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July 20, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Menlo Park council set to finalize home-building rules Menlo Park council set to finalize home-building rules (July 20, 2005)

By Renee Batti

Almanac News Editor

Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson can't be called a quitter.

The day before the City Council is almost certain to give final approval to a new law that streamlines the approval process for many single-story houses, Ms. Fergusson issued a statement charging that the council is "poised to strip rights from homeowners."

Ms. Fergusson and Councilman Andy Cohen were the dissenting votes when the council passed the law on June 28. A second vote is needed to formally adopt it, but an initial approval is rarely overturned on a "second reading" vote.

That vote is set for Tuesday, July 19, at the City Council meeting that begins at 7 p.m. If it passes as expected, the law will go into effect on August 18.

The law will allow a person building a new single-story home or a substantial single-story addition on a lot of at least 5,000 square feet to apply directly for a building permit. Under current law, a use permit from the Planning Commission is required.

Ms. Fergusson's press release was sent on behalf of Citizens For Sensible Neighborhood Development (CSEND), for which she is a spokeswoman. She reiterated opponents' concerns that the new law will eliminate the neighborhood notification process now in place: Currently, notification of construction plans goes out to neighbors within 300 feet of the project area -- typically 30 to 50 residences.

Under the new law, only residents of immediately bordering parcels will be sent notices, and those notices "will be sent at a point in the project when it is very expensive for a builder to address legitimate issues," including privacy, property-border conflicts, and drainage, according to the statement.
New protocol

Also on the July 19 agenda is a proposal by Mayor Mickie Winkler to better define appropriate interaction between council members and members of city commissions and task forces.

The proposal comes on the heels of charges against the mayor that she interfered with the Planning Commission's review of the proposal to streamline single-story home remodels by writing a letter to the commission.

Ms. Winkler said she came up with the proposal after Steve Schmidt, a former councilman and mayor, spoke at the June 28 council meeting about the need for a protocol outlining what is proper and what's not when a council member communicates with council appointees on commissions.

She said her proposal also was prompted by the attendance of a third council member, Ms. Fergusson, at budget task force meetings, although two other council members -- Lee Duboc and Andy Cohen -- were appointed to the task force.

The Menlo Park City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the chambers at 701 Laurel St. For the meeting agenda, staff reports and content of the mayor's proposed protocol, go to, click on "City Council" and go to the July 19 agenda.

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