The SCA is a community association and not a “Homeowners Association” per RCW 64.38. The SCA is not an HOA because its membership dues are not obligatory for all homeowners in Somerset. However, the existing covenants still apply to all present and subsequent homeowners, whether or not the SCA is an HOA as statutorily defined, and whether or not the SCA exists.
2. Is the SCA doing something about the potential WA legislation that seeks to override Single-Family restrictions in covenant neighborhoods?
Since the SCA is incorporated as a 501(c)(4), it can engage in lobbying and political efforts related to the organization’s purpose. After seeking input from the community through email blasts and newsletters, the Board has voted to join a coalition to advocate for opposing legislators’ attempts to override existing covenants. No financial contributions were made in 2023, but the Board has approved a motion to allocate up to $5000 towards this effort in the 2024 Proposed Budget.
3. Why was the CRC formed? Can’t we function fine without it?
Construction approvals and view-related disputes were originally handled by Building/Architectural Review Committees, administered by Evergreen Land Developers, as stated in the written covenants of Somerset’s various divisions.
Once Evergreen completed their development of Somerset, the Building/Architectural Review Committees became defunct. Somerset homeowners were left to fend for themselves, with no committee to evaluate construction applications or resolve tree, etc. related view disputes between neighbors. This led to multiple disputes between neighbors, including some that underwent legal escalation.
At the request of homeowners, the SCA drafted the First Amendment to the covenants that empowered the CRC to replace the original Building/Architectural Review Committees, which was passed by legal amendment in approximately two-thirds of Somerset divisions in the 1990s and early 2000s.
4. Who owns and controls the content of the covenants in the divisions?
Collectively, the homeowners in each division are stewards of the Covenant document, as it passes with the land to new owners, when each property is sold.
5. What would it take to change the Covenants?
A legal amendment would be required.
Some amendments require the approval percentage of owners as documented in each division’s covenants.
However, amendments that alter original expectations relied on by homeowners could require up to 100% of owners in the division to approve based on case law:
“The law will not subject a minority of landowners to unlimited and unexpected restrictions on the use of their land merely because the covenant agreement permitted a majority to make changes to existing covenants” (Meresse v Stelma 2000).
Mortgage lender approval of covenant changes may also be required, as Covenants can affect property values.
The SCA is available to support property owners in any Somerset division that desire to amend their covenants.
6. How are SCA Board Members selected?
The Board is comprised of twelve to fifteen members. Only one member from each household can serve on the Board at any given time, as each household has one vote within the SCA membership.
Per the SCA Bylaws, a nomination committee is formed each year to identify and vet candidates for the Board to nominate at the Annual SCA meeting.
The nomination committee considers volunteers who have expressed interest, and recommendations from Board members, past volunteers, and the membership at large. Qualities considered when selecting nominees include willingness to commit time to board responsibilities, past experience, specific skill sets, ability to work well with current board members, and any conflicts of interest (i.e. legal).
The Board then votes to select a slate of nominees to recommend at to the membership for voting.
7. How are CRC Members selected?
The CRC is comprised of five members. Three of the five of the CRC members must belong to divisions who have adopted the First Amendment. In addition, the CRC is comprised of three Board members (for oversight) and two community members.
Per the bylaws and covenants, CRC members are appointed by the SCA which operates through its governing Board and ratified at the annual meeting by members of the SCA who belong to divisions that have adopted the First Amendment.
CRC & View FAQ
8. Can a SCA Board member vote on a CRC case?
There are three board members who serve on the CRC. Only those members vote on a CRC decision at a CRC meeting. SCA and CRC responsibilities are separate. Non-CRC board members have no influence on CRC decisions.
9. Are there maximum building heights in Somerset?
In most divisions, there are no maximum height limits recorded in the covenants, though there are height restrictions of 30-35 feet per City of Bellevue. Therefore, the CRC must consider each proposal individually and evaluate it based on the considerations set forth in theappropriate covenants.
An exception is the Somerset Crest division covenants (affecting only eleven lots), which do specify maximum ridge heights recorded for each lot.
10. What does the CRC consider a “protected” view?
The CRC, along with its legal counsel, analyzed the following to develop the View Guidelines in the 2000s:
1. View and covenant-related Washington case law, including court cases involving Somerset properties. 2. Previous decisions made by the original Building Committee, and the layout and structure of existing Somerset houses. 3. Consultations with an original Building Committee Chair, hired by Evergreen Land Developers in the 1960s.
They found a consistent pattern of view elements, specifically water, skyline, and mountain views, being protected.
11. What are the View Guidelines?
As the covenants do not define the protected view, the CRC (with legal oversight) in 2006 created a working tool called the View Guidelines for consistency.
The courts have endorsed the CRC’s authority to establish guidelines.
The View Guidelines have been updated and revised for clarity a few times (most recently in 2016 and 2023). Neither update modified what is considered to be a protected view.
The View Guideline offers a helpful starting point, but they are just that – guidelines – not a legally binding document and are applied with some discretion based on a proposal’s specific characteristics.
12. Did the CRC change its definition of a protected view?
No, the views that the CRC considered protected have not changed in over 20 years.
13. Why does Black v. Evergreen, a WA Supreme Court case, matter?
In this case, the Supreme Court recognized Somerset’s “sweeping panoramic view of Lake Washington, the Olympic Mountains, Seattle and Mercer Island.”
This supports the CRC’s interpretation of “view” in the Somerset covenants and View Guidelines, as the covenants do not define the protected view.
14. Someone from an interest group shared the following photo and is claiming that the CRC is allowing a roofline to fully obstruct views up to the red line. Is this accurate?
Not accurate. This is a misrepresentation of how views are evaluated for remodels. Remodel applications are evaluated based on how a home would occupy the space on a lot. When considering a remodel proposal, the CRC must seek to maintain a balance between the improvements proposed by the applicant and the views enjoyed by surrounding homes.
The City of Bellevue dictates building setbacks and height restrictions of 30-35 feet per zoning laws. In this picture, the house downhill estimated at 25 feet could only be increased by a maximum of 10 feet which is not likely to interfere with the sweeping panoramic views.
As to the views of vegetation and roofs below Mercer Island or the lake, the CRC considers them to carry less weight. Because we live on a hill, rooftops and trees are a feature in most views facing west. The CRC does not consider the view of one rooftop more desirable than another, nor the view of one tree more desirable than another. In addition, the view of a rooftop is not as valuable as a lake view; the CRC would not require trees to be trimmed to preserve it.
Views of vegetation are desirable when higher value view elements like water, mountains, and skylines are not available. The view from every property is different, and needs to be assessed independently, considering both high value elements and the “territorial” elements.
For example, an applicant who wanted to expand their home requested approval from the CRC and placed story poles to represent the proposed ridge of their roofline. After the CRC conducted site visits, they unanimously voted to approve the applicant’s plans. The following photo taken from the uphill neighbors’ house of the story poles (as indicated by the white arrow and dotted line) shows that the neighbors will still retain their sweeping panoramic view:
15. What is the “view line” referred to in the old view guidelines?
The “view line” refers to the imaginary line formed by the rooflines and fences of adjacent houses in one’s view.
The view line was only applicable if applied in front of the view elements. See Figure A below.
The previous View Guidelines stated that only the view elements (water, mountain, skyline views) above the view line were considered protected by the CRC.
The previous View Guidelines never stated that everything above the view line was protected.
The purpose of the view line language was to protect houses that already obstruct the view elements since asking someone to demolish part of their house to restore a view would be unreasonable.
Because property owners were confused about the use of the view line, the language was removed from the View Guidelines for clarification. It in no way changed the way the CRC interprets a “View.”
Figure A: When properly applied, the view line crosses in front of “view elements” (Lake and Mountains).
16. Do the covenants preserve territorial views below the lake?
Without case law, to date, the concept of “protecting” territorial views below the lake of Factoria, roofs, trees, powerlines, and 405 is not compelling.
These views are continuously changing due to vegetation growth or removal, and development outside of Somerset. Territorial views below the lake are subjective, and the elements of value are personal.
17. My Covenants state that the Building Committee has a “right to refuse to approve any design”. Can the CRC approve or deny remodeling plans for any reason?
Courts interpret this clause as a typical “consent to construction clause.” Each CRC decision is based on the CRC’s understanding of the court’s interpretation of the covenants.
According to case law, any CRC approval or rejection must be based on the correct interpretation of the covenants, reasonable, and evidence based.
The CRC explains any approval or denial with the covenant language that applies. Applicants are encouraged to modify their proposal so that their remodel can be accomplished without violating the covenants.
18. I heard that the CRC approved plans that blocked views in 2023. Is this true?
Not true. None of the remodels in 2023 interfered with skyline, water, or mountain views. Starting in 2023, all CRC decision letters for major remodels are posted on the SCA website.
The CRC must rule in accordance with the covenants that run with the land, which the CRC cannot change.
19. Can the CRC set any precedence with their decisions?
No. Every CRC decision must be consistent with the written covenants themselves. Cases are handled and considered individually. The outcome in one does not automatically dictate the outcome in another because no two proposals and no relevant circumstances are precisely the same.