CDRC seeking clarity on evolution of Ranch-style homes in Covenant

The Rancho Santa Fe Association Covenant Design Review Committee is grappling with making a determination on whether or not to continue allowing Ranch-style homes to be built in the Covenant.

At a meeting on Monday Nov. 13, residents wanted to know: Will there be no more Ranch homes, no California Ranch, no board and batten houses? The answer was at times clear as adobe mud.

RSF Association Building Commissioner Tom Farrar said the residents’ confusion was “well taken,” and that is why the CDRC is attempting to get some clarity on the issue to help guide its decision-making moving forward on different architectural designs. The CDRC’s Design Guidelines are also in the process of being updated.

CDRC Chair Hilary Loretta said the discussion started a couple weeks ago about paragraph 157 of the Protective Covenant — she said there has been a lot of talk about the group’s decision-making process and how the CDRC interprets that paragraph.

The paragraph states that homes must conform with “that distinctive type of architecture which for decades has been successfully developing in California, deriving its chief inspiration directly or indirectly from Latin types which developed under similar climatic conditions along the Mediterranean or at points in California, such as Monterey.”

Andrew Wright, the consulting architect for the CDRC, said that the paragraph is “short and loaded.” At Monday’s meeting, Wright was asked to provide some history on the architectural styles, in an attempt to help the CDRC define what California Ranch is and whether it draws its “chief inspiration” from the two types called out in the Covenant — Latin-based Mediterranean and architecture developed in Monterey.

“My task was to show architecture generally in context. Some Ranch-style architecture has evolved beyond recognition as it moves across the country,” Wright said. “Some of the influences of Monterey I think have merged into the Ranch-style buildings in terms of the wood influence. Now it’s up to this group to make some determination about these things in general.”

Wright said within the Association design guidelines he’s seen a number of projects come through that one would consider to be quite contemporary but it’s been done in a way that still takes its inspiration from the genesis in the Mediterranean.

“Projects like that have been approved from time to time. It’s a lot of work to get them approved but when they’re done really well, you can see connection,” Wright said. “The Monterey type and Ranch evolution opens things up a bit. This group’s responsibility is to try to get reasonable good architecture built.”

He said that some responsibility falls to the architects, to make enough of the connection to the two distinctive architecture types in the Covenant.

RSF resident Bill Strong said that paragraph 159 of the Protective Covenant is just as important, stating that for residential home materials, “plaster, adobe and stucco, concrete and stone are preferred.” He said for his first 20 years in Rancho Santa Fe the then-Art Jury “hated stone” and then finally allowed one to be built in 1996. He said the Art Jury also went through a “modern period” in the 1990s, and said there was a span of time where he thinks the jury didn’t read the Protective Covenant at all.

Strong said it’s important that the CDRC gets back to where its authority comes from, the Covenant.

“You don’t have the latitude to go off personal taste, either you follow the Covenant faithfully, or it goes away,” Strong said.

Still others in public comment said there is room for some interpretation, to not allow things like “mega mansions” but to have flexibility with “departures” and “evolutions” of the permitted styles. One argued that by defining the Covenant even narrower, to only allow Latin-style homes and no more ranch-style, might be frustrating.

“We can’t stay so firmly rooted in this little myopia,” said resident Janet Lawless Christ. “I urge the CDRC to open up your thought process to allow great architecture and really great design that embraces moving forward in a creative way and also enhances our property values rather than putting a stranglehold on it.”

Loretta said the CDRC must base its decisions solely on the Protective Covenant and the Design Guidelines, not on CDRC members’ own personal opinions or likes, so they are really trying to come to some kind of clarity on the evolving Ranch style.

“It’s not so easy sitting up here,” Loretta said. “There’s been some great architecture that’s come through here that’s been really been fantastic and we have to decline it because our hands are bound by the Protective Covenant.”

CDRC member Jane van Praag said that the CDRC is allowed to interpret the Covenant reasonably and “it becomes an abuse of discretion if we exceed our interpretation.”

If there’s a strong enough sentiment to allow other forms of architecture, that would have to be the will of the community to change the Protective Covenant.

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