News

Woodside: It's not easy being on the ASRB

Spare a thought or two of gratitude for the seven volunteers who serve on Woodside's Architectural and Site Review Board, which has the complicated task of reviewing residents' site development plans and making recommendations to the planning director.

Their mission: to preserve Woodside's "rural" character and natural beauty while still allowing residents, some of whom have a lot of money, the freedom to design homes to match their wealth and ambitions.

The conflicts are built in. Some examples:

■ Residents place a high value on "rural" living in homes that are subordinate to the features of the landscape, but the town is minutes away from global high-tech centers of business. The ASRB regularly sees plans that push the envelope of town regulations to absolute limits.

■ While Woodside lots are often large and expensive, many are ill-suited for much property development, given problems that include sloping topology, complicated soil, creek beds, venerable trees and seismic faults, all of which limit where construction can take place. The ASRB is often the messenger bearing the news that the applicant is trying to do too much in too small a space and in ways that challenge rural character.

■ Given the limits above ground, Woodside has been lenient below ground, and applicants have responded with increasingly sophisticated and massive basements, including tunnels connecting underground rooms. Site grading and site disruption have become issues.

The town overhauled its general plan and residential design guidelines in 2012, but there remain misalignments between these documents and the municipal code, which can create loopholes. The Town Council met with the ASRB on April 29 to discuss these matters. The joint meeting was a first step in a series of initiatives to correct these misalignments, with a studious eye toward avoiding unintended consequences.

One major change from 2012, requiring an applicant to submit a conceptual design to the ASRB, appears to be working.

Having the ASRB comment early is meant to prevent formal plans from being blindsided by the town's rules and expectations. Over the last 24 months, said Planning Director Jackie Young, one conceptual design review has been enough for 83 percent of the applications. In 12 percent of the cases, two reviews have been necessary, and 3 percent have come back a third time.

Three is not three

The council asked ASRB members to comment on their milieu.

The client doesn't understand why they can't build what they want, said member Tom Livermore. "We don't give any opinions except that the house is too big (or) that the intensity of use is too great. We don't say what that means," he said. It's hard for the ASRB and for the architect, he said.

Maximum floor area is a touchy issue. A three-acre lot is allowed 15,000 square feet of paved area, and maximum floor areas of 6,000 square feet for a main residence and 1,500 for an accessory structure. But topographical limits may be severe.

"Three acres is not three acres in Woodside," said member Nick Triantos.

The ASRB will make suggestions, on massing for example, and applicants won't take them seriously, Chair Thalia Lubin said. Things work well if the applicant and the architect understand the design guidelines, but there's a constant struggle between what's allowed and what people want to build, she said.

'This is what I want'

One exchange shed some light on life in the ASRB trenches.

Councilman Peter Mason suggested that a split vote by the ASRB on a proposed project should inform the applicant that there's a problem.

"Applicants don't look at it that way," Councilman and builder Dave Tanner responded. "They don't get it and their architects don't get it."

"If (the vote) isn't 7-0, then there is some issue," Mr. Mason replied.

For the applicants, it's more black and white, ASRB member Maggie Mah said. "They say 'This is what I get to have (in acreage and maximums) and this is what I want.' How do we balance those maximums and what do we say to them? They still keep coming back." The biggest issues are size and openness of land impacted by a high number of accessory structures, she said. "That alters the town significantly. It really changes the face of the town."

The ASRB should stick to criticizing applicants' designs and offering suggestions, Mr. Tanner said.

The ASRB does offer criticism and suggestions, but the applicants don't take the suggestions, Ms. Lubin said. "(They say they) explored the options and decided to go with their original design."

Comments

Posted by Longtime Woodside, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 11, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Woodside's rules and regulations related to building homes are absolutely insane. I personally think the Town should disband and be absorbed by the County. Think of the duplication of staff, the lousy attitudes, and the frustration imposed on all residents of Woodside. We could eliminate it all.


Posted by Theatre of the Asburd, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 11, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I was there, and the ASRB has members Mah, Anderson and Reyering who are control freaks with no background in building design and planning, yet want to make up their own rules of proper size and siting as they go along,without regard to long established and State Mandated "standards" in our recently Council adopted General Plan revision, and time tested Zoning Ordinance, which provide proper checks and balances for professional town staff to review and monitor compliance of design and engineering of proposed projects. Rather than showing proper "DEFERENCE" to highly skilled Planning Director Young and her excellent staff, as well as the Planning Commission and Council, members Mah and Reyering and Anderson "make off the wall, unsubstantiated comments" on design and engineering well beyond their level of expertise and work experience.
Noticeably absent at the 4/29 council/ASRB mtg. was Anderson!!

Staff spends countless hours with applicants and their highly skilled professional architects and engineers, and properly vets proposals for substantial compliance with the Zoning Ordinance, including the Grading and Natural State Ordinances, to protect the Town's interests.

Councilmember Shanahan hit it squarely on the head when he opined that he didn't see that the system was broken, he's not a qualified design and engineering professional, so he defers to the Town's professional staff and the Planning Commission. Shanahan also commented that the ASRB is supposed to be comprised of at least 2 licensed, certified Architects and Landscape Architects.

What we have are Commissioners Mah, Anderson and Reyering who are attempting to be Judge and Jury without abiding by the State Law governing General Plan "Standards", the Town Zoning Ordinance and professional staff who are the proper interface with applicants, and the protectors of the Town's Residential Design Guidelines spirit and intent.

Suggest Mah, Reyering and Anderson submit their resignations, as they are unfit for their "role", and put the Town in serious legal jeopardy, by being arbitrary and capricious with their inane comments, refusing to serve as advisory to the Planning Director, and at the pleasure of the elected Town Council.

Note, with the recent resignations of several reasonable and highly qualified ASRB members, and the inability of the Town to get even applications for the Planning Commission vacancies, is it any wonder that there is a promulgation of a sense of Fear and Distrust of the Town's ASRB design review process, reminiscent of the infamous Hope Sullivan days .

Town Mgr. Bryant was quoted when he was selected as Town Mgr. that he wanted to "streamline the building process".

It's not working Town Mgr., as the Town is overindulging ASRB members Mah, Reyering and Anderson at the expense of reasonableness and good design review process management.

Time for Mgr. Bryant to get control of this out of control situation, before the Town has to explain itself to the Grand Jury once again as to why Woodside has such a notorious regional reputation for building review process.


Posted by Tyrannical ASRBurdity, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Pity anyone wanting to rebuild or build a new country domicile in this Town with the current ASRB Conceptual Review process after one spends hard earned dollars on highly regarded architects and engineers to work through details with professional Town staff, only to be crucified by Mah, Anderson and Reyering at multiple conceptual review hearings over many months.

Time for a top down management of building approval process that Mr Bryant promised when appointed as Town manager

Why should any intelligent person genuflect to Mah, Anderson and Reyering when they have their own misguided "Beat up the applicant and their architect to assert our self anointed control on who gets to build what " that denigrates the Town "streamlined building process" as a cruel joke that suckers in applicants who want to improve their property for their growing family needs

These appointees need to go unless they properly defer to staff, planning commission and an elected council


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 3,159 views

Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,408 views

Just say no
By Jessica T | 6 comments | 1,348 views

Getting High in Menlo Park
By Paul Bendix | 3 comments | 851 views

As They Head Back To School, Arm Them With This
By Erin Glanville | 4 comments | 330 views