Wednesday, July 3, 2013

RAC and Ruin?

One of the concerns frequently raised when I was running for Oakland Mills CCR was that of abandoned homes, neglected and ill-kept homes. Some folks had experience in dealing with the Village Residential Architectural Committee, some had not. But the overall feeling was that the system we have in place is not working as well as it should.

As residents, my husband and I went through the RAC process when we installed replacement windows in our home.  The company we used did not offer windows whose edge-frames matched others in our neighborhood. So we had to file an application for permission to have windows with beige frames. We even got a sample to bring to the RAC meeting.

We were treated courteously by the committee. It was clear that they had come out and looked around our neighborhood, and talked to our HOA management in making their decision. They approved our application and we were on our way.

As a member of the Oakland Mills Board, I participated in hearings and decisions that were a lot more complicated and, at times, contentious. Residents did not always go away feeling satisfied.  And in the case of neglected properties, the Board often felt that progress was slow and that the option we had to prompt improvement were insufficient.

Each Village in Columbia was founded at a different time. They have different election laws, different RAC guidelines, differing numbers of Board members, etc. Should RAC guidelines be updated and consistent Columbia-wide? This post by Alison H. On Inspire Columbia got me thinking.

"The RAC process is administered by residents based on guidelines that have not been updated in many many years. As Columbia ages, we should be encouraging appropriate investment in homes to improve and recapitalize structures as they age.

Guidelines and design handbooks for neighborhoods are in many cases outdated and administered by residents, lending to an ineffective and inconsistent process administered by well-meaning volunteers, however certain aspects of the process may discourage resident investment and improvement in their structures. With homes 30 years + old, design standards should be updated and improved.
Recommend changes to process, current process disincentives residents to improve aesthetics of home and encourages status quo over innovation and improvement.

Consider engaging an architect to guide process but with a vantage point toward innovation rather than restricting innovation."

I can say truthfully from my own experience that the RAC and the Village Board in Oakland Mills gives a lot of thought to their work. We are lucky to have residents who are willing to volunteer to give their time and educate themselves on the guidelines, meet with neighbors, go out and evaluate properties. Our RAC has already updated the OM Guidelines, under then-Committee Chair Brian Donoughe.

At present, Columbia's RAC process is run by residents, for residents, guided by a professional Covenant Advisor in each Village. It is a complaint-driven system, so violations may happily persist if no one complains about them. So it may feel as though covenant guidelines are enforced inconsistently. Progress on neglected properties follows a lengthy, multi-step process.

What do you think? Is there a better way?


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