Most of the crowd of about two dozen who came to the Rancho Murieta Association monthly meeting last week were drawn by the issue of exclusive use of common area land.
The board has been unsure how to deal the law that took effect in January 2006, and new exclusive uses could require a vote of 67 percent of the membership for approval.
In July, the board imposed a moratorium on granting new requests for exclusive use.
"There are various opinions on this new law and its requirements," said President Jack Cooper. "Our attorney said we could go ahead with it. They've since said you'd better look at it again."
"We have to rely on legal opinions that have been at best contradictory," Director Mel Standart said. "We have to obey the law."
Realtor Karen Hoberg, who lives in the community, said the moratorium affects 925 lots on the North. "The prices of these properties as well as their salability is being drastically reduced," she told the board, offering an example of a house that suffered a steep drop in price. "It is imperative that the board protect the rights and the privileges of the homeowners as set forth in the CC&Rs."
The CC&Rs allow owners of cottage, townhouse and circle lots to lease up to 1,200 square feet of common area immediately adjacent to their homes for heating and air conditioning equipment, propane tanks, decking, unroofed patios, landscaping and swimming pools.
Exclusive use agreements are also sanctioned in a special ordinance for Rancho Murieta the county Board of Supervisors passed in 1977.
"I credit the board for taking a deep breath and trying to figure out what to do with this problem," said neighbor Wilbur Haines, who has repeatedly urged the board to comply with the law.
Haines disagreed with Hoberg's figure of 925 lots, saying most lots already have exclusive use agreements in place, and the law only applies to new requests.
Haines said he also disagreed with the legal opinion offered by RMA legal counsel RMA attorney Steven S. Weil of Berding & Weil Inc. at the July board meeting.
Weil's position was the CC&R provisions "constitute a separate approval percentage, and the members, when they adopted their second amendment to the CC&Rs, chose to give this power to the board. ... And, in my judgment, this law was not intended to take that power away."
Said Haines: "Steve is blowing smoke."
Haines' position is the governing documents do not provide a voting percentage in accordance with the law, and believes "we probably ought to do a CC&R amendment" to put one in place.
Craig Watson has one of the lots that don't have exclusive use leases. After living on the South for a decade, he started looking for a home on the North in January. "One of our criteria was to put in a pool, to buy a house with a pool," he said after coming to the podium.
"We chose a house that was built on a cottage lot. It had a large open space next to it. ... I wouldn't have bought that property if I'd known this was the future we had to look forward to."
Watson bought the property in May and had plans for a pool drawn up three times. "We wanted to meet your requirements," he told the board members. He brought the plans to RMA for approval in July, just as the moratorium was imposed. "So, would this house be worth less than what I paid for it? It would," Watson said.
"There's no guarantee that an exclusive use would be approved. ... The neighbors are involved," said Director Paul Gumbinger, an ARC member.
Tom Trapasso offered a different perspective. His estate lot backs up to two circle lots.
"Over the years this board and the (Architectural Review Committee) has granted construction basically paving over a lot of the common area behind our house," he said. "We have a lot of common area behind our house ... that was one of the big selling points ... Our view was excellent and now it's mostly been paved over. Who's protecting our rights? ... We have so many people fighting for open space against the developers ... and we're giving it away ourselves for $2 a square foot."
At the RMA's request, the problematic circle lot concept was abandoned in favor of estate lots when the South was developed. On the North, the Fairways is the first subdivision with estate lots only.
Budget, fees approved
The RMA board approved a budget that will up member assessments by 4 percent for 2008. The increase takes effect in January, when monthly dues will increase from $131.75 to $137.
The amount includes a $31.79 assessment for cable, according to Finance Manager Colleen Hagyard.
The board approved changes in the architectural fee schedule, but left the fee schedule for administrative, cable TV and maintenance services unchanged.
The new architectural control review fees add another $600 to the cost to put in a swimming pool, bringing the cost to $1,000.
The fee for reviewing plans for new homes was increased from $1,150 to $2,600. Five new custom homes are expected to be built next year, down from an estimated 10 this year.
A new $2,500 fee category was created for home rebuilds, which are expected to increase as the community's housing stock ages.
A minimum fee of $500 for road mitigation will be placed on all construction projects when the fees take effect Jan. 1.
The preliminary budget contained projected revenue from the fee increases. This was removed at the budget workshop. At that time, board members said they wanted to use 2007 actual revenues instead of estimated revenues.
Cable projects approved
The board approved expenditures of $23,350 for projects that are phases of the ongoing plan to improve the cable system and offer more programming. "This is all infrastructure," said General Manager David Stiffler of the projects planned for this year.
The board also agreed to redirect $15,500 that was allocated last month to purchase a cable splicing tool so the work can be outsourced.