The black awnings that have been up will stay up at the offices of Intero Real Estate Services near the main intersection in downtown Woodside. The Town Council, on a 4-1 vote on Sept. 24, granted Intero's appeal of a decision by the planning director that the awnings were out of character with the downtown plan and in conflict with the municipal code.
In the vote, Councilman Peter Mason was absent and Councilman Dave Tanner recused himself -- the appellants are his clients, he said.
The town learned in the fall of 2012 that signs and awnings had gone up at the Intero offices at 1580 Canada Lane without permits and without review by the Architecture and Site Review Board, according to a staff report.
In subsequent meetings, the ASRB and the Planning Commission looked into the matter. While opinions differed, the ASRB advised against the awnings as proposed, and the Planning Commission decision ended in a 2-2 tie, meaning that Planning Director Jackie Young's letter in March denying the awnings portion of the proposal would stand.
In her letter, Ms. Young called the scale of the southern awning too large, claimed that it masked architectural features over a door, and called the two awnings atypical for a building of Spanish architectural style.
Building owner Susan Poletti, in making a presentation to the council, contested Ms. Young's points. Her presentation included photos and illustrations of buildings from around the world to try to establish that the building at 1580 Canada Lane was Mediterranean in style rather than Spanish, and that a black awning was in keeping with Mediterranean style.
"For over a year now, we've been jumping through hoops," said Intero executive Alain Pinel, who called the process "a nightmare." Opinions coming from the ASRB kept changing and "have become wildly arbitrary," he said. The panel at one point debated whether the building's style was Spanish or Mexican or Italian or Mediterranean or Provencal or "I don't know what," he said.
Several members of the public voiced support for the aesthetic appeal of Ms. Poletti's efforts with the awnings. Some criticized the town's process.
Council members defended that process and noted the troubles with subjectivity inherent in tackling design issues.
"We would not be going through this process ... if the regular process had been followed," Councilman Ron Romines said.
Appeals such as this one have a way of becoming a contest between the letter of the law and being fair, Mr. Romines continued. But, he added, "I don't think the lack of compliance ... is egregious enough to say that the awnings have to come down and something else has to go up."
Rebutting contentions that the town was being inefficient, Councilman Dave Burow reminded the room that it was democracy in action. "The process is imperfect. It's inefficient. We know how inefficient it is," he said, then added that he did not find the awnings offensive.
Mayor Anne Kasten said she saw a clash between the awnings and the building's style. "I don't think they read," she said.
"I really believe," she added, "that the people who serve this town serve this town because they care about it. ... The ASRB was acting absolutely in good faith."