potential impact on their neighbors.  The Committee should not be limited in its approval to arbitrary percentages and considerations.  Further, the Committee should consider the practical difficulties faced by enforcement of arbitrary rules and exceptions that may already exist in the neighborhood.  If the request makes sense and “does no harm” the request should be approved.

The committee members thought this was a worthwhile start point to clarify the specific terms in question.  Mr. Carey asked Mrs. Kretschmar to edit and incorporate the wording into the appropriate section of the document.

At the next meeting of the committee on July 5 it will take up the subject of reviewing new house plans, as contained in section 200 of the guidelines.

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Uploaded: 7/6/2005