Architectural reviews—what are they, and why are they required?
The Architectural Review Committee (ARC)—the covenants refer to it as the Architectural Control Committee, but it shall hereinafter be referred to as the Architectural Review Committee—is authorized under Article 8.1 of the HHRA Bylaws, and is implemented under Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the HHRA Protective Covenants, where the committee’s scope is articulated as follows:
No building shall be erected, placed or altered on any Parcel until the construction plans and specifications and a plan showing the location and elevation of the structure have been approved in writing by the Architectural Control Committee (“Committee” or “ARC”) as to quality of workmanship and materials, harmony of external design with existing structures, and as to location with respect to topography and finish grade elevation.
Simply stated, the purpose of the committee was—and remains—to ensure that our community is developed, improved and maintained in a manner that recognizes and honors property owners’ individual rights, while acknowledging the overall rights of the collective property owners to be part of an environment that is safe, preserves or enhances property value, and is corporately perceived as being harmonious and not visually threatening.
Wow! What the heck does THAT mean? For the most part, it acknowledges the reality that someone’s bold, “inspired” architectural or landscaping vision might in fact not be so cool when considered within the context of the entire community.
As it turns out, looking out for the “common good” is not very easy. In fact, it’s pretty hard! For all intents and purposes the axiom, it’s impossible to please all the people all the time, rings painfully true. But, does that mean we shouldn’t at least make an attempt to proactively manage our community’s character? Certainly not!
“Urban” versus “rural”
Hangman Hills is located in an area of Spokane county classified as unincorporated, but more specifically the Rural Conservation Zone. As implied by that designation, this technically means that we are “rural”. But, while the overall setting surrounding our community is indisputably rural, such cannot be said for inside our community. Indeed, Hangman Hills clearly may be characterized as a low density urban population. As such, the ARC considers items that come before them within the context of a “city” (or urban) setting, rather than a “country” (or rural) setting.
In fact, the Hangman Hills development is platted as low density residential. And, even though our community is located within the Rural Conservation Zone, which prohibits developments such as ours, it is “grandfathered” by virtue of the fact that filing of the Hangman plats predated the 1990 adoption of the state of Washington Growth Management Act, and development activity within our community is still reviewed and adjudicated based on Spokane County’s low density residential (LDR) development standards.
What we’re basically interested in
We’re pretty much interested in any improvement, alteration or addition to your home and grounds that has the potential to negatively impact our community’s character. That being said, the ARC is more generally interested only in the exterior of your home and qualifying outbuildings, and in those other exterior elements situated between the front and/or side of your home and the curb. We’re not concerned with any improvements, etc. that you may make inside your home. Of course, the committee reserves the right to address (or not address, for that matter) any issues anywhere on your lot, should they rise to the appropriate level. Admittedly, that’s a pretty broad statement, but Section 7 of the Protective Covenants narrows things down a bit.
What’s a “qualifying outbuilding?”
A qualifying outbuilding is any storage or other structure that is physically detached from your home, any portion of said storage or other structure of which can be seen from the street. Examples would include, but not be limited to pet “homes”, metal or other storage sheds, permanent or non-permanent vehicle storage structures, etc. If the outbuilding is totally hidden from view behind a conforming fence or other element, then you’re OK. Pretty simple: if we can see that unattached structure, we’re interested in it.
What about repair work?
It’s natural to think that if you’re just having an existing item repaired—storm repair, for example—then there’s probably no reason to let anyone know. We get it. The thing is, however that the HHRA covenants task the ARC with knowing what’s going on in our community, in order to help ensure that certain undertakings meet the covenants’ requirements and intent. It’s hard to do that if they’re not informed.
Some reasons why the ARC needs to know about the repair activities in the community:
- One person’s concept of “repair work” might, in fact not align with others’ concepts of what constitutes repairs. And, it’s not unheard of for a repair project to morph into something else—something bigger or bolder
- Letting the ARC know in advance about your planned repairs might help eliminate any uncomfortable situations
- Taking the time to complete the Activity Notification Form will give you a chance to really think things out, and might prove helpful in formulating your repair project
Emergency repairs. All this notwithstanding, if you need to have emergency repairs performed, by all means HAVE THEM DONE. Then, as soon as possible notify the ARC of your activity, and reason for proceeding without prior review; they understand that sometimes emergency situations manifest, and the intent of the notification requirement will have been met by your informing the ARC, even after-the-fact. We trust this accommodation will not be abused.
Property expectations—elements of special interest to the committee
- With respect to location and height, fences need to conform with all applicable requirements of the governing jurisdiction. In this case, it’s primarily Spokane County (however, see the “urban versus rural” comments herein). Of special interest is the interpretation of side yard versus front yard when it comes to determining allowable fence height and placement. The ARC notes and agrees with the relatively new platting standards for designating front and side yards, which for our purposes may be summarized as follows: Any portion of a lot that faces a public street will be considered as being a “front” yard. For corner lots, this means that all street frontages will be considered as “front” yards, regardless of the street address.
Many materials are available for fences, and you’re pretty much on your own for your perimeter fencing. The ARC is interested in seeing more permanent materials used for perimeter fences (wood; metal; masonry). Please don’t try to use wire (chain link fences excepted) or other not-so-permanent solutions, like pound-in metal posts—the ARC feels these don’t go well with the neighborhood.
Electric fences that are legally accessible by the general public are not allowed inside the Hangman Hills community.
- Setbacks seem to be a commonly misunderstood concept. They exist in order to buffer your own development from your neighbors and the public. For example, some setback requirements govern how close you can build your house and other permanent structures to your property lines. This is mainly a fire safety issue. Often, side yard setback requirements are different from those for front yard and back yard.
- Now, here’s a can of worms! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure—or something like that. Admittedly, the concept of color and harmony is for the most part subjective. The ARC’s pledge is to seriously and impartially consider anyone’s desired color scheme. But, let’s face it—if a majority of the ARC and the Board of Directors thinks your chosen color is inappropriate and not in keeping with the character of our community, you will be required to revise your color scheme. In at least one past case, a property owner had to repaint their house because of this. So, enough said. Forewarned is forearmed: it behooves you to obtain approval from the ARC for any initial color scheme or subsequent color change.
- Construction materials
- See “Color” above? Same can of worms. Additionally, because of the devastating Hangman Hills forest fire of 1987 we respectfully and strongly request that you consider not using wood roofing materials (cedar shakes; other wood-based products and/or flammable products).
- For the most part, the ARC doesn’t have much concern for how you choose to landscape your yard, other than to make sure you DO provide for some type of landscaping, and that it is consistent with County standards—e.g. no noxious varieties, etc. The committee is particularly concerned, however, with your choice of trees—especially those planted within public right of way. For reasons expressed herein (see “Urban versus “Rural”) the committee recognizes the City of Spokane’s Urban Forestry Program as a guiding resource.
Xeriscaping. The Spokane County Zoning Code defines Xeriscaping thus: A patented name for water conservation through creative landscaping, which includes appropriate planting and design, soil improvement, efficient irrigation, drought resistant turf, appropriate plant selection, use of mulches, and maintenance. Here’s the takeaway: Xeriscaping is basically the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. Certainly, water conservation is becoming more and more of a “thing”, and rightfully so. Here in the Hangman Hills community, Xeriscaping is an acceptable landscaping model. However, because it clearly is not the norm across the neighborhood, anyone wishing to explore the potential for Xeriscaping their grounds will be required to submit their proposed design to the ARC for review. This may ultimately require you to obtain the services of a landscape architect in order to position you for long-term success.
Street Trees. Any tree planted within the limits of the public right of way will be considered a “street tree”. The ARC recognizes any of the appropriate Class I, Class II and Class III tree varieties as listed in the approved street tree list of the City of Spokane’s Approved Street Tree List for planting within public right of way. This list is extensive, and offers a lot of great choices. Trees planted prior to September 1, 2015 are exempt from these considerations. However, all new trees and replacement trees will be reviewed by the ARC for conformance. Notably missing from the list—and thus not allowed—are: (1) Poplar, (2) Cottonwood and (3) Aspen.
Yard Trees. It is strongly recommended that the above disallowed tree varieties NOT be used in your yards—period. Aspens are truly the tree that keeps on giving, with their highly invasive root systems that spread out farther than you might imagine—not only in your own yard, but also into your neighbors’ yards, where the pesky chutes come up everywhere. Poplars not only get quite large, but are notoriously short-lived. Cottonwoods have weak wood, are prone to disease, and can be extremely messy. Cottonwood trees produce male and female parts on separate trees. In spring, female trees produce tiny, red blooms that are followed by masses of seeds with a cotton-like covering. The cotton-covered seeds create an extremely significant litter problem—emphasis on SIGNIFICANT. Snow drifts in July? We’ve got ’em—piled up Cottonwood seeds. Ugh! Male cottonwood trees don’t produce seeds. So, if you choose to plant a Cottonwood tree in your yard, you should make sure it is male. Unfortunately, landscaping companies and nurseries historically seem to get the sex wrong. Here’s the bottom line: if you plant a Cottonwood tree that turns out to be a messy female, the ARC will come knocking to ask you to fire up your chain saw. Enough said.
Overhanging or Protruding Trees, Bushes and Shrubs. Low-hanging tree or bush branches, limbs, shoots and shrubs over or protruding into the roadway (the area between the face of curbs or edge of paving/roadway shoulder) can cause traffic to navigate outside the expected travel way and otherwise disrupt normal service and maintenance activities. Additionally, shrubs that overhang the curb and lie in the gutter can significantly obstruct the designed course of storm water and snow melt, thus contributing to nuisance ponding or even flooding of the roadway. Consequently, such branches, limbs and shoots shall at no time be allowed any lower than 8 feet above the roadway, and shrubbery shall at no time be allowed to obstruct gutter flow. Some tree and bush varieties grow naturally this way; some do not. The HHRA Board may classify such nonconforming materials a nuisance as authorized under Section 5.4 of the protective covenants, in which case the responsible adjoining property owner will be requested to suitably trim the nonconforming trees or bushes or otherwise obviate the need for such action.
If the adjoining property owner does not timely perform the necessary ARC-requested action to the satisfaction of the ARC, then the ARC, as authorized by the HHRA Board may initiate formal enforcement procedures by filing a Covenant Complaint Form as provided for elsewhere herein. In the event the Board determines the infraction to be emergent, and thus deserving of timely action, ARC reserves the right to perform suitable trimming either by themselves or by third party, in which case there shall be no liability on the Board’s part relating to the viability of any trees or bushes so trimmed. Additionally, the adjoining property owner will be billed appropriately for all related work in correcting the infraction.
Street Light Considerations. Another important element to consider regarding trees is their placement relative to the street lights. A walk around the neighborhood will quickly reveal a number of places where the owners’ trees are grossly shielding the street lights. This creates darkly shadowed areas in the street at night, and makes it really difficult for walkers to avoid the ubiquitous doggie “land mines” and other stuff in the roadway. So, kindly do everyone a favor when contemplating the placement of your trees. The street lights are there for a reason—please don’t shield them with your trees. Remember, a tree usually grows and spreads out as it matures!
- Clear view triangle
- Clear WHAT? Clear View Triangle, as in “I’m coming up to an intersection and can’t see if there is any cross traffic coming, because there’s a fence or landscaping in the way!” The ARC is keenly interested in ensuring that people know about and understand the need for providing adequate visibility for drivers at street intersections, for very obvious vehicular and pedestrian safety reasons—here in Hangman there are no sidewalks, so folks use the street for walking. ‘Nuff said. Accordingly, the ARC refers to the clear view triangle standards under Chapter 14.812.200 of the Spokane County Zoning Code to determine compliance. Any existing and future landscaping or fencing must adhere to this standard. Notably, this is in fact a legal standard enforceable by Spokane County.
Everyone is urged to obtain a building permit for any proposed improvements that require one. Spokane County is the governing jurisdiction. The ARC is not even mildly interested in monitoring this; in fact, it is highly unlikely we would ever ask anyone if they’ve obtained a permit. We just assume that someone’s improvement activity is being done in a manner consistent with the permitting process. DO NOT EXPECT THE HHRA ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW COMMITTEE TO RENDER AN OPINION AS TO WHETHER OR NOT A PROPOSED IMPROVEMENT REQUIRES A BUILDING PERMIT! We will, however insert ourselves into the conversation for any improvement or activity covered under Section 7 of the Covenants and also this section of the website.
The Typical Process
Perhaps understandably, many folks are confused regarding how the ARC’s process integrates with the County’s building permitting process—do Hangman’s ARC regulations apply, or do Spokane County’s? The simple but conditional answer is, “YES”.
Here’s the essential difference between the two review processes: Spokane County’s requirements are countywide, are national, state and local code-driven, and are land use, zoning and building code-based whereas ARC’s reviews are primarily concerned with internal, aesthetic issues, such as “does the proposed work harmonize with the community’s ‘vibe’ as a whole? If not, what can the owner do to gain ARC compliance?” That is, the County’s reviewing and permitting process is more tangible and objective, being property rights, health/safety and development standards-driven, whereas the ARC’s reviewing and approval process is more intangible and subjective, focusing on community aesthetics and harmony.
In order to better understand just what the County is interested in, the following Spokane County documents should prove enlightening: (1) Residential Building Permits, and (2) Residential Site Plans.