Speedier home-design reviews for Woodside?

Council to vote on smaller review board, continue study of house size limits

An ordinance that would reduce the size of Woodside's Architectural and Site Review Board to five members from seven comes before the Town Council on Tuesday, Oct. 27, for the first of two votes to approve the change. The council meets at 7:30 p.m. in Independence Hall at 2955 Woodside Road in Woodside.

The ordinance would also eliminate design review by both the ASRB and the Planning Commission – known as double design review – if the project does not require further consideration by the Planning Commission on entitlements such as setbacks, grading exceptions and building heights.

Also on the council's agenda: a second study session on the maximum size of a house in the Woodside Heights neighborhood and throughout town; and a review and possible start of a survey to gauge the level of satisfaction of people who use the town's planning and building services.


ASRB matters

The ASRB's charter requires members to review projects and make recommendations to the planning director and/or Planning Commission as to the project's consistency with the town's rural character as outlined in the general plan and residential design guidelines. The ASRB and the planning and building departments have been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for years by residents who complain about too much attention to detail and not enough of a welcoming attitude to residents with visions for their homes.

A five-member ASRB could reduce the length of meetings, speed up the board's deliberation on projects, and make it easier to achieve a quorum, council members have said.

The Oct. 27 council meeting begins with interviews of three residents applying for a seat on the ASRB: Bengt Henriksen, Scott Larson and Greg Raleigh. In past council meetings, Mr. Raleigh has been among the most vocal critics of the current planning and building processes.


Surveying the public

As for the survey, the council will be looking for suggestions from the public, but will likely get "a lot of negative comments because this is a stressful process no matter who does it," Mayor Tom Shanahan said at a council discussion of a survey in August. A positive approach might say, "'We particularly welcome your suggestions for improvement,' so that we get some action items, not 'You stink,'" Mr. Shanahan said.

Avoiding abuse of the survey by relentlessly negative comments will be a priority, Councilman Dave Burow said. "We don't want to be gamed by having somebody, every day, who's very unhappy submitting negative reviews."

The survey should convey the message that "we do care, we are trying to be responsive and we want to get this information and we want to make changes," said Councilwoman Deborah Gordon. "And the most important thing is the last one, on here's what you can do to make it better."


House size

Residents of Woodside Heights are in the suburban residential (SR) zoning district, meant to "provide for suburban land or uses within the Town's predominantly rural setting," according to the town's general plan.

That zoning district limits main residences to 4,000 square feet, with 1,500 square feet for an accessory structure. The residents have asked the council to allow them to transfer the accessory structure floor area to the main residence, thereby adjusting upward the maximum house size to 5,500 square feet.

The neighborhood borders Atherton, which allows larger homes. A 4,000-square foot house in Woodside may face a 10,000 or 12,000-square-foot house across the street in Atherton.

Council members have acknowledged the anguish of Woodside Heights homeowners, but say they are constrained by a duty to be fair to all the town's homeowners on the matter of house size.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Patient Observer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Oct 24, 2015 at 10:07 pm

I continue to be mystified by the concern that the survey could be gamed, as is indicated by "We don't want to be gamed by having somebody, every day, who's very unhappy submitting negative reviews."

As our current San Mateo County mail-in ballots demonstrates, it's a simple matter to arrange a "non-gameable" anonymous ballot or survey. Simply mail out a survey marked with the recipient's ID to each resident. When they are returned a trusted clerical individual checks that ID off on the original mailing list and then removes that ID information from the unopened survey before passing the survey to the people compiling and responding to the data. Any subsequent fraudulent surveys will be caught when the ID is checked against the mailing list.

1 person likes this
Posted by Local
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:21 am

Also, pleas be sure that the survey goes to all people that are residents, or at minimum have requested a permit of some sort, not just those that have successfully completed a project, a smaller percentage of the population.

3 people like this
Posted by Patient Observer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Oct 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm

The idea that reducing the size of the ASRB from seven to five will help is misguided and will make the current dysfunction worse. The meetings are long because they are very badly run. For example, each member is invited to ramble on about his/her feelings about the design, rather than simply focusing on the yes/no question: is it consistent with the design guidelines? If the board members carefully studied the design before the meeting and arrived with their potential non-conformities written down, the board could focus just on those specific subjects, take votes, and arrive at the yes/no answer quickly. Thinking out loud in a public meeting is a waste of everyone's time.

The reason the ASRB can't find volunteers is because the meetings are long and tense, and that is because they are polarized and dominated by a unified but unrepresentative troika. Any reasonable potential volunteer would realize his/her voice is not going to have much effect. Reducing the board from seven to five will simply make that domination permanent.

The right way to achieve a quorum is to leave the quorum size alone and INCREASE the size of the board. Reducing it is just giving in to the existing mess.

If the current distorted board membership were fixed, the board spent a few hours working on meeting procedure, perhaps with an experienced consultant, and the two professional architects called for by the municipal code were added, I believe the board would have no trouble finding well-qualified volunteers.

10 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 25, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Sorry, but maybe the board needs disbanded? Can't the planning department determine the yes or no answer based on compliance with the guidelines?

I'm guessing that would also take an ordinance to the town council?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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