The council on March 25 heard an appeal of the Planning Commission's Feb. 19 decision from property owner Leonard "Ben" De Somma and Portola Valley architect Carter Warr of CJW Architecture.
Mr. De Somma's proposal would create two lots of 7.5 acres each (parcels A and B) and one of 6.7 acres (Parcel C). The conceptual plan for Parcel A includes a two-story residence, a pool, a tennis court and equestrian facilities. Plans for parcels B and C show driveways and building envelopes at locations suitable for construction.
The proposal raised the same issues for the council that it did for the Planning Commission: the impact of development on the natural environment, the sloping character of the land and how it might be graded — particularly with respect to Parcel C — and the exposure of future homes to passing traffic on I-280.
Sloping properties are common in Woodside and town regulations limit their development. Among the priorities: public safety, erosion control, avoiding unnecessary grading, and retaining the land's natural features. The town should not be creating lots that cannot be developed, Town Attorney Jean Savaree told the council . "That's something you want to look at very carefully," she said.
"I think it's in the realm of the doable," Councilwoman Anne Kasten said, while expressing reservations about the project as proposed.
"I would have to see a plan on the grading plans," said Councilman Dave Tanner. "It would make me feel better about agreeing to a three-lot subdivision."
"The consensus is (that) grading is an issue," said Mayor Dave Burow. "We're open to a three-lot with constraints. I think we'd really like to see how you're going to create the planes that you're going to put these structures on. ... Any one of us (is) open to considering three if you address our concerns."
Mr. De Somma responded positively to the council's comments: "This is the best feedback I've gotten in two and a half years."
In his earlier remarks, he said he had been reluctant to file an appeal, but felt he had been treated unfairly by the Planning Commission, given the size and proximity to I-280 of neighboring properties and subdivisions in the past that were approved.
To the commission's concerns that the houses would be seen from I-280, Mr. De Somma said the view is sufficiently screened by trees, a point brought home by videos shot from a vehicle traveling north and south past the site. Of the 300 trees on the property, only four — and possibly just two — would be removed, he said. A circular turn-around for fire trucks on Moore Road, as opposed to three-point turn-around, would not present a problem, he said.
Given the proposed subdivision's similarity to the development of neighboring parcels in terms of density, biology, geology and proximity to the freeway, Mr. Warr said it would be "spot zoning" to require Mr. De Somma to keep his property at 21 acres. Ms. Savaree later dismissed spot zoning as a concern for the town in this case.
The idea of subdividing into two parcels rather than three did come up. With two parcels, Parcel C would go away, but the resulting 10-acre lots, given the area's five-acre minimum, could allow later division into four lots, increasing inconsistencies with the general plan and raising concerns about use of the site, the staff report said in describing the Planning Commission's wariness of two parcels.
"I would ask you to really think about the sense of space" that the houses want and deserve, Ms. Kasten said.
Mr. Warr emailed the Almanac a comment: "My initial take during the meeting was that incorporation of the suggestions would improve the design, reduce the likely grading, and result in a project the Council would more readily support."
"The De Sommas have been really good neighbors on Moore Road," said neighbor Nancy Ditz. "They've taken our concerns and given up some of their land so that we can have a turn-around."