Re: Architectural review and related topics
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Sat, 12 Oct 2013 16:33:17 -0700 (PDT)
At Cornerstone Village Cohousing (Cambridge, MA), we're much like everyone 
else, and have three kinds of conditions affecting our public / outdoor 

     (1) The actual building envelope -- roof, walls, openings, porches and 
balconies -- all of which are controlled by the community for both uniform 
appearance and weather integrity.  Paint colors are chosen by the community, 
and remain standardized.  Remodelings are possible if community-reviewed and 
approved, but except for an occasional roof window or stove flue, there hasn't 
been much of this in the dozen years since we've opened.

     (2) Yard aprons immediately outside the townhouses or ground floor 
apartments.  Technically, these are owned and controlled by the community -- 
but the informal understanding is that the abutting units tend to have 
landscaping privileges.   Some units use these privileges, some do not.  In 
general, we've not had issues with this.

     (3) Loose and transient pieces, more or less permanent intrusions of 
personal stuff into public domain.  Now here's where it gets interesting.  
Potted plants?  Bicycles?  Grills?  Kids' plastic toys?  Wading pools?  Laundry 
drying on a line?  Yard furniture?  Decommissioned automobiles?  Junk and 
clutter generally (well, it looks like that to some, but for its owners, it's 
more like life's accumulated treasures ...)?  While this kind of stuff does 
have an important impact on community appearance, at Cornerstone we've never 
developed a good way to discuss it in public.  Sometimes there are private 
negotiations about it.

You are not alone in wanting to believe that pesky real estate, HOA or condo 
law does not apply to your cohousing culture.  And so long as all of you share 
this belief and desire, it shall be so.  But if one of your deeded units goes 
off the coho reservation and litigates for its deeded rights, it may very well 
win the case.

Good luck.


Sent from my iPad

> On Oct 12, 2013, at 2:31 PM, Pat Elliott <pdelliott43 [at]> wrote:
> Our senior/active adult cohousing community in the Sierra foothills in 
> northern California would like to draw on the experience and wisdom of other 
> cohousing communities regarding architectural guidelines, including the 
> substance of such guidelines and the process of enforcement or 
> implementation.  We would appreciate copies of any relevant documents along 
> with any commentary about their development and use.
> We live in a three story building with 30 units, each on a single floor, the 
> building in the shape of a wide V.  Most units have an exclusive use common 
> area of a balcony or patio area in the back of the units, all visible from 
> public streets.  In front of each unit is a large common area walkway, some 
> portions of which are used for private uses (plants, chairs, etc.).  In 
> addition, we have an extensive common area with landscaping and other 
> improvements.
> As in many communities, we have a range of view on the desirability of rules 
> or guidelines about anything, including architectural matters, appearance of 
> the building exterior, landscaping, etc.  Some want a uniformly maintained, 
> integrated appearance; others are comfortable with "whatever".  We are trying 
> to establish an architectural review team do develop and implement 
> architectural guidelines.  Again, we have a spectrum of those not wanting 
> such a team to have any authority to make any decision about anything to 
> those wanting the team to approve changes, improvements, both exterior and 
> interior, etc, with a full right of appeal to the board (which consists of 
> all members).
> We have CC&Rs prepared by the developer's attorney which by their terms have 
> priority over any community agreements we might adopt.  Many feel the CC&Rs 
> shouldn't have any power over our community since we didn't approve them by 
> consensus in any meaningful way, way back in the development phase, or at 
> least that consensed community agreements should have priority over the 
> CC&Rs.  Others feel the CC&Rs should be controlling, no matter what.  Have 
> you faced a similar situation regarding priority of CC&Rs vs. later adopted 
> community agreements and how have you dealt with it?
> Soooo, we have a few challenges ahead.  In addition to sharing any relevant 
> documents, can you tell us what is working or not working for your community 
> in this regard (i.e. architectural review/control issues and priority of 
> governing documents)?  What would you do if you were starting all over?  What 
> should we definitely not do?  Etc.
> You can send documents not available on the internet to me at pat6 [at] 
>  Please send a link to useful things on the internet.  Thank you for 
> your kind attention.
> Pat Elliott
> Wolf Creek Lodge
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