A change to the Woodside municipal code, effective in January, designates one person rather than a review board to determine whether applications for small construction projects such as a guest house or gate or outdoor lighting meet the standards of the town's residential design guidelines.
The change is part of an ordinance adopted Dec. 8 by the Town Council that will turn over such reviews to the planning director, shifting that responsibility away from the Architectural and Site Review Board (ASRB). The board may still review the projects, but at the discretion of the planning director acting in the new role of architectural and site review administrator.
Meetings with the administrator will have the same public-notice requirements needed for a board review.
The vote was 6-1, with Councilwoman Anne Kasten dissenting. The council introduced the ordinance some 30 days earlier, having discussed the changes at that meeting and in a previous meeting. The changes are effective Jan. 8.
Projects reassigned to the administrator for review include accessory living quarters, gates and entry features, signs, outdoor lighting, fences that depart from designs specified in the municipal code, and projects with dimensions less than or equal to 1,000 square feet that are located within scenic corridors and the western hills.
The new ordinance reduced the allowable size of the ASRB to five members from seven. The board currently has only five members. With long meetings that deal with matters that can become controversial, getting a quorum and recruiting new members have been a challenge, town officials have said.
The measure eliminates duplicate review of a project by the Planning Commission and the board, and codifies existing practices around consolidating projects that have grown incrementally since the issuing of a building permit.
The town will also be engaging at least one consulting architect to assist applicants in preparing projects for conceptual design review, a change not included in the ordinance but widely supported.
(No change was made in a provision of the town's municipal code that did not require ASRB review for projects outside of scenic corridors or the western hills that are less than 2,000 square feet and less than 30 percent of the maximum total floor area for the property if the project is consistent with the residential design guidelines. )
Several residents said they saw the changes as a beginning.
William Fender, recalling frustration over his claim of "almost a couple of years" to get a permit for a 700-square-foot garage, called the changes modest and a first step.
Small projects should have it easier, he said, because architects can introduce delays by putting small projects at the back of their lines. "The people at the small end are really getting a pretty raw deal," Mr. Fender said.
Alan Watkins said the electoral defeat of review board member Nancy Reyering in the race for a Town Council seat sent a message: "That there are some people on the ASRB that shouldn't be there." He recommended making it easier for the council to remove a board member.
Rob Hutchinson encouraged adopting the ordinance and dealing with imperfections later. "I think it's time to move forward and review after we do this as opposed to dithering further," he said.
Resident Steve Lubin said he agrees with much of what Mr. Fender said, but disagrees with complaints about the review board.
"I get the feeling that this whole process has come about through complaints, very vocal public complaints, rather than taking a careful look at what the actual problems are and trying to define what we want to fix and then having a systematic way of addressing those problems," Mr. Lubin said.
Thalia Lubin, a review board member, asked the council to consider using a sliding scale and property size to determine which small structures are eligible for one-person review. Change should be gradual, she said, perhaps by reducing board membership and engaging a consulting architect, but delaying the new administrator position. "Let's see if this works and let's revisit it," she said.
She recalled a council/review board study session in April 2014 when board members requested guidance on difficult issues such as applications that don't account for Woodside's topological complexities. Three acres in Woodside are often not three buildable acres, which can seriously affect plans for accessory structures.
This ordinance "has now jumped to the head of the line," Ms. Lubin said. "I'm feeling like the board is being ignored and something else has taken precedence in response to some legitimate and some, in my mind, not legitimate complaints."
The change, she said, removes review responsibilities from citizen/resident oversight, "which I think has been the heart and soul of this town."
Councilwoman Kasten's dissent focused on delegating review responsibilities to an administrator, "a huge step," she said. A better approach would be incremental and analytical, she said.
The council, she said, should examine processes in the planning and building departments, taking note of the constraints of the state's uniform building code, an encyclopedic document that takes up several feet of shelf space, Councilman Dave Tanner noted.
There was general agreement on the idea of more frequent council study of permit and plan-review procedures. The new architectural and site review administrator position was worth a try, council members said.
Councilman Daniel Yost cautioned against misreading the ordinance's adoption. "No one should look at this and think that people (who) are members of (the review board) are anything other than dedicated, hard working and trying to make the town a better place, as (are) all of us serving on the Town Council," he said.