New regulation clarifies use of wood in Rancho Santa Fe home construction

A Lilian Rice-designed wood building in the village.
A Lilian Rice-designed wood building in the village.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association has introduced a new regulatory code chapter that addresses the use of wood in new homes and remodels. At the June 4 RSF Association board virtual meeting, the board approved posting the chapter for a 28-day review period to gather public input.

RSF Association Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki said the Protective Covenant points to the importance of exterior materials in preserving the character of the community and enhancing its Latin-inspired architecture.

“It has become evident in the course of our work with the Art Jury and the applicants that we do need to provide a new chapter on exterior materials so that the many projects and questions regarding this type and manner of use of materials can be explained,” Babaki said.

In a 4-3 vote in March 2019, the Association board passed a resolution allowing California ranch architecture in the Covenant. The resolution also stated that the use of wood, while not preferred, is consistent with the Covenant if the material is consistent with the allowed styles.

Babaki said since last March, there have been many different interpretations of the resolution. “In order to further clarify and codify the use of wood, staff recommends regulatory language to clarify the use of wood as an exterior cladding,” she said.

Paragraph 159 of the Protective Covenant states that “plaster, adobe and stucco, concrete, stone are preferred” — wood is not listed as a preferred material but it is not prohibited.

The proposed new Chapter 49 of the regulatory code states that wood (board and batten or shiplap) will be allowed in the case of new construction up to a maximum of 25% of the main residence and/or structure’s exterior wall surface.

Wood will also be allowed in the remodel of an existing main residence as long as wood was used as the primary exterior wall surface in the existing main residence and it is limited to no more than 25% of the original residence’s square footage. Additionally, the remodel, addition or additional structure shall include at least 50% of a preferred material.

Per the new regulation, aesthetics will not be considered as a reason to justify the use of wood as an exterior building material.

RSF Association Director Sharon Ruhnau noted that the regulation still does not address the use of cement fiber board or metal siding that imitates wood. Last year members of the Art Jury and the Art Jury’s consulting architect stated that in some cases, the faux materials looked and performed better than wood as they are fire-safe, do not get termites, crack or weather.

“There are other superior materials that can be used in place of wood that I believe we need to consider,” Ruhnau said.

In their 4-3 vote last year, board members who voted against the resolution shared concerns about whether they wanted the use of wood to proliferate as the main type of construction in Rancho Santa Fe. RSF Association Director Bill Strong said in dealing with non-preferred types, he believed the intent was that there could be latitude as long as it didn’t become ubiquitous.

“If every house can have 25% (wood) and other houses have 100%, does that run afoul of the ubiquitous guidance?” Strong asked. “It’s an issue. There was some guidance from legal that non-preferred materials should not become ubiquitous.”

Covenant members will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed regulation through July 2 and the board is expected to take action at the Aug. 6 board meeting. Next month, Babaki also plans to bring forward updates to the regulatory code chapter on lighting.