Woodside may allow 65% of basement to extend beyond structure above it


If regulations on basement size now under consideration by the Woodside Town Council are adopted, the rules would allow a maximum 2,695 cubic yards of soil to be removed from some sites, an amount that would fill Independence Hall, where the council meets, more than five times.

Planning Director Jackie Young used this statistic at the council's Feb. 23 meeting to kick off a four-hour discussion on the wording of an ordinance regulating the size and location of basements, including a formula for calculating basement dimensions. A revised ordinance will be coming back to the council for further review and possible approval.

A major change coming out of the discussion: Most of the council wants to increase the area of a basement that can be built beyond a structure above it to around 65 percent, up from a recommendation of 50 percent from a council subcommittee.

For residential zoning districts, council members agreed on a grading maximum based on the maximum allowable house size -- 3,000, 4,000 or 6,000 square feet, depending on property size -- multiplied by 12 (to convert to cubic feet) then divided by 27 (to convert to cubic yards).

The proposed ordinance sets the maximum basement depth at 20 feet, and council members saw that figure as reasonable. Also seen as reasonable: that areas of basements not located under an enclosed structure be covered with at least three feet of earth to allow plants to grow; and that basement areas designed as patio/light wells and tunnels should each be limited to 15 percent of a basement's allotted space.

Resident Susan Crocker complained from the audience about three feet of earth not being enough. "What can you grow in three feet?" she asked.

Beyond footprint

The proposed ordinance would have allowed 50 percent of a basement to extend beyond the footprint of the enclosed structure above it. After extensive discussion, the council, on a 5-2 straw vote, recommended to staff to increase the area of basement allowed beyond the footprint to something around 65 percent.

Councilmen Dave Tanner and Peter Mason, both members of the subcommittee that proposed 50 percent, dissented, as did a former subcommittee member, recently retired council member Ron Romines. Going beyond 50 percent "creates a dramatic increase in potential intensity of development," Mr. Romines said from the audience. "It doubles house size."

Resident Richard Draeger proposed that 75 percent of a basement be allowed outside the structure's footprint, arguing that residents "who don't want to demolish their homes" would be penalized by the 50 percent rule.

Councilmen Tom Livermore and Chris Shaw agreed on 75 percent. The more permissive number would be sensitive to owners of parcels constrained by topological features such as hillsides and bedrock, Mr. Shaw said.

Councilwoman Anne Kasten suggested 60 percent, while Mayor Deborah Gordon went with 65 percent.

Planning Commissioner Marilyn Voelke said she saw basement extension beyond the footprint as a red herring, that hardship cases could be handled with existing exception and variance processes, or even with a new process. "I'm kind of alarmed now that the compromise figure is moving up," she said. "What you're going to get are massive basements."

Ms. Voelke also objected to a suggestion by Mr. Draeger that basements be allowed under impervious surfaces, such as driveways and patios. New owners come in and may want to move patios and driveways, she said. "You're left with a basement without the 3 feet of dirt on top that allows things to grow," she said.

Driveway preferences do tend to change with owners, Planning Director Young said, noting that the language in the town's general plan sets a preference for minimizing site disturbance and grading.

Activity in setbacks

The sanctity of prohibiting construction within 10 feet of property lines made for some vigorous debate, particularly with respect to small lots in the Woodside Glens neighborhood.

"On truly constrained lots, we should be very flexible on letting people do things, especially below ground because that's the thing that's not going to impact the neighbors," said Dave Burow, a former councilman and not a Glens resident. "If you keep the 10-foot setback, you're taking a whole bunch of properties out of consideration for having basements, so just keep that in mind, or just tell those people: 'Just move. Sell your lot to your neighbor or take the write off because you're never going to really be able to enjoy your life here in Woodside.'"

Mr. Romines, a Glens resident, said he saw it differently. In addition to constrained lots, the Glens is traversed by a one-lane winding road and some homes have no parking spaces. Intensity of use is already an issue, he said. Another couple of bedrooms and a bathroom under an existing house will have a "huge, huge impact (and) makes a very bad situation much worse," he said.

There are lots of Glens residents who are living happy lives in small houses and who are "quite concerned about having houses on small lots become bigger," Ms. Voelke said.

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5 people like this
Posted by Patient Observer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Mar 2, 2016 at 12:17 pm

"Resident Susan Crocker complained from the audience about three feet of earth not being enough. "What can you grow in three feet?" she asked."

Really Susan? A better question might be what cannot be grown in three feet.

This is part of the reason it's so hard to get reasonable land-use policies and ordinances in Woodside; our time and the town's time is wasted with [part removed] rhetorical questions like Susan's.

7 people like this
Posted by Underground YES
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2016 at 5:43 pm

I'll offer (maybe?) a different perspective on the issue... I think we agree that in most instances, the desire of the owner/builder is to maximize the amount of "house" (living space, accessory buildings, garage, etc.) that they can build on their property. This runs counter to the desire and wishes of neighbors and the greater community who want to minimize the size of the "house" relative to the size of the lot; in part to maintain the aesthetic norm of Woodside.

To keep these conflicting interest in check, cities have long established rules governing these issues (set-backs, sensible lot coverage ratios, height limits, etc.) What's new is that improved building materials and construction methods now allow the construction of large underground living spaces. This tips the advantage to the owner but with a much more intensive, disruptive, and longer period of construction.

As I see it, the trade off is that if basements are significantly restricted, then owners will revisit the size and design of the "above ground" structure to maximize their size and utility beyond what they might consider if they had more flexible allowances for basements. For all intensive purposes, after the dust clears and the construction trucks drive away, we quickly forget the once hole in the ground, and are only affected by the above-ground structures. To that end, I have no problem allowing for larger basements. I rather have that that an above ground home that is 100% maximized for lot coverage, height and built right to the set backs.

5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 2, 2016 at 7:14 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Well stated Underground Yes. It's subterranean square footage. No one sees it and it has no visual impact on the property.

6 people like this
Posted by YouFoolYourselves
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 3, 2016 at 7:49 pm

You Menlo Park posters fool yourselves. While most residents (95% of those building or adding on) do not desire an outsize behemoth as a residence, the small percentage of overlords who DO want to push the limits want BOTH the maximum house size AND the maximum possible basement size. Atherton last year reduced its allowable basement grading numbers and they are far smaller than what Woodside is proposing. And the council made that decision because outsize grading increases build time by about a year, and adds significant infrastructure cost. Neighbors and neighborhoods suffer.

The current Woodside council has leaned to the dark side. The original proposal by the Zoning Subcommittee was for a generous allowance of 50%. One new council member proposed 75%! Why even bother to keep 25% within the footprint?

A proposal to allow 65% of the basement to occur outside the footprint of the house doesn't even stay within the definition of basement. This is all fallout of the recent extreme property rights cohort flexing their muscle. Woodside, why even bother with a new ordinance - continue the palaver. The result is the same as if you do nothing to update the ordinances.

7 people like this
Posted by ShameOnYou
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Mar 3, 2016 at 8:27 pm

This publication allows hateful misogynistic posts about solid citizens like FORMER MAYOR Susan Crocker. If I remember correctly, this was a widely used tactic during Woodside's recent election when anonymous posters maligned three women on the architectural commission.

Read the comments, Almanac - you are the mouthpiece for a very ugly segment of our local society. NOT a majority, NOT a faction that should be allowed to continue to proliferate their hatred of female volunteers.

I'll post anonymously to avoid being harassed by your readers,

6 people like this
Posted by Nancy Reyering
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Last year, Atherton changed their basement regulations to reduce the maximum allowable size from 130% of the floor area of the 1st floor to 120% of the floor area of the first floor.

I spoke with the Planning Staff in Atherton and learned the reason for the change was impact to roads and neighborhoods. Large basements increase design and build times by as much as a year. The cost to infrastructure is great, and the impact to quality of life is severe.

At ASRB meetings we have not infrequently heard neighbors complain about length of construction times.

And in Woodside, our very special infrastructure, which consists of many rural, steep, and winding roads, is particularly impacted.

Many residences in town are 50, 60 years old, and older. New owners naturally want to rebuild. In order to preserve our quality of life, we need to have regulations which reflect both the needs of applicants, and the peaceful enjoyment of property for those who already live here.

The Zoning Subcommittee proposal of 150% of the floor area of the residence as an OUTSIDE MAX was very generous.

Council, please help rein this proposed ordinance update back in.

Thank you,

4 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 9, 2016 at 3:51 pm

It does not seem particularly useful to me to compare the volume of soil that can be removed to the scale of Woodside's Independence Hall. Much more relevant is to consider the policy implications in terms of dump truck out haul.

Google tells me that a large dump truck might carry about 12 yards of soil on average, so removing 2695 yards of soil translates to the equivalent of about 225 large dump truck trips.

That does seem like a pretty big number to me, especially if the front loader delivers its auditory beeping every time it backs up in the process of filling the truck.

Anyway, something to consider....

4 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Mar 11, 2016 at 7:25 pm

So, the current proposal in front of the town council is capping basements based upon maximum residence size for a particular district. Essentially 3,000 sqft, 4,000 sqft, or 6,000 sqft - depending on the district in question.

The formula is to take the square footage allowed, multiply by 12, and divide by 27 which gives one the allowable total cubic volume for a basement. This is dependent on the district and regardless of the actual residence square footage. If you want a maximum basement underneath a 800 sqft house on Mountain Home, so be it. I think the maximum depth being discussed is 22', but still confined by the size limitations.

What the town council should be looking at is how to off-set the damage to the roads by all construction - not just basements.

Like this comment
Posted by what about trees
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 12, 2016 at 9:46 am

Enormous basements have negative impacts on tree roots. This is crazy

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

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