Planning Commission unanimous in rejecting barn in Portola Road meadow


A unanimous Portola Valley Planning Commission on Wednesday decided against a proposal that would include building a barn in the grassy meadow along Portola Road just north of The Sequoias retirement community.

The meadow, part of the 229-acre Neely/Myers property, when viewed from the road is the beginning of a natural vista, uninterrupted by man-made constructions, that rises westward through ridges of alternating grass and trees to the skyline at Windy Hill, a Portola Valley landmark.

The Neely/Myers family will appeal the commission's Jan. 19 decision to the Town Council, said Carter Warr, who was there to represent the property owner. Mr. Warr is the Portola Valley-based architect of the five-building proposal which, in addition to the barn, includes a cabana and pool, a greenhouse, a guest house and an artist's studio.

The proposal would expand the floor area on the property beyond the town's 10,000-square- foot limit and would therefore require the commission to approve a conditional use permit. A CUP gives the commission the right to periodically review a property owner's adherence to permit specifications.

The Neely/Myers proposal has been in the approval process since mid-2009. In a Jan. 12 staff report, town Planner Tom Vlasic noted that the Planning Commission could make the necessary findings to move ahead with the cabana and greenhouse, but that the rest of the project would need more study by both the client and the commission.

Mr. Warr noted at the outset that the Neely/Myers family would appeal the commission's decision to the Town Council, whether it gave a green light to the cabana and the greenhouse or rejected the proposal as a whole.

"Our intent has not been to pursue two buildings," he told the commission. "If we wanted the two buildings, we probably could have had the two buildings a year ago."

At the suggestion of acting chair Nate McKitterick, the commission rejected the whole proposal. If that decision is appealed, the council must examine it afresh, meaning that it cannot refer to earlier discussions or actions by the Planning Commission or the Architecture and Site Control Commission.

In discussion before the 5-0 vote, the commissioners cited the un-clustered distribution of the proposed buildings, but the decision did focus on the barn in the meadow.

"I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with a building in the meadow," said Commissioner Alexandra Von Feldt, after noting the proximity of a barn to an earthquake fault and what she saw as conflicts with the "scenic corridor" aspects of the town's priorities as cited in its general plan.

The vista that includes the meadow, said Commissioner Leah Zaffaroni, has "scenic value and the catalyzing power of the winter hillsides."

Residents of the Westridge neighborhood, which rises eastward directly across Portola Road, were not happy with the proposal either. The town's general plan specifically identifies the meadow as a "natural asset" that needs protection, said Rusty Day, chair of the Westridge Architectural Supervising Committee.

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