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Woodside: Ex-councilman sees himself as watchdog of architectural board

 

This is one of two profiles of Woodside residents who recently left the Town Council but are staying involved in civic affairs. A profile of former councilman Ron Romines will appear in a future issue.

Woodside resident Dave Burow left the Town Council in December but he stays active in town affairs, showing up occasionally at council meetings and regularly at meetings of the Architectural and Site Review Board.

Mr. Burow is a critic of the board, which is charged by the municipal code to advise the town's planning director and Planning Commission on whether remodeling and building plans are consistent with the town's residential design guidelines and the goal to preserve Woodside's "rural character."

The board's mission of protecting rural character includes, according to the municipal code, checking a project's character, site planning, building design and landscape elements, and its consistency with sustainability-oriented directives in the general plan.

Mr. Burow said he attends board meetings "in part because I regretted my inattention to what was really happening there when I was on the Town Council." He contends that the board's reviews result in unnecessary return trips by those planning remodeling and building projects, "which greatly increases cost and lengthens schedules."

His "inattention," he said, played out in his not closely scrutinizing board and commission candidates before voting to appoint them. Some candidates, he said, "had an extreme interpretation" of what the general plan says about preserving rural character. At future council hearings on reappointing board members, Mr. Burow said, he plans to show up and provide input.

Mr. Burow would not name board members he claimed were making "extreme interpretations," but provided examples, including:

■ Arguing for a smaller main residence than the code allows "because the General Plan makes reference to reducing the intensity of development on a site and maintaining the natural state of the land."

■ "Trying to convince applicants to build fewer structures on their lot than allowed."

■ "Trying to convince applicants to build smaller basements than they desire."

Study session

The sustainability-oriented changes added in 2012 to the general plan and residential design guidelines are not yet fully reflected in the municipal code, an issue that came up at a review board/council study session in 2014.

Review board members said that some applicants with residential projects push the town's design guidelines envelope. When asked to present conceptual designs, some applicants show up with detailed drawings prepared at considerable expense. In response to suggestions on how to better meet guidelines, some applicants return with plans unchanged.

The study session highlighted issues, but didn't solve problems, Mr. Burow said. "People with extreme views (such as all fences being open to wildlife and all houses looking like ranches) thought the council should codify their views into the municipal code," he said.

The review board wears applicants down, Mr. Burow said. "It took me a long time to realize that nobody is going to complain because it took so long to get something done," he said. "I really felt bad for the people. You don't see how the applicants backed off what they really wanted to do. The nitpicking that goes on in those meetings is unbelievable," he said. "Instead of saying 'We love this,' and 'This is a great project,' they're nitpicking it to death. It'll look good but it was very painful."

Defenders of the review board point out that the municipal code charges the board with protecting the town's rural character. When board members, appointed by the council for their expertise, employ that expertise, their actions are called subjective, said a Woodside resident familiar with review board practices.

As for nitpicking, it's a matter of perspective, the resident said. Phrases such as "We love this" are not in the design guidelines, the resident said, adding: "Talk about being subjective!"

Achievements

Asked to name some satisfying accomplishments during his eight years as a councilman, Mr. Burow recalled decisions doubling the town's reserve to 30 percent of operating expenses, requiring staff to contribute to their own pensions, initiating long-term maintenance plans for bridges and culverts, and improving routes for pedestrians and cyclists. "I feel pretty good about all those things," he said.

Mr. Burow, 63, is retired from a business career. He has a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from Purdue University and a master's in business from the University of Chicago. He left a marketing job at IBM to come to the Bay Area with his wife Sue Sweeney in 1979, he said.

Since 2002, Mr. Burow has held chief executive officer positions with three Silicon Valley companies, the first one at age 35. "I typically gravitated to leadership roles," he said. "I guess I've always enjoyed these situations."

He arrived as the startup culture was getting going, he said. "There were always opportunities. Anybody willing to take responsibility could have it," he said. Silicon Valley was populated by people who'd left home and were willing to take risks, with lawyers and venture capitalists who understood the risks. "It was easier to start a company here than anywhere," he said.

Mr. Burow was new to government when he was elected in 2008, but not to the engagement of participants in the process, something he said he practiced in running companies.

"It was quite a learning experience to see how government operates at a much slower pace," he said. "After a couple of years, you figure it out. It's less efficient partially by design. When you have to hear everybody's viewpoint, it necessarily slows things down."

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