● Related story: Two Woodside councilmen have clients proposing underground developments.
By Dave Boyce | Almanac Staff Writer
Woodside residents seem to be moving underground at an increasing pace. In the past five years, the town has approved 40 basements. But this year it has already received proposals for nine more, Planning Director Jackie Young told the Town Council at a basement study session on April 14.
These aren't just conventional basements. Some are major additions to the home.
For example, in 2013, a resident of Mountain Wood Lane got approval for a nearly 14,000-square-foot basement with a six-car garage, three bathrooms, bunkroom, two powder rooms, family room, media room, exercise room, massage room, office, pantry, wine cellar, storage area and inside-outside courtyards, according to a staff report.
A 9,500-square-foot basement is going in on Mountain Home Road will have a garage, three mechanical rooms, wine cellar, audio-video equipment room, laundry, lounge, two powder rooms, storage room, bowling alley, sitting room, recreation room and sunken courtyard with an exit stairway.
At the study session, Planning Director Young asked the council for a moratorium on approving nontraditional basements until the town could consider at update to the 1988 rules now in place. The staff, the Planning Commission and the Architectural and Site Review Board need updated guidance when reviewing basement proposals, she said.
The council voted 5-2 in favor of a moratorium, but that was short of the six votes needed for passage of an urgency ordinance that was not on the agenda. Urgency ordinances require a four-fifths vote to pass -- six votes if all seven council members were present, which they were. Mayor Tom Shanahan and Councilman Dave Burow dissented.
More study sessions are coming, and perhaps a revised ordinance.
Forty basements over five years in a town of 2,000 households? On its face, maybe not a cause for concern. But Woodside has complicated geology, steep terrain and narrow roads, and basement construction has costs: on neighborhood tranquility, on the water table, on the land, on the roads, all in a town that places a high value on rural character.
The grading for an 8,000-square-foot basement translates to 463 round trips for dump trucks, each weighing around 20 tons filled, assuming use of the largest available trucks. The amount of excavated soil would fill Independence Hall 11 times, Ms. Young told the council.
Woodside's current basement regulations are not aligned with the sustainable-living tone of the town's residential design guidelines and general plan, which were updated in 2012, she added.
The basement proposals are intensifying the use of properties, and their construction adds significantly to the town's greenhouse gas footprint, she said.
Click here for details on the arguments prepared for this study session.
The proposed moratorium would have limited the size of new basements to the maximum size allowed for a house on a given lot. A 3,000-square-foot basement would be allowed under a house with 3,000-square-foot total floor area, for example, with up to 50 percent of the basement allowed to extend beyond the overlying structure's footprint.
Resident Richard Draeger objected to the moratorium. Underground construction protects rural character, he told the council, adding that residents are aware of current regulations and consider them right, given Woodside's parcel sizes. "We have to be very careful about diminishing property values," he said. "Please protect our property rights."
Diminishing property values is a two-way street, said Planning Commissioner Suzanne Mueller. Property values suffer if a property nearby is undergoing "years and years" of basement construction and years and years more if a new owner decides to replace it, she said.
"We need something concrete to work on," Ms. Mueller said. "We're doing interpretations, but we need some meat behind what we're trying to match to the general plan."
Tom Livermore of the architectural review board said the board is reduced to using terrain disturbance as "a reason not to build anything underground," resulting in decisions that are not good and "very subjective."