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Woodside: Changes in architectural review process may start soon

 

The ways and means of Woodside's Architectural & Site Review Board (ASRB) are headed for change. By consensus, the Town Council agreed to consider an ordinance soon that could shrink the board to five members (from seven) and engage a consulting architect to help applicants prepare their projects to avoid rejection by the ASRB.

The Oct. 13 draft ordinance, by Town Manager Kevin Bryant, would also have created an administrative position to remove from the ASRB the review of projects and landscaping plans involving 2,000 square feet or less, or less than 30 percent of a property's land area if in the scenic corridor or Western hills. All accessory-living-quarters projects as well as fences, gates and outdoor lighting would receive administrative review. The reviews would be held as public meetings.

The ASRB's charter requires members to review projects and make recommendations to the planning director with an eye to consistency with the town's rural character as outlined in the general plan and residential design guidelines. But the ASRB has been under very harsh criticism for years, along with the town's planning and building departments, by residents who complain about too much attention to detail and not enough of a welcoming attitude to residents with visions for their homes. Council meetings have been a venue for this anger.

The council sent the draft ordinance back to the staff to have the administrative review element removed for later consideration. A vote on the smaller membership and consulting-architect elements could happen soon.

As for the timing of this ordinance, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said in a report that it had been two years since the design review process was last changed. "It is an appropriate time to evaluate the process and to determine if there are changes that would make the ASRB and the Design Review process more valuable to the Town and applicants," he said.

ASRB comment

There was blow back on the administrative review element of the ordinance. ASRB members and several members of the public confronted the council about the possibility of acting on such a significant change without involving ASRB members in a dialogue.

That the council could have implemented such a shortcut was offensive, member Nancy Reyering said. "The Town Council have denigrated the work of the ASRB," she said. "The ASRB is being reasonable to ask for a seat at the table."

The ASRB is being publicly accused of being "the worst problem the town has," member Maggie Mah said.

The result of deliberations without ASRB participation, said ASRB member Thalia Lubin, will be "half baked" and have unintended consequences. Ms. Lubin's husband, Steve, said complaints about the ASRB are not the fault of the ASRB, and he called out people who "don't like or agree with the residential design guidelines."

The ASRB was asked to comment on the draft proposals -- after they had been drafted. A majority did not support creating the administrative role, a staff report said. Majorities did support administrative review of accessory-living quarters and projects of 1,000-square-foot or less, the report said. Ms. Reyering and Ms. Mah were in the minority in each case, saying they preferred a 600-square-foot limit.

The ASRB did support shrinking the board to five members, and engaging a consulting architect.

Seeking help

Woodside government is done in large part by volunteers -- on the Town Council, on the Planning Commission, on the Architectural & Site Review Board (ASRB) and on the 11 council advisory committees that think about matters such as open space, arts and culture, emergency preparedness and traveling efficiently and safely on the busy streets of this small town.

The council is seeking the public's comment and participation to try to address the polarization over ASRB processes, Councilwoman Deborah Gordon said. With meetings that can go on and on, the council has had trouble finding willing volunteers to sit on the board. "We should not have to require that our ASRB members give up their lives," Ms. Gordon said.

"There's a real problem in getting people to do this work," Councilwoman Anne Kasten said. "We all care about this town and in order to (act on that), you've got to show up."

"We need to keep talking about this," Councilman Dave Tanner said.

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