Architectural Meetings – An Open or Closed Case

Unlike board meetings, architectural meetings are not required to be open to the public or community members, have a published agenda, or have recorded minutes. Governing documents cover some of the broader issues of how an Architectural Committee operates and how it is named; sometimes it is referred to as an Architectural Review Committee (ARC), Architectural Control Committee (ACC), Architectural Committee (AC) or Design Review Committee (DRC). We have yet to see a governing document which requires an open or closed architectural meeting.

In our experience, some community associations like closed meetings that do not allow member access, while some prefer open meetings which do allow member access. Below are some of the pros and cons associations and management should consider before establishing open or closed architectural meetings:

Pro – Open Meeting

Open meetings allow the applicant immediate and direct access to the committee. An applicant can express concerns and expectations directly to the committee.  We have also noted that open meetings have a tendency to act as a ‘moderator’ for more brash members of a committee and influence them to make reasonable decisions. Although this direct access does not always guarantee an applicant will agree with committee decisions, it has proven to reduce application process time and appeals to the Board of Directors. Open meetings also work wonders in reducing the neighborhood gossip about the secretive Architectural Committee.

Con – Open Meeting

Open meetings can cause committee members to refrain from voicing legitimate concerns. Meetings can also last much longer and stretch the resources of volunteer Architectural members. There can be theatrics as people demonstrate righteous indignation at being required to obtain approval, or express open contempt for a committee they perceive to have inferior taste or a lack of credentials. Committee members can be influenced by the personality or appearance of the applicant and may stray from the intent of the Architectural Review Process.

Pro – Closed Meeting

Committee members can review and speak frankly about an Application without fear of hurting an Applicant’s feelings. Meetings are time-efficient due to a lack of interaction or debate between the Committee and Applicant. Committee members can maintain some level of anonymity and avoid pressure from neighbors to approve Applications.

Con – Closed Meeting

Committee members can often be tactless in expressing an opinion, and a strong personality may tend to steer the Committee in a seemingly biased direction. Closed meetings can result in Committee’s appearing secretive and elitist. Closed meetings frustrate Applicants, which leads many to appeal decisions to the Board of Directors or seek legal counsel. Applicants patient enough to appeal the Committee’s decision find it easier to negotiate their Improvement Design with real interaction between themselves and the Board of Directors rather than submit to a mystery Committee.

Quick Tips for Committee Organization:

  • Boards should consider a Committee member’s personality and attitude toward improvements prior to placing them on the Committee. Strive for a balanced Committee that makes reasonable decisions that are in the best interest of the Community. Avoid Committee members who actively promote homeowner’s rights or insist the process is too complicated. These members are typically only interested in rubber stamping every application regardless of its impact to the community.
  • Consider the age of the community and volume of improvements that will be processed monthly. New neighborhoods simply processing first time front and backyard installations in large volume are typically best served by a closed meeting structure. Older communities that are processing a few complex applications that may include floor area additions or significant landscaping are better served by open meetings.
  • If the Association decides to have closed meetings, consider allowing scheduled 5 minute appointments with the Committee only for those applicants working on their second or third resubmittal. This creates a hybrid between the efficient closed meeting and the transparent “user friendly” open meeting.
  • Set up a policy that limits Committee members to a one-year term. Advertise the policy in the community newsletter to encourage new members and to allow long-serving members an opportunity to leave the Committee gracefully. The Board can decide to re-affirm each of the existing members or replace them each year in a scheduled and controlled manner.

Consider having a Board liaison be present at Committee meetings. Some Boards successfully rotate the duty between Board members to allow each of the members an opportunity to appreciate the service provided by the architectural volunteers.