Woodside council preference shifts on basement ordinance

Majority now favors allowing 50 percent of basement to be built outside footprint of residence above

In a straw poll on Tuesday (April 12), a new majority on the Woodside Town Council reversed an earlier preference to allow 65 percent of a basement to be outside the footprint of the residence above it. Four council members, now including Councilwoman Anne Kasten and Councilman Tom Livermore, now favor a 50 percent allowance.

The straw poll came amid a fifth public hearing on introducing an ordinance – the first of a two step process by which an ordinance becomes law – to regulate the size and location of basements.

Once again, that first step was not taken. The council sent the ordinance back to staff for more changes, including how much of a basement could be outside the footprint of the house.

In February, a majority of the seven-member council – Mayor Deborah Gordon and members Chris Shaw, Tom Livermore, Daniel Yost and Anne Kasten – favored the 65 percent allowance, in notable contrast with the recommendations for a 50 percent allowance from a council subcommittee and from the Planning Commission.

In March, Ms. Kasten made a point of saying she had changed her mind in favor of a 50 percent allowance. Her vote in February had been a result of her feeling unwell that evening, she said.

Then for this second poll on Tuesday, Mr. Livermore changed his preference, noting the Planning Commission's preference for 50 percent.

Councilmen Dave Tanner and Peter Mason, both members of the original subcommittee, maintained their 50 percent preferences throughout.

Councilman Daniel Yost was not present for the April 12 meeting.

Deep basements

The new draft of the ordinance will include language requiring the consultation and approval of the town engineer when a basement excavation is deeper than eight feet.

The proposed regulations will employ a formula that allows residents to expand the floor area of a basement at a cost in depth, or increase depth at a cost in floor area.

On deeper cuts, regulations kick in on preventing the earthen walls around the future basement from falling in and endangering workers. There are several ways to stabilize this situation, including injecting the soil with liquids that will solidify it, sloping the walls away while the basement is under construction – called over-cutting – or erecting shoring walls. The council expressed a preference for shoring.

This change came after a presentation by resident and architect Steve Lubin, who used a series of illustrations to show the council how the over-cutting method could dramatically increase a basement project's total excavation and result in many more trips on the town's roads by loaded dump trucks.

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