Woodside gives final OK to new basement regulations

By unanimous vote, council approves limits on location and size

After six public hearings on an ordinance to regulate the size and location of basements in Woodside, with five of the hearings resulting in changes substantial enough to require a redrafted ordinance, a unanimous Town Council took the last step and adopted it on Tuesday, May 10.

The ordinance, which goes into effect in 30 days, establishes regulations where there had been none. The vote was 5-0 in favor, with council members Anne Kasten and Chris Shaw absent.

The ordinance sets out a formula to calculate how much soil can be excavated for a given parcel size based on the maximum floor area allowed for the main residence. The formula uses that maximum and multiplies it by 12 (assuming a 12-foot depth) then divides that number by 27 to convert cubic feet to cubic yards.

While typical basements are 8 feet deep, the assumption of 12 feet provides "a cushion," Councilman Peter Mason has said, to allow room for placement of machinery above the ceiling or below the floor.

The formula trades off depth for breadth, allowing a deeper basement in exchange for smaller floor area. The council frequently used the example of an underground squash court, which might require a ceiling height of 20 feet.

With the formula's multiplier of 12, a basement that is only 8 feet deep could result in it having more floor area than the house above. The ordinance allows 50 percent of a basement to extend beyond the main residence's footprint.

Advocates of property rights argued for no limits on extensions beyond that footprint. In response, a council majority had set the limit at 65 percent in February, but a new majority cut it back to 50 percent in April ● the limit preferred by the Planning Commission and the three-member council subcommittee responsible for the first draft of the ordinance.

Resident and architect Steve Lubin argued at council meetings, and in a guest opinion for the Almanac, for a multiplier of 8 in the formula to discourage intense use of properties in the interest of maintaining Woodside's rural character. The 2012 update of the town's general plan establishes rural character as a high priority.

Rural character is a high priority, but its precise meaning can vary, Mayor Deborah Gordon has said. It's use in the general plan is designed to create "wiggle room," she said.

Some might see rural character in dusty roads and trails, others in the manicured perfection of a Kentucky horse farm, and still others in the stately elegance of an Elizabethan manor house, she said.

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