Almanac

News - July 9, 2014

Woodside halts work at mansion

by Dave Boyce

The top two floors of the three-story, 7,425-square-foot mansion at 360 Mountain Home Road in Woodside are reported to be resting on steel beams above a large empty space where the foundation, basement and first floor used to be. It's been an active construction site for months, but now its future, including the lowering of those upper floors onto new first-floor framing, is uncertain.

As of July 3, the site was posted with a stop-work notice from the town. The Planning Commission had approved the project in November 2013 as a remodel. But, alerted by staff about the missing floors, the commission met on July 2 to discuss whether actions at the site were consistent with what had been approved.

The mansion made news in November 2012 when it was sold for $117.5 million, a new U.S. record for a single-family home, according to news reports at the time. Staff reports list the owner of the 8.74-acre property as SV Projects LLC.

After a lengthy public hearing that included testimony from construction managers, the commission voted 6-1 to continue the matter to a date uncertain and referred it to the planning director, who then issued the stop-work order. Commissioner Elizabeth Hobson dissented.

Included in the vote was a recommendation to send the project back to the Architectural and Site Review Board, essentially back to square one. The remodel, according to some commissioners, had evolved into a demolition.

Planning Director Jackie Young told the Almanac that the original resolution will be returning to the Planning Commission along with an "alternate resolution of denial" based on the July 2 discussion.

More massive

Original plans called for replacing the white wooden siding on the main house with beige stone siding, installing roofs of gray slate, and adding oval windows in various locations. An upper-floor balcony would be enclosed under a slate dome.

Those are the plans being implemented, Noel Manerud of the Mill Valley firm Van Acker Construction told the commission. The missing first floor reflects the need to strengthen the framing, as does the missing foundation, he said.

Such insights came through "discovery" as the project advanced, Mr. Manerud said. The commission caught the project at a "moment in time," he said. "We needed to temporarily remove that framing which was in place on the main level to ... restore it, augment it. ... We're effectively caught mid-stream between that temporary removal and installation of shoring (to support the stone walls)."

"How long was that moment that it took to decide to take out the first floor?" Commission Chair Marilyn Voelke asked."Was it long enough to call staff? That seems an inadequate description to me."

"It's a period of certainly a good long week preparing and a good long week doing it," Mr. Manerud replied, adding that his team had been focused on the effort.

As for the foundation and basement, structural engineer David Kallmeyer, in a June 9 letter to the town, explained: The mansion acquired more mass from the new stone siding and a second story heated from a radiant-heat floor, which uses concrete as thermal mass. "The nature of the changes to the foundation system are significant enough that the project team deemed the most effective, safe, efficient and waterproof construction method for the project to be replacement of the foundation in lieu of localized augmentation (of the existing structure)," Mr. Kallmeyer wrote.

Van Acker should have expected such changes, Ms. Voelke said. "I don't think it's credible. I think it's incredible."

After learning that the structural engineer been brought in after the plans were approved, Ms. Voelke had a question: "What was it that was brought to us to approve?" After a pause, she added: "Smoke and mirrors."

Commissioner Grant Huberty called it "bizarre" to be asked to retroactively approve what had already happened. "Why are we here if we're not going to be honored?" he added. "That's what really bothers me."

Commissioners Aydan Kutay and Adolph Rosekrans spoke of approving it and moving on, though they voted with the majority.

Commissioner Elizabeth Hobson, in dissent, called the project "a remodel, (though) it doesn't seem like one." She added: "It's going to come out like the picture. ... You have to kind of bemoan the process that got you here and get to the end."

Glen Sherman of Van Acker defended the team's actions, but acknowledged that they had not informed the town. "Remodel or not, it's complicated," he said. "We have to take down 40 feet of framing to make the shoring work, (and) we didn't pick up the phone and call Town Hall. We didn't do it."

"We're moving fast. We have expedited construction plans," he said. "We honored the process. We continue to honor the process. We made a mistake. ... It would have been foolish for us to come in here and do smoke and mirrors."

Van Acker did not have a crystal ball, he said, adding: "I really would appreciate not speculating on our integrity and our truth."

Community comment

A few residents spoke up, most from the ASRB, and none in support of the applicant.

"Taken separately, these changes are incremental. In aggregate, these changes are flagrant and egregious" and their approval would set a "dangerous precedent," said ASRB member Maggie Mah.

These guys "are not rookies" in analyzing a building for what needs to be done, said ASRB member Rick Anderson. "They know what to expect. I know building plans (for this house) exist. They should not have been surprised."

Resident Sam Felix said he and many other Woodside homeowners have endured town regulations. "This is setting a bad precedent if you let this go," he said.

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