Woodside council OKs larger floor areas for main residences


The Woodside Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 10, by a unanimous vote with two council members absent, took the first of two steps in approving an ordinance to expand the maximum allowable floor area of a main residence.

Under the new ordinance, the maximum allowable square footage will increase by up to 10 percent in most zoning areas. The new rules include sliding scales that rise as the size of the acreage rises.

Councilwoman Deborah Gordon and Councilman Daniel Yost were absent. The council is required to vote on the ordinance a second time and if approved, the ordinance becomes law 30 days later.

As an example, current rules allow the main house to be up to 6,000 square feet on properties zoned RR and SCP-5, SCP-7.5 and SCP-10. That maximum currently rises to 8,000 square feet if the Planning Commission grants an exception – permission to exceed the maximum if the project meets criteria that include consistency with the town's general plan, regulations on setbacks and building height, and compatibility with the surroundings.

The new ordinance would increase the exception to 8,800 square feet. The new ordinance would also streamline the process, placing authority to grant an exception with the planning director and taking out of the loop the Planning Commission and review of the exception itself by the Architectural and Site Review Board.

The new rules would not change the total floor area allowed – all structures included – on a given piece of property. The new maximum floor areas for a main residence, with exceptions granted, would be as follows:

• For the R-1 zoning area, a cap of 4,200 square feet.

• For the SR zoning area, a cap of 5,500 square feet on a parcel of at least 1.5 acres.

• For the RR zoning area, a cap of 8,800 square feet on a parcel of at least 4.5 acres.

• For the SCP-5 zoning area, a cap of 8,800 square feet on a parcel of at least 7.5 acres.

• For the SCP-7.5 zoning area, a cap of 8,800 square feet on a parcel of at least 11.25 acres.

• For the SCP-10 zoning area, a cap of 8,800 square feet on a parcel of at least 15 acres.

In emails sent to the council ahead of the vote on this topic, opinions on the higher floor area limits for main residences were running 3:1 in favor of the changes.

The ordinance was inspired by residents of Woodside Heights who in 2014 complained that floor area limits on Atherton homes nearby were significantly more generous. The residents asked the council to allow a transfer of the floor area from accessory structures to the main house.

While deliberating, council members decided that if they were going to allow larger homes in Woodside Heights, they would have to figure out a formula that would apply throughout the town.

Click here for the staff report.

Before voting, council members noted ruefully that it had taken 34 months to get this change into place. Such a delay was "totally uncalled for," Councilman Dave Tanner said.

The next topic will be how to apply these rules to parcels that do not conform to the norms set out in the municipal code. This category of so-called non-conforming parcels includes more than half of the residential parcels in Woodside.

Work needs to begin on this issue immediately, Mr. Tanner said.

Mayor Tom Livermore commended residents who provided feedback, noting that the change might have come about sooner had the council not been interrupted by action on a basement ordinance – a complicated revision to town regulations that involved months of work and six public hearings.


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16 people like this
Posted by William New
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Encouraging/permitting ever-larger houses throughout Woodside (with greater resource impacts) should be matched with similar encouragement/permission for ever-smaller "tiny" houses with their minimalist impact. Such small houses (<500 sq ft, more typically 120-200 sq ft) with little-if-any land grading/excavation, most likely self-sustainable with solar power/composting toilets/gray water reuse would make it possible for a younger generation (read, our adult children and grandkids) to move back to the Town where they are now priced out. Technical/bureaucratic planning approval barriers can be (and have been) defeated in Woodside with copious time and money, but these only lead to building ever-larger houses to justify the cost. Small is beautiful and affordable, and we need to start moving in that direction.

11 people like this
Posted by susan smith
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jan 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

That was a pretty big and influential matter to vote on with 2 members of the council to be missing.

12 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2017 at 7:13 pm

Encouraging the ostentatious display of excessive wealth written into law.

6 people like this
Posted by @Dave
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2017 at 8:50 pm

"Encouraging the ostentatious display of excessive wealth written into law."

That's what you get when you have a community where there's more money than common sense...

8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 12, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"That's what you get when you have a community where there's more money than common sense..."

Nope. That's what you get in any community with a bunch of wealthy entitled people.

Of course, that's only one way of looking at it. The other is, it is their property to do with as they please minus the interference of non-owners. The interesting thing being that the existing folks that pushed the envelope and got theirs are the same that are opposing those that currently wish to push the envelope. Hypocrites much?

3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Jan 13, 2017 at 8:28 am

It's worth noting that despite the headline, this does NOT allow anyone to build more total square footage on their lots. All it does is allow residents to transfer a limited amount of square footage that previously had to be in a guest cottage, pool house, barn, or other secondary structure to the main house. Personally, I think having 500 sq ft (for example) more as part of my primary residence is lower impact and less ostentatious than having a 500 sq ft pool house somewhere else on my lot.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 22, 2017 at 5:59 pm

The new ordinance was proposed by people in Woodside Heights and, without apparent public demand in other parts of Town, taken up by a Town Council committee dominated by building interests. The Heights folk seem to have more of a cultural connection to Atherton than to Woodside and seem unaware of the Town's long held conservation ethic or the Town's award winning General Plan. What bothers me most about this action is that it was apparently taken up in isolation rather than evaluated in the context of the General Plan. We can't know the thinking that went into it since the public was not allowed to attend the committee meetings. Given past experience with the current Council it is a waste of time to read the staff reports or attend the Planning Commission meetings since these increases in allowed building emerge full blown from the Council and are adopted with the minimum required public involvement. Was it run by the ASRB? I don't remember that. The circle of deciders draws smaller and smaller.

Like this comment
Posted by CLMartin
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm

I'm not certain I understand what the problem is here. Woodside, historically was a community of very large mansions - definitely much larger than what is allowed today. It has nothing to do with being like Atherton. Many of these homes sit on expanses of land. Restricting their footprint seems to be a very recent mandate, not an historical one.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 22, 2017 at 9:55 pm

The large historic mansion were on large estates, not one acre lots.

5 people like this
Posted by Retired Realtor
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Woodside Wake Up: significant change in the look and feel of our town will result if council goes through with this.

Your council (Gordon and Yost absent) just voted to increase house size by 10%.

This is in direct violation of our General Plan which directs as follows:

1. Policy LU1.2 “Limit Intensity of Development”
In former times very few people build large basements so this was not considered something which had to be regulated. When it became clear that excessive grading to build basements was a problem, the Council wrote an ordinance, but did not adequately consider the impact that the magnitude of the allowed grading would have on the Town's natural setting.

In summary, the new code does not “Limit the intensity of development.

2. Policy LU1.4 – Emphasize residential land uses consistent with rural environment

The Council is poised to adopt an ordinance increasing house size without looking at total lot and grading coverage even though it is clear that in some zones the allowable building and paving coverages are not consistent with the open space and conservation goals of the GP.

Thus the Council is adopting regulations that increase the divergence between the code and the General Plan.

5 people like this
Posted by Retired Realtor
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

PLEASE VOICE YOUR CONCERN OR OBJECTIONS before or at tomorrow’s meeting: To send an email to the council:

Agenda: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by non-conforming parcels
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2017 at 1:22 pm

One of the many issues with building/renovating in Woodside is the fact, as called out in the article, that over 50% of lots are non-conforming. Lots are anywhere from .3 to several acres, but the buildable land with steep hillsides, unusual lot lines and strict setback rules are very small.

Between the above and ASRB, it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to get things through the process. The town needs to take up this issue, which has been festering for years, and not remotely addressed.

I have a small house on a small unusual lot, and can save up for small renovations, but not expend unknown thousands to get a tiny expansion approved to expand a closet into a bedroom.

It should not cost far more to do a small expansion in Woodside than in nearby towns, nor take 2-3X as long.

How long do we have to wait for this to change, or should we plan to move away to accomplish this?

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

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