Woodside changes home design review process

Architectural and Site Review Board to be reduced to five members from seven

Instead of seven Woodside residents on the Architectural and Site Review Board reviewing plans for home construction and remodels, the board will have five members as of Jan. 8. And instead of those five members reviewing certain smaller projects, there will be just one person doing so.

On a 6-1 vote, with Councilwoman Anne Kasten dissenting, the Town Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday (Dec. 8) establishing a new secondary role for the planning director, that of architectural-and-site-review administrator. This was the third time in recent months that the council considered the ordinance. It goes into effect 30 days after adoption.

The measure also reduces the size of the review board to five members from seven, eliminates duplicate review by the Planning Commission and the board, and codifies existing practices around consolidating projects that have grown incrementally since issuing of a building permit.

Not included in the ordinance but widely supported, the town will be engaging at least one consulting architect to assist applicants in preparing their projects for conceptual design review by the board.

The board has been two members short of filing the seven seats for some time. With long meetings dealing with matters that can become controversial, recruiting for the board has been difficult, town officials have said.

Projects to be handled by the new administrator include accessory living quarters, gates and entry features, signs, outdoor lighting, fences that depart from designs specified in the municipal code, and projects within scenic corridors and the western hills with dimensions less than or equal to 1,000 square feet.

Meetings with the administrator will have the same public-notice requirements as are required for an ASRB review, and the administrator will retain the right to refer any project to the full ASRB.

The new administrator position and the hand-over of reviews of smaller projects has been opposed by at least three members of the ASRB: Thalia Lubin, Nancy Reyering and Maggie Mah. At the council meeting, Ms. Lubin spoke, saying that the change in review procedures would be a major alteration that sidesteps real problems that need to be identified through further analysis.

The change, she said, also removes review responsibilities from citizen/resident oversight, "which I think has been the heart of this town."

Ms. Reyering expressed the same concern in an email to the Almanac, saying that the new administrator position would "place control (of project review) in the hands of an employee. This in no way adheres to the spirit or the letter of our public and volunteer review process."

Several residents spoke in support of the changes. William Fender, recalling his frustration at the 18-month process he went through to get approval for a garage, called the changes modest and a first step "in trying to improve the process for residents."

Resident Steve Lubin said he agreed with Mr. Fender that the experience can be frustrating for applicants, but added that vocal complaints are not getting at the real problems. To understand the real problems will require an examination of the processes, he said.

In explaining her dissent on delegating review responsibilities to the administrator, Councilwoman Kasten called it "a huge step," and said that she prefers an incremental and analytical approach.

The council should examine the planning department, she said, and particularly the building department, which is constrained by the state's uniform building code -- a code that now takes up about 4 feet of shelf space, Councilman Dave Tanner noted.

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2 people like this
Posted by BlogMom
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 9, 2015 at 12:23 pm

The Woodside Town Council has made a spectacularly ignorant, self-serving, and wrong-headed decision that guts the General Plan, founding principles, history of volunteer service, and the ASRB.

After waffling earlier on the idea of Zoning Admin, the town will now PAY someone to review "accessory living quarters, gates and entry features, signs, outdoor lighting, fences that depart from designs specified in the municipal code". What does that even mean? The municipal code doesn't specify in the way design guidelines do.

What makes Woodside special? A long history of volunteer design review. Take a look at Carmel, Portola Valley, Santa Barbara. There will always be complainers -- but they are mostly builders and people ignorant of what it takes to preserve and protect an esthetic.

This is shameful.

9 people like this
Posted by Steamer
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 9, 2015 at 12:56 pm

If you can't change the people then change the people. The ASRB is built around three women who have been doing it for way too long.

18 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Dec 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Blogmom -- if you think the transfer of review responsibility of small projects from the ASRB to the ASRA (administrator) results in those projects not being subject to the design guidelines, you are badly misinformed. The only change is who specifically does the review. The review is still done in a public setting, against the same design guidelines, and with the same noticing as before. So if you want to be involved just go to the meetings. But before you do I would suggest you actually read the regulations yourself so you know how the process works, and thus will not be further propagating misinformation.

11 people like this
Posted by 40-year Resident
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm

As a 40+ year resident of Woodside who has constructed a small home (when the hills were still under SM County jurisdiction), then later a modest expansion when our family grew, plus collaborating with neighbors to divide a 50+ acre parcel into four Town-approved lots/building sites (with self-imposed architectural restrictions compatible with our rural character), then serving on my share of town committees and local boards, I have some perspective on the whole matter of building restrictions and regulation.

Bottom line, I see this move by the Town Council as overdue. Building a small (< 1000 sq ft) "granny cottage" (which helps our overdue affordable-housing state-mandate) without earth movement nor tree cutting, as a simple wood-frame structure using attractive natural materials (placed behind vegetation and/or well off a public road), which can all be easily removed/recycled with little residual footprint following, say, a 40-50 year service life is the quintessence of low-impact “sustainable” building.

Most of our regulatory structure in the town was prompted by large construction (think, MacMansions) that overbuilt their sites, visible from the road, that engendered expensive geological studies (empty paranoia — no modern history of landslides in Town, even with earthquake activity) and other technologic impediments/legal hurdles that required deep pockets to overcome (applicant pockets often deeper than the Town’s). The result has often been larger homes (to justify the upfront costs), which in turn has created a town which our children and grandchildren cannot afford.

Pushing forward on “small is beautiful” green sustainable structures with minimal impact, that can be built following guidance from a town architect (and ombudsman for resident applicants), with building permits approved over the counter, is a major positive step toward encouraging an affordable multi-generational community. I have no problem with intensive review and regulation of massive-excavation high-impact mega-building which threatens neighborhood standards; it should always be substantially cheaper, faster and easier (transparently so) to downsize and simplify housing projects to emulate "old" Woodside that we remember when we were children.

Like this comment
Posted by To the ASRB
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 9, 2015 at 5:10 pm

I applaud these small changes to the building process, and look forward to additional changes to be proposed in the new year.

With the recent results of the town council election, I think this is a great time for the town and/or ASRB to openly solicit public input from all sectors of the town into further changes and put forth a proposal that might get them back in the good graces of the town.

All public officials, whether volunteer, elected, or paid, are here to serve the existing residents of the town: new, old and those in between. That also means all socio-economic statuses. Despite public opinion, not every resident is a billionaire :)

The guidelines and committees can evolve, and it's quite feasible to do so without ruining the character of the town: with transparent public input and proposals that specifically address that input.

12 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:40 pm

pogo is a registered user.

While I appreciate the comments and welcome the support from 40-year Resident, the problem really isn't people trying to build too close to the street or property owners trying to build McMansions larger than permitted. The ASRB does not grant exceptions to our town's set-back requirements or building size regulations. I don't know of a single exception our town has ever made permitting a larger house size and exceptions to our set-back requirements are only granted for hardship cases, usually on small lots with steep slopes and small building "envelopes."

The complaints that I read on this website and hear from citizens are related to ASRB members commenting on issues and critiquing project elements that are beyond the purview of their board. The perception is that certain members of the ASRB hold projects hostage until applicants accede to the whims of the board. It is remarkably easy to do; they vote the project down or ask the applicant to come back and try again. To the extent this occurs, it is not only frustrating, it is unconscionable.

What is quite clear that a large number of citizens are fed up and that frustration is the reason for recent voter discontent. Some ASRB members and one member ot the Town Council seem to think that any change to ASRB regs will result in the sky falling. Last night's change was MODEST would appear to be a good start. These new regs won't result in gleaming high rise condos on Mountain Home Road. But they will, hopefully, result in some relief and greater predictability for smaller projects that don't require this level of scrutiny. And if they don't work or are abused, the Town Council can always change them again.

Thank you to those members of the Town Council who heard from their community and made these changes.

3 people like this
Posted by Tim Johnson
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

I thought I'd write a comment, and then saw that Pogo said everything I wanted to say and said it better.

3 people like this
Posted by Woody
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Dec 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Lipstick on a pig. Fascinating to read about ASRB tree police complaining over this minor pullback. For the rest of us, we are still held hostage by a cabal who think they know more than everyone else. It's all about power and control.

6 people like this
Posted by Fed Up in Woodside
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Dec 11, 2015 at 6:35 am

It's time for the Triumvirate of women who control the ASRB to be tossed off the committee. They have been harassing residents for far too long. We need to institute term limits on all Town Committees.

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

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