RSF Association director proposes change to allow use of wood-look Hardie board


The Rancho Santa Fe Association board will revisit allowing faux wood materials to be used in Covenant home construction.

At the Sept. 2 board meeting, held outdoors on the Association office patio, RSF Association Director Greg Gruzdowich proposed several changes to the Association’s regulation on exterior building materials. In addition to allowing for the use of certain textures of wood grain-looking “Hardie board” plank siding or similar products, he would also like to remove the percentage limitations on wood in new and remodeled homes as well as to rescind the board’s 2019 resolution which prohibits the faux materials as it is “flawed and no longer needed.”

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board met outside on Sept. 2.
(Karen Billing)

According to paragraph 159 of the Association’s Protective Covenant (PC), the preferred materials in the Ranch are plaster, adobe or stucco, concrete, stone or an approved artificial stone. Wood is not listed as a preferred material but it is not prohibited. Per paragraph 155 of the PC, “materials, color and forms must be used honestly, actually expressing what they are, and not imitating other materials.”

Wood-look Hardie board is fabricated out of a fiber-cement. As Gruzdowich pointed out, it is described in its promotional materials as a masonry product as it is composed primarily of concrete, a preferred material in the PC. Among the benefits of the faux material is that it is fire resistant, insect resistant and waterproof— it does not crack or weather.

A concern of past boards in allowing non-preferred materials like wood or Hardie board was that the material might prevail as the main type of construction in the community, which was not the intent of the Covenant.

“What I’ve seen is we have de-facto allowed certain advanced materials that weren’t around in 1928,” Gruzdowich said of the use of materials like stone veneer and slump block, which gives the appearance of adobe brick.

Prior to the 2019 resolution, Gruzdowich said the use of Hardie board or similar products was allowed by the Art Jury for many years.

“This restriction regarding a superior, durable, flame-resistant masonry building material is in conflict with the safety of our community,” Gruzdowich wrote in a director report. “Even the versions of approved fire-resistant treated wood will burn, it just takes longer than untreated wood.”

In 2019, in a much debated 4-3 vote, the Association board approved a resolution in favor of the California Ranch-type home which also stated that the use of wood, while not preferred, is consistent with the Covenant if the material is consistent with the allowed styles. The resolution also banned the use of Hardie board or any other material that imitates wood. Gruzdowich has recommended that the board rescind the resolution in its entirety.

“This resolution was masquerading as a regulation,” Director Laurel Lemarié said. “It changed how we operate and the Art Jury process without being vetted. I think we should call for its immediate removal.”

Director Rick Sapp, the only current board member who was on the board when they passed the resolution, said the resolution was the board’s interpretation of the Covenant on architectural types and preferred materials, with advice from legal counsel. It was the hope that the resolution would provide some guidance to the Art Jury on expected architectural outcomes.

At the board meeting, Art Jury member Jeff Simmons said they still struggle with some decisions and could use clearer guidance: “Dealing with wood issues, it’s very confusing.”

After the board approved wood with conditions, the Art Jury raised the question of whether faux materials might be acceptable. Some Art Jury members have supported the use of Hardie board in the past as it sometimes looks better than a wood application.

The board approved the new regulatory code on exterior materials in August 2020. The vote was 5-1-1 with Director Lemarié opposed and Bill Strong abstaining—Gruzdowich had not yet been elected.

The 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%.

Then in March 2021, the board revised the regulation to increase the allowable amount of wood cladding in new construction from 25% to 33% and entirely remove the limitation on 25% of remodels.

Gruzdowich has proposed that there be no percentage limitations in the regulation, which remains in draft form.

“Our current regulation for the percentage of wood, as a specific building material, are by nature arbitrary and not required by the PC,” Gruzdowich argued.

RSF Association Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki said she would bring back language for Gruzdowich’s proposed regulation changes at a future meeting. If the new language moves forward, it would need to be posted for 30 days for public input before the board could approve it.