Boulder County HOAs face challenges from Marshall Fire

Tom Wade knows firsthand the stress and frustration caused by the Marshall Fire. Her 31-year-old home in Louisville was totally destroyed. He is also president of the Coal Creek Ranch Homeowners Association, which had 162 homes burnt down in the massive blaze. In addition to rebuilding his own life, Wade devotes time to helping his HOA members get back to normal life as quickly as possible.

Wade’s situation is not unique. Five members of Coal Creek Ranch’s six-person board had their homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire, Wade said.

This council was revamped in January to specifically add ‘owners who had totally lost their homes, as rebuilding homes would be the main focus of the council for the next year or two and we wanted total loss owners to be well represented,” Wade said.

Responding to the Marshall fire put immediate pressure on the new board, he said.

“Your average HOA board meets once a month,” Wade said. “The first two months after the fire, we met almost every week. We all had to get to know each other and we had to start understanding the task at hand. »

Six homeowners associations in Louisville saw homes destroyed by the fire, while two HOAs in Superior suffered such damage, city officials said.

Being part of an HOA brings complications for homeowners whose homes were destroyed in the fire, as their rebuilding efforts must conform to the policies and guidelines established by their HOA. An HOA is a homeowners association that handles tasks such as managing and maintaining community assets, such as swimming pools or pavilions, and enforcing various HOA regulations, said Suzanne Leff, a lawyer who specializes in HOA law since 2004. Owners are assessed a fee to pay for a management company and the costs of maintaining equipment and other property.

Anyone buying a home in an HOA is required to follow a wide range of rules set out in guiding documents called the Statement of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. These “communities of common interest” are often formed with the idea of ​​establishing and maintaining cohesive architectural features, Leff said. Even custom-built homes will share certain architectural features, she said.

“The idea is to have a common theme of development and people buy into that and can’t choose an offbeat paint color that stands out in the community or an addition to their home that has a glaring aspect to that community. Leff said. “There are a lot of people who see a benefit in that, which someone is careful to control against a lot of eccentricities in the community.”

Golfers play at the Coal Creek Ranch golf course, which borders the site of HOA board chairman Tom Wade, whose Louisville home was one of 1,084 destroyed in the Boulder County fire and one of 162 affected in the area covered by his HOA. (Cliff Grassmick/staff photographer)

The challenge facing HOA boards affected by the Marshall Fire is to meet their commitments and maintain the appearance of their communities, while supporting the rebuilding efforts of their affected owners. The Marshall Fire destroyed 15 homes in the Cherrywood II HOA in Louisville, 18% of the units in that community. This HOA described their approach to rebuilding on their membership website:

“The role of the HOA is to protect property values, promote safety, aesthetic appeal, and generally improve the quality of life in our neighborhood…When our neighborhood was built decades ago, the developer created the unifying aesthetic by building houses that shared common features like roof design. , entry door locations, window and siding styles, color selection, garage location, and landscaping elements. Our goal is to provide (rebuilding) guidelines that reflect the aesthetic qualities of our community while allowing for the flexibility that will likely be needed to accommodate new building standards, materials and limited budgets that may be available given insurance coverage.

The Rock Creek Homeowners Association, Superior’s largest HOA, adopted a new policy for rebuilding and building new homes on February 9, 2022. Rock Creek includes 2,804 single and multi-family homes. About 80 people were affected by the fire, City of Superior communications and community engagement manager Kevin Colón said in an email message.

Rock Creek policy makes it clear that the HOA is only for the exterior of the house, footprint, and landscaping. Homeowners do not need association approval for their interior floor plan. However, the exterior of all new homes must be styled “consistent” with the neighborhood, and the policy specifically prohibits certain home styles, including log cabins, A-frames, and “modern, glass homes.” or square, with a flat roof”. .”

Written approval from the HOA’s Architectural Control Committee must be obtained before beginning to rebuild, even if the owner plans to rebuild the exact same model in the field, in accordance with this rebuilding policy. The review and approval process typically takes 20-30 days, but can take up to 45 days if an application is not typical. The policy states that every effort will be made to expedite reconstruction approvals where possible.

Failure to obtain this approval may subject an owner to fines and the owner may be required to edit or remove any work that does not comply with HOA guidelines at the owner’s expense.

The Rock Creek reconstruction application process requires detailed information from the owner for its review process, including:

  • A site plan showing the boundaries of the exterior walls of the proposed building, also known as a “footprint”, with setbacks, dimensions and easements drawn to scale.
  • A conceptual rendering or sketch of the exterior elevations of the house.
  • Details regarding the size, shape, color and other elements of the exterior finishes of the proposed house, including photos or product brochures.

However, owners are free to choose the architect or builder they want.

Language about maintaining a neighborhood’s appearance is common in HOA architectural policies, but it can breed hard feelings in situations where homeowners wish to modify or ignore HOA guidelines in their reconstruction efforts. According to Coal Creek Ranch’s Wade, HOA boards face a “high-tension act,” which must balance the desires of homeowners who need to rebuild with maintaining the established “look” of their community and the compliance with their constitutive documents.

“The bottom line is that when those houses burned down on December 30, the covenants that we all signed and agreed to didn’t burn with them,” Wade said.

Coal Creek Ranch HOA board chairman Tom Wade said the board is still working to support homeowners who weren't affected by the Marshall fire, such as fixing a shower at the pool. community, to ensure that all members feel represented by the board.  (Cliff Grassmick/staff photographer)
Coal Creek Ranch HOA board chairman Tom Wade said the board is still working to support homeowners who weren’t affected by the Marshall fire, such as fixing a shower at the pool. community, to ensure that all members feel represented by the board. (Cliff Grassmick/staff photographer)

While Coal Creek Ranch lost 162 homes in the Marshall Fire, that’s only a third of the community’s housing stock.

The board is to represent “all of the people of Coal Creek Ranch,” Wade said. “Certainly we have to bend over backwards to help homeowners in total loss in any way we can, but we still have responsibilities to all homeowners.”

Its board has tried to make the rebuilding process more flexible by “relaxing” some guidelines – reducing the amount of masonry required for the facade of houses, for example.

“The goal was to give the owners as much lateral movement as possible and not restrict them too much,” Wade said. “Give them some freedom to change things as they see fit, unless they say there are no rules, anything goes.”

Another issue that some HOA boards have faced are requests from owners of destroyed homes to be exempted from paying assessments. It’s “probably not” legal for an HOA board to let individual homeowners stop paying appraisals in this situation, Leff said.

“Most of the covenants that are registered against these properties probably don’t anticipate the kind of disaster that happened with the Marshall fire. Because they don’t anticipate that kind of disaster, there’s probably a very clear requirement that all landlords must pay appraisals and there is no exception to that,” she said.

An HOA’s governance statement can be amended to change these requirements, but this is a complicated process.

“If the statement or the CC&Rs need to be changed, that would require a vote from the owner, and that’s typically 67% of the entire membership or the entire membership vote to approve a change to the registered commitment,” Leff said.

While the Coal Creek Ranch board prioritized the needs of total loss owners, they also tried to do “normal HOA things,” Wade said, like fixing an outdoor shower at the community pool and organize a 4th of July party for the owners. . Several board members will be at the party, he said, available to discuss with the owners their common concerns about the rebuilding process.

Board members are “in the same boat” as other total loss owners, Wade said. “We want the same. We want to rebuild and get back to normal as soon as possible. It’s going to take a while, but you’re doing your best every day to try to make it as good as possible every day. What else can you do?”


List of HOAs affected by Marshall Fire

Superior

  • Rock Creek HOA – 2,804 units
  • Ridge to Superior HOA – 72 units

Louisville

  • Coal Creek Ranch – 486 units
  • Birch II HOA – 85 units
  • Grove at Harper Lake – 89 units
  • The Summit – 70 units
  • Centennial Heights West – 36 units
  • Club Homes in Coal Creek – 77 units

Sources: Kevin Colón, Manager of Communications and Community Engagement, City of Superior; David Donnelly, HOA Information Officer, Colorado Division of Real Estate; Lisa Ritchie, Fire Recovery and Planning Manager, City of Louisville