Attention will be paid in Woodside to the issue of new homes designed to prevent the spread of wildfire, but not so much that it might increase scrutiny by insurance companies.
The Town Council voted Sept. 23 to keep the formal list of "very high fire hazard severity zones" to what it approved in June: Emerald Hills and neighborhoods west of Kings Mountain Road and along and around Old La Honda Road.
The council unanimously rejected a map prepared by Fire Marshal Denise Enea of the Woodside Fire Protection District that would have expanded the list to include Woodside Glens, Greer Road east of Huddart Park, Moore Road, and a few other areas.
The council asked staff to come back with recommendations that could expand the number of parcels governed by a building code that requires the use of fire-inhibiting materials and landscaping on new homes.
Ms. Enea said that in coming up with her map, she weighed water supply, accessibility for firefighting vehicles, and topography, all of which can affect getting to a fire and putting it out. These are neighborhoods "where we feel the fire could get away from us very, very easily," she said.
The 40 residents who packed Independence Hall, while apparently open to Ms. Enea's concerns, said they wanted nothing to do with labels of "very high risk" that would require disclosure in real estate transactions.
"It seems like this designation is being sought in order to adjust building codes," one resident said. "Why not change the codes without this re-designation? Are we now facing the prospect of redlining"?
Resident Richard Draeger, owner of the Draeger's Supermarket chain, sounded a similar note: "I think the financial harm that's going to be wrought on homeowners in these areas is going to be significant."
In previous stories on this topic, insurance company spokespeople have said they create and maintain their own fire-risk maps.
"The whole county is pretty much being inundated with people losing their homeowners insurance," Ms. Enea said. In an interview, she said that the residents she is referring to, including herself, had policies that were not renewed but usually had little trouble finding another insurer.
"It seems that there's no good that comes from these designations whatsoever," Councilman Dave Burow said, then recommended applying the tougher building codes for new homes in areas beyond the currently designated neighborhoods.
"Of course, it's going to take many years," he added. "It will probably end up protecting our children and not ourselves."
In a scene reminiscent of solo performances within a jazz group, Mr. Burow's comment and those of the six other council members who spoke before and after him were greeted with rounds of applause.
Councilman Peter Mason: "I am totally in favor of not doing the designation, though we should be applying the (tougher building code) throughout the town."
Councilwoman Sue Boynton: "I would like to see the town continue on its path to create a town-wide culture and code that will get us out of this issue and get underwriters to come into town and compete for our business."
Ms. Enea, too, was applauded after receiving praise from Mayor Ron Romines for a job well done.
"The town is going in the right direction with ignition resistance," Ms. Enea said in reply. "I think we're really on the right track here."