Policy Example: Design Review Manual

Design Review Manual – Pioneer Valley Cohousing - 2004

Purpose of Design Review
• To assist Homeowners in improving and changing their property.

• To ensure that the community is informed about potential design changes in a timely manner and through a consistently applied set of procedures.

• To ensure that adequate drawings are provided upon which a design can be fully understood, evaluated and built.

• Recognizing that our community is not very accessible (wheelchair, aging in place, etc.), the Committee will look for and encourage opportunities to improve accessibility to houses.

Design Review does not cover:

• Changes that are completely internal to a house envelope.
• [There may be structural columns & beams within their interior and exterior walls that should not be removed without proper replacement/ redesign.]

• Condo and Development Fee Updates that are the responsibility of the homeowner to update with the assistance of Finance Committee.
Purpose and Responsibilities of Design Assistance Committee
• To provide a safe process and place in which community members and homeowners can have a dialogue about ideas and concerns regarding a proposed design.
• Committee members will work to be clear about when they are speaking as an individual community member as compared with when they are offering advice as a committee member.
• To assist homeowners.

The committee members will generally make themselves available as a sounding board for design ideas and homeowners are encouraged to bounce ideas off of them at an early stage. It should be understood, however, that it is often impossible to give an informed opinion in the absence of good quality drawings. Design members may offer to help sketch some ideas, but will not be expected to provide professional drawings.

• To aid community members in making design decisions regarding their property and neighbors proposals, and to aid in educating the community around design issues.

• To consider whether proposed designs are compatible with the community as a whole.

• To provide “emergency” response when, during construction of a “consensed upon” project, there is a time-critical needed or proposed change.

• To inform homeowners of warranty issues (who owns roof leaks, etc of new work, for how long).

• To periodically inform and educate the community.

The Committee will make an effort to organize informational sessions about aesthetic considerations in design to encourage greater understanding about design options. and other discussions, in the hopes that we can come to greater understanding about what people care about.
Committee will not be responsible for:
• Information regarding Deed Updates and Condo and Development Fee Updates
• Safety & Building Code Violations (e.g., dismantling or not installing fire/smoke detectors, “attic” development without legal emergency exit).
• Construction Techniques

Operating Principles

In the spirit of living together with mutual respect and care for one another, homeowners and community members will work together on design changes that impact the community – those affecting the external part of home units. We will work creatively to address the interests and concerns of both sides to create a design that is acceptable to all.

A good and respectful consensus decision-making process often needs time. Homeowners should remember this and initiate the process early.

Throughout the design change process, homeowners should welcome the ideas and concerns of community members and community members should work to understand and appreciate homeowners’ goals for change(s) to their home.

Participants at meetings should “listen for understanding.”

It is easy for homeowner to consider someone’s concern as an attempt to “stop” the project; and equally easy for a community member to feel as though the homeowner is not listening to their concern and only wants project to be done in homeowner’s way.

Categories of Design Changes

A Additions to Houses

B Major changes to existing houses & Landscape

C Minor changes to existing houses & Landscape and Exterior Lighting

D Additions & changes to Community Buildings

E Changes after Completion of Review Process

Decision Making Process

1. Start early (Plan on 2 weeks to 2 months for the entire process depending on level/category of change)

2. Seek design ideas & advice early

3. Use checklist

4. Inform everyone

5. Follow the procedures described under each category in this manual for posting drawings and scheduling discussion(s) and/or meeting(s)

6. Utilize suggested meeting structure

• Review operating principles

• After reviewing the standing proposal and hearing any support, questions, or concerns regarding the proposal, the meeting participants, with the help of a facilitator, will attempt to focus the discussion and address all concerns until consensus is reached.

• Record, document, & post decisions according to the procedures described in this manual.

• Follow the Appeal Process if necessary.

Criteria for Evaluation

In evaluating design proposals, the homeowner, community members, and the Design Assistance Committee will consider the following:

• Impact on adjoining exterior spaces (including drainage);

• Impact on other community members (all issues brought to the committee will be considered);

• Safety and potential building code considerations. However the Committee will not be responsible in ensuring that all codes have been met, but will try to point out possible problems and recommend professional services when appropriate;

• Durability and suitability of materials;

• Impact on the landscape master plan;

• Possible accessibility improvements;

• For exterior lighting, safety and light pollution considerations; and

• Aesthetic considerations (see below).

Aesthetic Considerations

Because there are diverse views throughout community regarding aesthetics, the members of the Design Assistance Committee will offer their professional and personal opinions. However, aesthetic decisions will be the discretion of the homeowner, unless appealed to the general meeting.

Several aesthetic choices have been made across the community. However, at this time, there is not consensus that we should adopt these choices as “standards” in the future. The following are examples of these choices:

1. Regional and weather-appropriate elements (e.g., steep roofs, overhangs, solar orientation, flashing)

2. Proportion and scale (e.g., vertical windows, approx. 30” wide windows; window & door placement)

3. Finishes (e.g., window and door trim)

4. Materials (e.g. horizontal siding, shingles)

At this point, homeowners may want to consider these in the design process and neighbors may raise these as concerns.


Homeowner Responsibilities

The homeowner is responsible to:

• Utilize and complete the “Checklist.”

• Follow the “Procedures” outlined in a subsequent section of this manual.

• Present drawings for community approval. Once general design ideas have been discussed/debated and the homeowner has a specific design to circulate for final approval by the community, adequate drawings or sketches clearly showing extent of work need to be developed and circulated. These plans will be the basis on which community members will give final approval.

Generally, sketches will be considered adequate, but in the case of additions, hard-line, accurate plans, and all relevant elevations will be required before construction can begin.

• Schedule all necessary meetings with Design Assistance Committee members and a meeting facilitator.

• Schedule any General Meeting discussions when applicable.

• Post all meeting notifications and drawings (sketches and/or hard-line drawings as required) to the general community as outlined in the “Procedures” section later in this manual.

• Obtain updated development and condo fees (additions must be evaluated by the Finance Committee, as outlined in the “Procedures” section).

• Update Deed

• Secure a building permit when applicable.

• Hire a structural engineer (or architect) when applicable.

For example, some of the “B” units have posts on either side of a window that carry “headers” that in turn carry a structural roof beam. Alterations to these posts could have consequences to the structural integrity of the exterior wall and roof structure, part of which is owned by the community as a whole.

• Contact “Dig Safe” or exercise appropriate caution when digging near gas, water, or electric lines. Reference drawings for existing utility line locations are available through Kraus-Fitch Architects.

If these procedures are forgotten or ignored

• Community members and/or Design Assistance Committee members can ask the facilitator to “table a discussion” in which a decision is being sought.

• The same action will also besought if community members/committee members feel pressured by a homeowner who has already hired contractors, purchased materials, etc.

• An appeal or grievance can also be taken to the General Meeting at any time if there have been procedural oversights.

Community Responsibilities

Community members are responsible to:

• Read and review sketches in a timely manner.

• Respond with concerns (and support) in a timely manner. Give feedback in a way that preserves the long-term relationships we are nurturing.

• Seek help and/or mediation to express concerns – through the Community Support Committee, the Design Assistance Committee, or meeting facilitator – if he/she is uncomfortable talking directly with homeowner.

• Bring “community” concerns to a homeowner, design review or general meeting.

It’s important to bring your own concerns forward and bring issues to the community’s attention you feel are impact the community as a whole.

Warranties for New Work

The homeowner is responsible for any leaks or damage to the exterior shell of the new additions for a period of 3 years after the completion of the work. The same applies to any areas of the existing structure that have been tied into or otherwise disturbed in creating the new addition. The condominium association will begin charging additional condo fees (as determined) upon occupancy of the new work. This money will be applied as per other condo fees to the replacements reserves for eventually re-painting, re-siding, re-roofing new and existing work, but this money cannot be drawn upon for this purpose until after the 3 year warranty period has expired. As stated in the Community Deed, maintenance of exterior decks and porches (existing, new, and remodeled) is the responsibility of the homeowner.

Deed Updates

Where applicable -- such as enlarging the unit footprint – the homeowner is responsible for updating the deed with legal assistance prior to any final design review decision and construction. This may include a review with and documentation to the community’s Finance Committee.


1. A homeowner can appeal conclusions/decisions of the Design Assistance Committee or the community through General Meeting or a specially arranged meeting.

2. Any community member can appeal conclusions, decisions of a design review meeting to the General Meeting or a specially arranged meeting within two weeks of posted and distributed decision.

3. Any community member can bring a grievance to the Committee or General Meeting for the following situations and others as becomes necessary:

• Construction started without following procedures

• Change during construction without following procedures

The community can put construction on hold if necessary to complete a design review process, even if this causes a delay in completion and financial cost to the homeowner.


Specific procedures are described for each design category below. Items not listed below should be reviewed with the Design Assistance Committee to determine what category to follow.

A – Additions To Units (changes to house footprint)

• Living Space Additions

• Decks & porches

• Sheds

B – Major Changes To Existing Houses & Landscape

• Dormers and other major changes to the exterior

• New entry door

• Addition of one or more “matching” or “non-matching” exterior windows (see “standards” under Criteria for Evaluation/Aesthetics).

• Major changes in landscape features including

o Roads

o Walkways and paths serving more than a single house

o Signs (not matching small garden and green directional signs currently in use)

o Permanent play structures

o Retaining walls

o Fences

o Drainage changes

C – Minor Changes To Existing Houses & Landscape, and Exterior Lighting

• Exterior Lighting

• Paint Color Changes

• Walkways & terraces serving a single house (that do not impact drainage)

• Modifications to existing decks & porches (such as new railings)

• Trellises

• Large landscape plantings (new trees) that effect views and solar gain

• Minor play structures

D – Additions & Changes to Community Buildings

• Common House

• Office Building

• Annex

• Carports

• Sheds

• Other

E – Changes after Completion of Review Process

• Changes Prior to Construction

• Changes During Construction