Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a story entitled Rebuilding to test covenants after Colorado Springs wildfire. The story focuses on the Mountain Shadows Community Association which was devastated by the Waldo Canyon fire. The Post reports that 346 homes were destroyed in this community made up of custom homes, patio homes, condos and townhouses.
While the ashes of this devastating fire have barely cooled and the broken hearts of the residents cannot possibly have healed, the story anticipates fighting over rebuilding and the inability of architectural review committees “to enforce the covenants and rein in rebellious property owners.” The story essentially focuses on ways to control homeowners as they attempt to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Unfortunately, the story misses the most important point – this is the perfect opportunity for the homeowners in Mountain Shadows to come together to build consensus on a vision for the community they would like to rebuild. With the exception of being required to comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws and ordinances, governing documents of HOAs can (and should) be updated to fit the priorities of the owners in the communities the documents govern. Here are some thoughts for the folks at Mountain Shadows, and any other HOA for that matter, facing the task of rebuilding:
- Take a look at what the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“Declaration”) actually requires relating to the aesthetics and design of structures in the community. While I haven’t seen the governing documents for Mountain Shadows, the Declaration may well be extremely general in nature. If the folks in the community are not happy with the requirements of the Declaration, think about amending it to fit the community they envision.
- Take a look at what the Architectural Guidelines (sometimes referred to as “Design Guidelines”) require in terms of the aesthetics, location, and dimensions of structures and landscaping. This document may have more meat in it than the Declaration and can also be amended to fit the vision of the community which will be rebuilt.
The Declaration must be amended by the homeowners and the Architectural Guidelines may typically be amended by the Board or the Architectural Review Committee – depending upon what entity is given this power in the Declaration. However, the key is to have a serious and open dialogue to build consensus amongst the owners before taking steps to amend the Declaration or the Architectural Guidelines. In the aftermath of such a devastating fire, it’s going to be essential that every owner feels they have a voice in the rebuilding of their new community.
Will everyone agree on a vision for their new community? Probably not. However, building consensus in a meaningful and compassionate way will likely be the most important step in preventing battles over rebuilding. While the Denver Post article anticipates a potential nightmare in the rebuilding of Mountain Shadows, I for one have faith that this community will rise like a phoenix from the ashes without the need to engage in battle.
Building consensus on truly significant issues which have a real impact on the residents of HOAs, as opposed to imposing the will of a few on the many, is an art that should be better utilized in community associations.