Use of wood, glass in Covenant home builds addressed in revised regulation

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 made some significant tweaks to last year’s regulation on the use of wood in new home builds and remodels. The use of wood, while not preferred, has been deemed consistent with the Covenant if the material is consistent with the allowed architectural styles.

The board reviewed the working draft of the regulatory code on exterior building materials at its March 4 meeting. Per the new timeline for all regulatory code updates, the regulation will be reviewed for posting and public comments in April and then considered for final approval in May.

For the record:

1:19 p.m. March 12, 2021Director Greg Gruzdowich did not mention metal imitation wood siding in his comments as was previously reported. He only referenced fiber-cement siding that is commonly called “Hardie board.”

In August of last year, the board approved a new exterior materials regulation in a 5-1-1 vote with Laurel Lemarie voting in opposition and Bill Strong abstaining.

The previously approved regulation stated 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. Wood was also allowed in remodels as long as wood was used as the primary material in the existing main residence, limiting its use to no more than 25%.

In this year’s revision, the allowable amount of cladding in new construction has increased from 25% to 33% and the limitation on 25% of remodels has been entirely removed.

“We got a lot of comments about this one from homeowners that had homes with wood cladding,” said Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki. “It would limit the ability to renovate their homes.”

The limitation was one of the main reasons for Lemarie’s vote in opposition last year.

Babaki said the new regulation clarifies that the county is now prescribing the type of wood products that can be used in home builds, only allowing those that have been tested and verified by the fire department. The regulation also addresses the use of glass and glazing in new builds and remodels.

During board comments, Strong reiterated his concerns about the proliferation of non-preferred materials in the Ranch.

Paragraph 159 of the Protective Covenant states that “plaster, adobe and stucco, concrete, stone are preferred” and while wood is not listed as a preferred material, it is not prohibited. In 2019, the board passed a resolution stating that the use of wood is consistent with the Covenant as long as the architecture is of a type deriving its chief inspiration from Latin styles. The same resolution stated that California ranch type met that criteria. (current board members Mike Gallagher and Sharon Ruhnau were opposed).

Ruhnau said her concern is that in the new regulation there seems to be a shift in focus regarding the allowable use of wood: “Our Protective Covenant is not addressed, adhered to or even mentioned as a restriction on the use of non-preferred materials,” she said.

She recommended that the regulation is phrased in a way that pays deference to the Covenant regarding non-preferred materials.

In his comments, Director Greg Gruzdowich questioned the use of percentages of materials in the regulation, which he did not support. Gruzdowich also suggested that the regulation include the latest thinking on the use of cement fiber board that imitates wood. While the faux materials remain prohibited, the Art Jury’s consulting architect has stated in the past that in some cases the materials looked and performed better than wood as they are fire-safe, do not get termites, crack or weather.

In addition to the review of the exterior materials regulation, a chapter on grading was also approved for posting and public comment. The grading regulation outlines maximum heights of cuts, fills and retaining walls, meeting the Covenant’s intention to preserve natural landforms.

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