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Features and Series

Architectural Standards Considered in SCC
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Nov 27, 2008 - 2:25:31 PM

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By Melody Jameson
melody@observernews.net

SUN CITY CENTER --  From mail boxes to lawns to skylights, a set of architectural guidelines dealing with multiple aspects of residential exteriors was unveiled here this week.
Aimed at maintaining the nearly-built out community’s neat, manicured appearance as its housing stock ages, the compilation contains numerous “suggestions” that home owner associations (HOAs) and property owner associations (POAs) might adopt and enforce within the neighborhoods they cover. 
The possible architectural standards are separate and distinguished from a set of code enforcement guidelines which also have been in development during the last year. The two sets of potential rules do address some similar subjects, but also cover very different topics.
While both sets focus on keeping up external appearances of the thousands of homes in the community in order to sustain resale values, the biggest difference between the two may be that the code, once adopted, would be enforceable across the entire community, but architectural standards, when adopted, are enforceable only upon those owners within the HOA or POA writing them into its documents.   Consequently, standardization might occur within a given HOA or POA but not necessarily from one to another.
In a report Monday to about 40 officers representing HOAs/POAs across the community, the six-member sub-committee which compiled the possible standards noted “these suggested standards are not new but instead are a quantification of unwritten standards that have been followed in the past.”  However, the group emphasized that it does not recommend all of the standards detailed be adopted by HOAs/POAs “but chosen, as needed, to suit the particular requirements or desires of the local owners’ associations.”
The sub-committee report did strongly recommend, though, that when standards are adopted by vote of a HOA/POA board or however required by its by-laws, a complete copy is provided to each homeowner for safekeeping with his or her copy of property covenants and available for a new owner if the property is sold. 
The proposed standards, from which HOA/POA boards can choose to add to their existing architectural guidelines or pick among to create a new set, cover seven typed pages and include subject areas from lawns and landscaping to hurricane shutters and seasonal decorations.  Pets, flags, roofs, lighting, garages, fences, generators, awnings, signage, feeding of wildlife and handicap ramps all are taken into consideration.
Asked about some of the possible standards in the listing, Henry Niemczyk, a sub-committee member, emphasized following the Monday meeting the suggestions are only examples that association boards might want to consider.  For example, the standard that calls for all mail boxes to be mounted by a front door, in a carport or in the form of an exterior door slot and therefore eliminating all street, curb or sidewalk mail boxes might be desirable in some neighborhoods but unacceptable in others, he acknowledged.  Niemczyk pointed out that instituting such a standard also might require U.S. Postal Service approval and/or cooperation. 
On the other hand, possible standards addressing weed control and pets in the home generally might be agreeable.  It is suggested that HOA/POA boards might wish to decree weeds cannot be allowed to proliferate and pets are limited to two per household.  Additionally, weed control could be made the specific responsibility of the owner and pets causing disturbance permanently removed with three days’ notice.
In its report to association officers, the sub-committee also included a selection of forms which might be adapted by associations for use with their members in connection with requests for architectural approvals or variances.
The listing of possible standards is a result of changes made by the state legislature to sections of Chapter 720, Florida Statues, that became effective in July, 2007, Niemczyk said.  The statute, which empowers HOAs and POAs,  underwent changes  tightening up and clarifying HOA/POA responsibilities for setting and enforcing  architectural standards.   Therefore, it is encumbent upon HOAs and POAs to clarify their existing standards or establish them where none now exist to meet statutory requirements, he indicated.
And, Paul Wheat, current SCC Community Association president who sat in on the Monday meeting, said following the session the statute now in effect makes it clear association architectural standards must be specific enough to be defended.  A rule which is not duly adopted and clearly contained in an association’s documents cannot be enforced, he indicated.
With the listing of possible architectural standards compiled and provided to SCC’s HOAs and POAs, the sub- committee’s work essentially is completed, Niemczyk said.  Adopting and enforcing such standards as are considered feasible or desirable now is up to the individual associations, he added.  He also noted that as far as the specific standards as outlined in the listing are concerned,  “nothing is set in stone.  We’re not trying to dictate anything to anyone.”
The next step for many association officers may be adding to their knowledge base, Wheat suggested.   A series of six evening classes for HOA and POA board members, beginning in January, 2009, and conducted in Tampa, are being planned by Hillsborough County to assist neighborhood leaders in discharging their responsibilities, he added.  Local workshops for association boards in February also are in the planning stage.   
Homeowners in those SCC neighborhoods that have resisted forming an HOA or POA, of course, are not subject to any set of architectural standards, Wheat acknowledged.  Those property owners eventually will be governed by the local code enforcement standards which, at the present time, he said, is a “ work in progress”.
©2008 Melody Jameson


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