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Woodside: New member appointed to architecture review panel

Woodside resident Maggie Mah Johnson, a member of the town's Trails Committee and an equestrian, is now a member of the town's Architectural & Site Review Board.

The Town Council appointed Ms. Mah Johnson on a 5-1 vote at its March 14 meeting, with Councilwoman Anne Kasten absent and Mayor Dave Tanner giving his vote and his encouragement to the other applicant, commercial real estate agent Gary Willard.

"I really want you to apply for more things in town," Mr. Tanner said to Mr. Willard, who responded to the council's decision with a smile and congratulated Ms. Mah Johnson.

"I really didn't want to see him get discouraged," Mr. Tanner said in an interview when asked about his vote. "He has a lot of talent."

Ms. Mah Johnson, who has contributed articles to the Almanac, lives in the Emerald Hills neighborhood with her husband Tom, two horses and two dogs, and will serve the remaining year in the four-year term of Martha Putnam, who left the ASRB in December. The seven-member panel reviews construction and design plans for new homes and major remodeling projects before they go on to the Planning Commission.

"My reason for applying is because I care very much about this town," Ms. Mah Johnson told the council.

Councilwoman Deborah Gordon, noting that people have "interesting ways" of skirting square-footage limits in building a home, asked Ms. Mah Johnson how she would approach such a situation. The plans "may be legal and fit all the guidelines, but they certainly won't be what (the town) had in mind" when it set the limits, Ms. Gordon said.

Ms. Mah Johnson replied that she would look for a collaborative solution that both the ASRB and the applicant could accept. She also recommended starting the dialog as early as possible.

"Obstacles often provide the grounds for coming up with creative solutions that help avoid conflict," she said. "In a perfect world, architects would come and look at the design guidelines of the town that (the client) purchased the property in."

Councilman Peter Mason asked: "What if the project violates the design guidelines?"

"I would point out where it doesn't meet the guidelines and pose some alternatives that would meet the guideline, kind of steer them in that direction," Ms. Mah Johnson replied.

Ms. Gordon asked Ms. Mah Johnson how she would respond to disagreements over interpreting the design guidelines, to which she replied that she would take the perspective of quality of life. "A big part of this has to do with stepping back and looking at the larger picture," she said.

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