RSF Association board oversight letter to CDRC advises fair, consistent design decisions


The Rancho Santa Fe Association board issued a letter to the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) on Feb. 7, outlining its concerns about the CDRC decision-making process and encouraging the committee to operate in the most “efficient and respectful” manner.

The page-and-a-half-long letter, read into the record by RSF Association President Ken Markstein, stated while it is not the board’s role to regulate the CDRC, it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that the CDRC enforces the Protective Covenant, the Regulatory Code and Residential Design Guidelines on a fair and consistent basis.

The letter reflected the board’s opinion that the CDRC should evaluate each proposed project in light of the themes spelled out in the design guidelines: That Rancho Santa Fe is traditionally defined by its “subdued rural character” achieved by site design which preserves natural landforms and reduces the obtrusiveness of new construction and architecture which represents constraint and simplicity and “mass and scale subordinated to natural surroundings.”

The board stated that Association building department staff should conduct a preliminary check of any submitted plans to see if they are compliant. If they are non-compliant, it is then the staff’s role to correct the matters before the plans go before the CDRC for review.

“While there are areas of the Covenant, code and guidelines that are subject to the opinion and discretion of the CDRC, there are concerns within our community about the interpretation and enforcement of those guidelines and the overall deliberative process of the CDRC,” the letter stated. “Specifically members of the board and our community have noted excessive grading projects with unrestrained mass and scale and buildings that are inconsistent with the Latin-style design. The CDRC should give great care when considering grading, mass, scale and type of design. These decisions made by the CDRC are not temporary and leave a lasting mark on the rural community.”

The board’s letter directed the CDRC to focus on enforcement of the Covenant, code and guidelines and to refrain from discussing design elements that are not permitted.

“We’re in whole agreement with that letter,” said CDRC Chair Shaunna Salzetti-Kahn, who was present at the meeting.

The Association board also issued a second letter to the CDRC regarding building materials used in new construction. Markstein said at the Association board’s March meeting, they will consider the proper interpretations of paragraphs 155 through 159 of the Protective Covenant, which deals with materials and the distinctive type of Latin architecture that is allowed in Rancho Santa Fe.

According to paragraph 155, “Materials, color and forms must be used honestly, actually expressing what they are, and not imitating other materials (such as tin, tile, wood and sheet metal, shamming stone, etc.), as for instance, wood being treated frankly as wood and not in imitation of stone, wherever it is used.”

The board’s second letter advised the CDRC to hold off on approving any materials that might be considered faux or imitation pending their review.

At the Feb. 7 meeting, Salzetti-Kahn was requesting permission for the CDRC to continue its work on updating the regulatory code. In December, the Association gave direction to hold off working on any regulatory code updates until a new building commissioner is hired.

Salzetti-Kahn said they have been working on the updates since 2017 and phase one of four is nearly complete. An update was last done in 2007 and she said there is a need to correct ambiguities and imprecision in many chapters, such as those relating to lighting, slope protection, animal keeping, sports courts and solar.

“Everyone (who submits a project) gets a copy of the Protective Covenant, the Regulatory Code and the Design Guidelines and they are not all in sync,” Salzetti-Kahn said.

She said things like story poles and gate heights have been established as standards but they are not a part of the regulatory code. CDRC process steps are labeled differently in the document than what is currently practiced and the group is still frequently referred to as the Art Jury in the code. There have also been many technological advances since 2007 that need to be addressed. Senior Planner Rick Casswell gave the example of lighting—per the code if you use low voltage, you can put up to 10 lights which is how a lot of uplighting, which is prohibited, has occurred in the Ranch. As another example, for the update on signage, the CDRC added language about permitting the use of iPads as signs in village storefront windows.

A new building commissioner could take three to six months to get up to speed and they would rather not wait to continue working, Salzetti-Kahn said.

“We feel like we’ve got what we need to keep working on this,” Salzetti-Kahn said. “We think that what we’re doing is going to help the process.”

The board did not formally vote on allowing the CDRC to continue working on the updates but members said they did not want to inhibit the progress. Board members’ main concern was regarding staff time

Salzetti-Kahn said she believes the first phase of the updates could be completed for review and approval by March. If any regulatory code changes are approved by the Association board, it goes out to the members for a 30-day review period.

According to the chair, the CDRC board is “mostly” in unison about the changes except for one member. Speaking up during public comment, CDRC member Jane van Praag encouraged the board to stop the CDRC from making the updates.

“It is not just cleaning up language, changing watts for lumens, it’s wholesale changes,” argued van Praag.

van Praag said that Association board oversight should include advising the CDRC on what chapters need to be updated and working alongside a new building commissioner to make the updates.

van Praag said she doesn’t mind working on whatever the Association board would direct the CDRC to do, however: “I want to make sure it is not a breach of the Covenant,” she said.

To change the rules of the Protective Covenant, to allow for things like different architecture types or building materials, would require a Covenant-wide vote with two-thirds approval.