Preserving the Peninsula
Why the Palos Verdes homes association adheres to the founding covenants, conditions and restrictions as they chaperone development and growth into the 21st century.
WRITTEN BY SUZANNA CULLEN HAMILTON
Want to change the paint color of your front door or plant a tree or change your mailbox in Palos Verdes Estates or Miraleste? Do you need a new roof or want to upgrade your single-pane slider windows to double-pane, divided-lite windows? Thinking about buying an original house to tear down and building a new construction home on a large lot?
Those decisions are not yours alone in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste. You’ll need the approval and permission of the Palos Verdes Homes Association if you want your home to remain compliant with the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions of these communities. Furthermore, you’ll pay fees to have them approved—or heavy fines for proceeding without permission—and in some cases you’ll even be required to pay the fines and make corrections to an unapproved change.
The overarching purpose of the Palos Verdes Homes Association is to ensure the conformity of architectural and landscape standards in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste. Frank Vanderlip purchased Palos Verdes in 1913 and established the Palos Verdes Art Jury in 1923 with architect Myron Hunt as the president, overseeing building specifications and monitoring growth. The Olmsted Brothers firm was entrusted with planning the development of the area after the owners’ father, preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designed Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Necklace in Boston.
Today the Palos Verdes Homes Association is comprised of three separate but interrelated entities that maintain the architectural and landscape integrity that Vanderlip, Hunt and the Olmsteds specified at the founding of the area. The board oversees the business issues of the association and gives final approval for changes such as amendments, setbacks, zoning, lot lines and easements.
The Art Jury is a committee comprised of six working or retired professionals within the fields of architecture and landscape design who meet twice each month to address requested architectural and landscape changes to properties. The Palos Verdes Homes Association office and staff are the front line of the association. Managed by Kim Robinson, the staff interacts with the public, and Kim determines which changes can be made over the counter and which issues advance to the Art Jury for consideration.
“The learning curve was steep due to the vision of the founding fathers and their detailed directives provided in the CC&Rs combined with with a century of changes in both lifestyle and products.”
Complaints by residents and Realtors are pronounced regarding the process by which the Palos Verdes Homes Association grants changes. However, not one person interviewed for this article would go on the record for fear of refusal regarding possible changes to any property. Such is the power that the Homes Association and Art Jury wield, and such is the fear that they incite—even among the most prolific who benefit from residential home improvements.
Among anonymous resident complaints, confusion and consternation are frequent byproducts of working with the Palos Verdes Art Jury. For example, permitted products can change, thereby leaving residents wondering whether proposals are within permitted parameters. Still other residents are convinced that the process is subjective.
Kim answers, “The process is not subjective, but it is done with discretion to ensure that every change maintains integrity of design and is a good example of its kind.” She must rely on the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) written in the Protective Restrictions of Palos Verdes Estates. The minute details Kim must consider about each request made today were actually written almost a century ago.
Furthermore, each property is unique and has its own set of restrictions. “The learning curve was steep due to the vision of the founding fathers and their detailed directives provided in the CC&Rs combined with with a century of changes in both lifestyle and products,” Kim says of her tenure as manager—one that began in 2015. She is enormously positive and engaging, saying, “I want people to come into the office because our goal is to make the process less stressful and facilitate a positive and productive experience from the start for all residents.”
For decisions requiring the consideration of the Art Jury, Kim assures applicants that “all members of the jury are abundantly qualified.” George Sweeney is the vice president of the Palos Verdes Art Jury and a licensed architect who has been practicing in Southern California for more than four decades. “We must have architectural integrity that exemplifies continuity with the past while maintaining the quality of designs and materials, and one that denies odd combinations of vernaculars resulting in carefully ugly properties,” states George, an Art Jury member since 1987.
Considering George’s extensive career in South Bay architecture, he is qualified to render such opinions on proposed homes in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste. “Requests for plastic red tiled roofs, flat roofs and aberrations of architectural styles are routinely refused, but we try to guide them by making suggestions that are within the parameters of what’s permitted and in good taste,” he says. Residents are overwhelmingly positive when they hear that those tacky or architecturally inappropriate requests are turned down … as long as it’s not their tacky or architecturally inappropriate request.
Because the Palos Verdes Homes Association addresses all aspects of residential and commercial exteriors, landscapes are a critical component of Art Jury considerations. Redondo Beach landscape designer Miriam Rainville is an Art Jury member with 20 years of professional experience working in Palos Verdes. “There must be a landscape connection with the architecture wherein the rhythm and relationship of the land balance with the architecture,” she says.
All landscapes in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste must be environmentally sound and in keeping with the aesthetics defined by Olmsted Brothers. Artificial turf is not permitted, and overt ornamentation such as tiered fountains or concrete lions guarding entrances are not viewed as appropriate for the refined taste and discretion with which Palos Verdes was designed. In other words, if you don’t want to cut your manicured grass or if you feel the need to impress others with mass-produced pronouncements of your grandeur, then you need to live in another zip code.
Several issues are currently paramount in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste, and those issues are commanding a great deal of time for the association. As more cell towers are installed, the Art Jury carefully considers guidelines to ensure that the towers meld with the vernacular of the area.
Additionally, Miriam adds, “Currently one of our biggest landscape issues is residents’ desire for completely unobstructed views. The requests to remove trees are significant, but there must be a balance. A Palos Verdes without trees is not beneficial for the area.”
George acknowledges that one of the most sensitive issues impacting the Palos Verdes Homes Association and Art Jury involves neighbors. “The single largest hurdle for any requested change is the neighborhood compatibility process,” he says.
“The very reason property values continue to increase in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste is due to the carefully preserved architectural and landscape standards for this unique and beautiful community where so many desire to live.”
Because each decision involves a consensus of a percentage of a 300-foot radius around that particular property, one neighbor can wreck havoc with a request. Additionally, organized neighborhood protestors have become a vocal—if largely architecturally uneducated and ignorant—component of the process.
When the association is not tenaciously guarding the beauty of Palos Verdes from the unsightly jaws of cell phone technology or graciously chaperoning residents away from the plethora of tawdry common products available for architectural enhancement, it gives back to the community. The Harry M. Brandel Jr. College Scholarship is awarded to a student whose parents reside in Palos Verdes Estates or Miraleste, for the study of architecture, landscape architecture, civil engineering or fine arts. Harry served on the board of the Palos Verdes Homes Association for 44 years, and his legacy lives on through current scholars.
In aggregate, the Palos Verdes Homes Association is an entity charged with maintaining the lush beauty defined in the 1923 Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions; however, they must do so in a vastly different 21st century. It is a very complicated and highly detailed process that demands an understanding of the bylaws, extensive professional expertise and experience, and expert communication skills to guide residents in a positive manner. As a result, it’s easy to understand why some requests can be addressed at the association’s counter but why many others advance to the Art Jury for further review.
Kim appreciates a shared conversation with residents in the early planning stages. “Well-planned projects with detailed drawings reduce the risk of on-site modifications and sub-par results that lead to noncompliant final inspections,” she says.
Kim remains focused on the ultimate priority, saying, “The very reason property values continue to increase in Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste is due to the carefully preserved architectural and landscape standards for this unique and beautiful community where so many desire to live.”
Both George and Miriam compliment Kim as being an “amazing addition to the homes association.” Recognizing the changes that Kim has affected in her first two years, it’s likely that the Palos Verdes Homes Association will continue to clarify and streamline the process for enhanced beauty while adhering to the founding principles.
Says Miriam, “There’s nothing punitive in this process; it’s all about the goal toward high levels of artistic result.”