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June 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Another try on home building rules Another try on home building rules (June 02, 2004)

The surprise unanimous vote by the Menlo Park City Council to rescind a package of controversial home design rules throws the issue back to city staff members, who now must study options for the next step, which likely will be the appointment of yet another task force to study the issue.

The council's move last week will avoid what many observers expected to be a nasty fall campaign over the complex rules that will determine the size and bulk of new and remodeled homes in the city. The effort to revamp the rules began more than four years ago, and although there are many areas of potential disagreement, the basic conflict is between those who want to streamline the building process, and those who want greater protection from the negative impact of so-called "monster" homes on neighboring properties.

The change of heart is a major defeat for the council's controlling majority of Mickie Winkler, who wrote the ordinance, Mayor Lee Duboc and Nicholas Jellins. Ms. Winkler, in particular, had worked hard to sell the ordinance but could not escape the impression of many that it did not do enough to control development of oversize homes in the city's neighborhoods.

In the end, their battle was lost when a petition drive led by Planning Commissioner Kelly Fergusson won enough votes in February to force the council to either rescind the ordinance or put it on the November ballot. And while the three delayed acting on the matter for several months, the often-divisive conflict between the council majority and those supporting a compromise began to wear on some of their supporters.

And while as late as last Monday Ms. Duboc had maintained to an Almanac reporter that she was going to vote to place the ordinance on the ballot, she tearfully joined Ms. Winkler and Mr. Jellins, as well as members Chuck Kinney and Paul Collacchi, in the unanimous vote to rescind the measure on May 25.

Ms. Winkler agreed that an appearance before the council by architect Sam Sinnott, developer David Bohannon and former council member Steve Schmidt, who urged the council to rescind the ordinance and seek a compromise, was "persuasive."

Indeed, it appears that the change of heart by Mr. Sinnott, who had previously been a major supporter of the new ordinance, and Mr. Bohannon, a major campaign supporter of the Winkler, Duboc, Jellins slate in 2002, was a major factor in the vote.

In joining with Mr. Schmidt in calling for the council to rescind, Messrs. Sinnott and Bohannon said a compromise was near among the factions involved in the dispute, and that they feared if the measure went on the November ballot it would only further divide the community.

Ms. Fergusson, and another planning commissioner, Lorie Sinnott, both announced last week that they will run for City Council this fall. They will seek the two seats now held by Mr. Collacchi and Mr. Kinney. Mr. Collacchi has announced that he will not seek re-election, and Mr. Kinney has not made his plans public.


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