Woodside: Longer dormers, more headroom ahead for some apartments


n a move to improve livability in what is likely a limited type of affordable housing in Woodside – an apartment above an existing garage that does not conform with setback rules – the Town Council on Feb. 13 gave its support to change the town's code to allow more headroom under the sloped roofs of such apartments.

At the direction of the council after a study session, town staff is drafting an amendment to the code to allow a dormer to take up to 50 percent of the length of the apartment's roof. The amendment would apply only if the garage already exists and only if its location is at or near a property's edge such that it does not conform to current regulations on property line setbacks.

The matter first came up in a discussion in December when a resident defended a very tight apartment floor plan that did not include closet space and had limited areas where an adult could stand up without contacting the roof. Due to recent changes to state law intended to increase the supply of affordable housing, such a floor plan could no longer be contested on aesthetic grounds.

Because the apartment sat directly under a sloped roof, adults could walk or stand freely only under the peak of the roof and under two dormers limited to an area of 25 square feet each. Headroom dropped dramatically toward the walls.

Such an apartment was "an embarrassment" and "not a livable unit," architect and Councilman Peter Mason said in December. Councilman and general contractor Dave Tanner said the plan "doesn't work at all."

Extended dormers address the headroom issue and sidestep a controversial idea of raising the maximum roof height and second-story floor height for accessory dwelling units.

Buildings that appear massive are a touchy issue in Woodside, particularly near property lines. The town has an interest in decreasing the scale of development near property lines, Planning Director Jackie Young noted in a staff report.

In a note of reassurance, Ms. Young said that while the floor plan under discussion would increase the diversity of affordable housing, the likely trend will be toward renting out rooms inside single-family homes.

"I don't anticipate getting (applications for) a lot of these units," Ms. Young said, referring to the above-garage apartments. "I really think it's going to be a one-off." Given the large parcels in Woodside, detached units are more common, she added.

How high the roof?

The Planning Commission, in its own discussion of amending the code for such apartments, would not consider increasing the 17-foot maximum for the roof ridge line or allowing a higher second-story floor – the plate height – for an accessory dwelling unit, Ms. Young said.

The council, before agreeing on the substance of a dormer amendment, ventured into that territory.

"I'm profoundly disappointed that we can't make the roof a little higher," Councilwoman Anne Kasten said, adding that she has concerns about the state eventually sanctioning the town for not doing enough on affordable housing.

Mr. Tanner said he didn't see a problem with a slight increase in overall height to 18 feet or 19 feet. "When we made these rules and regulations, they weren't going to be livable spaces," he said. "We're (discussing this) because we have rules from a long time ago that we're still using."


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