Woodside: Mixed reception to changes in home-design review


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. )

Public comment

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."

Council comments

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.

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10 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Dec 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm

why does the coverage of this topic persist in describing Steve Lubin as a "resident"? It would seem relevant and pertinent to note that his wife is an ASRB member, which presumably has an impact on his view of the subject. Whether one agrees with him or not, quoting him without that context seems journalistically incorrect.

5 people like this
Posted by glens resident
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Dec 17, 2015 at 1:11 pm

to anonymous, my thoughts exactly!!

2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Will there be an additional cost for those whose projects go to the architect provided by the Town?

3 people like this
Posted by Pulitzer
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm

What lazy reporting---nearly all of the people quoted in the article are affiliated with the Town Council or the Review Board. Alan Watkins and his wife had a home project before the ASRB in February, including a 3-car garage built into the hillside. I wonder if they had difficulty getting this past the ASRB, though it is described in the PDF as a new "green garage."

Where did the reporter go to get these people for commentary? The Town Hall?

Like this comment
Posted by Where'sTheBeef
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 19, 2015 at 5:37 pm

What is Alan Watkins’s beef with the ASRB? They recommended approval of his project in a straightforward manner. Nancy Reyering’s specific comments can be found on the town website: “Member Reyering said this is a great facelift for the property. There are many exterior design changes that will be lovely. She doesn’t think the natural materials conflict with the Residential Design Guidelines in terms of aesthetics for the landscaping. She praised the entry feature, and the decision to move the fence closer to the house so the property can remain open to wildlife. She appreciates minimizing visibility of the garage as well as the half buried concept of a green roof. …It incorporates an element of sustainability, which is positively reflective of the Residential Design Guidelines.”

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"Member Reyering said this is a great facelift for the property" "There are many exterior design changes that will be lovely."

Sorry, the fact SHE thinks it is a "great facelift" or there are design elements that are "lovely" are meaningless. Those words should not be coming out of her mouth. The design complies or it doesn't is all she needs to say and all she should be saying. No one cares what she thinks about the design. They care if it complies with the town's zoning regulations.

This is why the people of Woodside are so pissed off about the current ASRB. The town council should wise up and kick her and the other two members of her "troika" off the board, so projects can be reviewed based on the actual requirements of the town as opposed to what Reyering and her partners think is "lovely."

This is why Woodside has the reputation in the design and construction community it has. No one wants to deal with craziness of the ASRB.

2 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 20, 2015 at 9:49 am

pogo is a registered user.

Where'sTheBeef believes that the FINAL comments by one member of the ASRB when a project was approved is all that is needed to dismiss the complaints voiced by an overwhelming majority of Woodside citizens.


What Beef ignores is all of the time and effort that PRECEDED that final approval that was required by the homeowner to address the capricious and off-topic demands from that member. To the extent those demands and requests had nothing to do with Woodside's design guidelines, that effort was a waste of time and money and unnecessarily delayed a family's lawful desire to build or improve their home.

Woodsiders spoke loudly and clearly about our town's permitting process. It is faulty and unpredictable - two things that are unacceptable. I'm glad out Town Council has taken a baby step to improve the situation. The Council should monitor these changes and if the ASBR continues to be problematic, that should make additional reforms.

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

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