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Developing Cluster Standards

What are cluster standards?
They are design specifications for certain exterior elements of the cluster architecture that usually define basic requirements or limitations. Often they describe an acceptable solution which will allow the applicant to proceed with staff approval, but they do not preclude DRB review of alternative solutions.

Why can't the cluster board review design alterations for its own residents?
Because the Covenants don't grant that authority to the clusters. Only the DRB is empowered to review and approve exterior alterations and additions.

Why are cluster standards important?
In a planned community such as Reston, with areas of closely spaced housing, a degree of consistency and continuity in the appearance of cluster housing enhances its overall appearance and maintains individual property values. Predetermined cluster standards can help to mitigate the physical impact of changes upon neighboring properties

How do a cluster's standards originate? Where is the information kept? Is it available to the public?
The builder must submit the essential exterior elements of the project for DRB review and approval at the time of construction. Records of initial approvals for colors and materials, doors, fences, decks, light fixtures, etc. are kept by RA.

This information, and any subsequent changes, is assembled in notebooks for reference by cluster residents. Clusters are encouraged to review their standards files regularly to be sure their information agrees with RA's records, and that all product information is correct and the products are still available.

Can new standards be developed or the existing ones changed? How?
Any new or modified standard must be in the form of a specific DRB decision, so that there is a clear record and mutual understanding of its terms. Although the DRB may have approved certain items by specific applications from individual cluster residents, those approvals do not constitute a cluster standard.

Generally, new standards are proposed, or existing ones modified, by an application from the cluster, signed by at least three cluster board officers. Such applications are initiated in several ways:

  • A cluster may determine that a color or product is discontinued and apply for approval of an alternative.
  • Several residents may want to have a particular type of addition or alteration, and may petition the cluster board to seek DRB approval for a cluster standard.
  • Staff may observe repeated alterations of a particular type within the cluster, and suggest that the cluster apply to make it a standard.
  • The DRB may request that the cluster develop and submit a standard to assist in its review of a specific application.

The cluster board or a designated committee drafts the standard, assembling any appropriate supplementary information, and submits its request to the DRB on a regular application form. The form should be signed by at least three officers of the cluster board, to verify that the proposal comes with the knowledge and agreement of the cluster association. For complex standards, the cluster may wish to bring in a draft of the standard for preliminary review by DRB or staff. Staff also can assist in providing information and guidance for this process and can share examples of other clusters' standards.

The relationship between cluster and DRB is a cooperative one, with mutual benefits. Generally, the DRB will not establish a cluster standard, or modify one, without first notifying the cluster and seeking input from the board. If the cluster does not respond, however, the DRB may, on its own volition, take action to develop and approve a cluster standard.

The cluster's input provides the DRB valuable information and insight from the residents' perspective. The DRB carefully considers these comments, together with its own observation and analysis, and evaluates all aspects of the matter within the context of its established policies of design review. This cooperative process results in standards that meet the unique needs of the individual cluster, and are compatible with the community's overall design.

In most cases, the DRB will not approve a proposed cluster standard that violates a Design Guideline. If the proposed standard is unusually restrictive, the cluster must show that there is strong general support among its residents. However, the approved cluster standard will take precedence over the Design Guideline in matters of design review and enforcement.

How are cluster standards used?
By RA staff

  • They tell RA staff how to identify alterations that are acceptable to both the cluster and the DRB. Unless otherwise indicated by the individual guideline or by the wording of the cluster standard, staff may approve an application that conforms to the cluster standard without requiring the signatures of neighbors and a cluster board representative.

By the DRB

  • They provide criteria for DRB review.
  • Applications which do not meet the standards for staff review will be reviewed by staff in consultation with a DRB member, or by a DRB Panel.
  • Although the DRB may review individual applications for which there is no standard or requests for variations from the cluster standard, as part of its review the DRB will request, and consider seriously, comment from the cluster.
  • A specific request may be approved if, after consultation with the cluster, the DRB considers it appropriate to the specific conditions of that property or if the impact is not significant in the established visual pattern of the cluster.
  • In many cases, the approval also will be accompanied by a request that the cluster consider establishing a standard for such alterations, if the DRB considers it appropriate for general use.
  • Approval of an individual request does not establish a precedent for approval of future applications. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

By the Cluster

  • By participating in the development of a cluster standard, the cluster is aware of those applications which may be reviewed by staff.
  • Conversely, the cluster protects its right to be informed of, and participate in, DRB review of applications that are not covered by cluster standards or general guidelines.
  • The signature of the cluster board officer on the application form lets the DRB know that the cluster board has been made aware of the application and of the cluster's right to register as an • Affected Party. The signer must be a officer of the cluster board, and is regarded as its representative.
  • The Cluster may wish to designate one or two board officers to sign DRB applications, for better communication between residents, board, staff and DRB. However, it is the responsibility of the cluster to implement its policy and inform its residents. DRB and staff will only require the signature of a representative of the cluster board and cannot enforce any internal cluster policy as to who is authorized to provide the signature. 
  • The cluster must register in writing in order to be an Affected Party. As such, a cluster board has the same rights as an individual: to appear at, and participate in, the DRB meeting at which the application is reviewed; to receive notice of the DRB decision; to file an appeal; and to be notified of any future review of that application.

By the Cluster resident
Residents will know:

  • How to plan an alteration so that it may receive easy, expeditious staff approval.
  • What aspects of a nonstandard design will be important to the DRB and why.

Call Member Services at (703) 435-6530 to speak with your Covenants Advisor.