Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Dreaded HOA Document...Not!

Well, there I was with the nicely bound final copy of the Belvedere Neighborhood Association Disclosure Packet. Here is the document that could codify everything that I might hate about living in a planned community, yet I feel...pleased. In there are pages of little stipulations about how Belvedere will be managed, from trash pickup to maintenance of the alleys and common spaces, etc. Yet overall I come away with a feeling that this is basically a sensible document.

As I told our realtor, Jim Duncan (, if you want to move to Belvedere and put up a geodesic dome it probably isn't the place for you. But overall the restrictions do not appear too onerous and seem more in line with keeping Belvedere an attractive place to live. For instance, in many Agreements there is a clause that toys, bicycles, etc must be picked up and out of sight each evening. I flinched when I started to read the same thing in this document, but the wording has been subtly changed to have things put away when they are not being used for "an extended period of time". Small change in wording, big change in intent.

And then there are the pages that describe the "feel" of Belvedere. While some may view this as excessive control over what their houses can look like, I view it as an attempt to keep a sense of reality in the construction, as opposed to the "faux everything" look I see all over the place in developments that have sprouted up over the last 5 years or so:

From the Document: "Shutters are to be full-operational. Vinyl shutters are not allowed". I say Amen to that! Then there are the pages of guidelines around landscaping which stress minimal impact (yes, I am aware of the extensive impact of the initial clearing and grading) and native species.

I think the heart of the matter is the attempt to create a successful neighborhood by balancing planning and controls with "differentness". Belvedere acknowledges they are trying to do "in a few years what in the past took several decades".

I experienced this firsthand when we visited a development in Chapel Hill, NC called Southern Village. When it was first built I detested the place. Now that it has matured somewhat and the trees and landscaping has introduced some variety to the look I feel less strongly yet there is still in inescapable "sameness" about the place due partly to the fact that all the houses are lined up exactly the same distance from the street. In Belvedere I know that construction was actually held up for a time because the developers insisted on being able to place houses at different places on the lots, rather than have a fixed setback.

As Josh Goldschmidt of Church Hill Homes told me, Stonehaus is actually encouraging what they call "dysfunctional" aspects to the community. Although the word may seem alarming, what it means here is that Belvedere will reflect in some ways the human experience: life isn't all straight lines and perfectly manicured lawns. Our lives are somewhat...messy, and our communities feel better when they reflect that, at least to some extent.

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