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Woodside council sends draft housing element to the state

There are 60 units of housing on the Cañada campus off Farm Hill Road for faculty and staff, which is located on 3.8-acre of land Woodside annexed to Redwood City in 2008. The town is considering designating 80 more units of housing at the community college. Photo by Michelle Le.

After two hours of public comments, many in opposition to new multifamily housing units in town, Woodside's draft housing element is on its way to the state for review.

Speakers told the council on the evening of Tuesday, July 12, about everything from their concerns about more building resulting in increased traffic and fire danger to the "desecration" of Woodside's rural character. The council ultimately voted 5-1, with Mayor Dick Brown in opposition, to a modified version of the town's housing plan, which made some concessions but left much of the multifamily housing plans in place.

The town's 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) brings a larger increase in the number of units to plan for than in cycles past. The town was required to plan for 62 units last cycle and 328 units this time.

"I love the fresh air in the morning when I'm walking," Christopher Canellos told the council on Tuesday night. "I love looking up in the sky at night and seeing the Big Dipper. I don't want to see this town lose any of the charm, the beauty it has."

Council member Chris Shaw noted that planning for so many units "sucks," but the town would face dire consequences if it didn't comply with state law.

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"If we don't, the state will come up with one for us," he said.

The town's revised draft housing element, dubbed the "Shawkowski" proposal for the councilmen who created it, Shaw and Brian Dombkowski, includes 395 units.

The council modified the plan during the meeting to include eight more Senate Bill 9 units for a total of 16. The state duplex law that took effect in January requires local agencies to grant ministerial approval to certain lot splits and up to two primary units on each resulting lot, with 4-foot minimum side and rear setbacks.

Some 49 commenters wrote the town with feedback on the draft element up until July 12.

The draft housing plan the public commented on before it was adjusted and approved on Tuesday:

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: Download PDF.

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it:
Download PDF

Dispute over covenant

Some residents referenced a 2009 covenant between the town and Woodhill Estates HOA to retain the Farm Hill Road parcel included in the draft element as open space, with one threatening to sue the town if necessary. The town is proposing 10 units of housing at the site.

This covenant was agreed upon by neighboring property owners as a compromise to the development of Barkley Fields and Park, at 5001 Farm Hill Boulevard, in 2010.

Brown would have preferred the housing plan without the Farm Hill site included.

"This parcel is unsuitable for the proposed intensive residential use for many reasons — open space violations, environmental and wildlife impacts, capricious and discriminatory sewer permitting, lack of nearby public transportation, and lack of nearby business, employment and consumer services," wrote Woodside residents Drs. Geetinder Chattha and Eldan Eichbaum in a July 1 letter. "You should know that our neighborhood is fully prepared to litigate each and every one of these violations should that become necessary."

Woodhill Estates resident Stacy Harris told the council on Tuesday night that it is "really disconcerting" that the town has surprised residents with this proposal. She hoped it was a mistake and understood officials are working fast to plan for the housing element.

Other speakers said the town would lose credibility if it ignored the covenant.

Left to right: Woodside council members Chris Shaw, Dick Brown and Brian Dombkowski during the July 12, 2022, Town Council meeting. Screenshot.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Jenn Wall asked for clarification from Principal Planner Sage Schaan about whether including the parcel in the draft housing element would mean the town could rezone the land (in September). He confirmed this and noted that the town would still need to take formal action to undo the covenant.

"I don't think there would be merit to a breach of contract claim," Schaan said.

"Don't want to belittle this because obviously there was an agreement reached 13 years ago. … One of the benefits of using town-owned sites is we have control over the design and timing of those sites and we could see how necessary it is based on how we're tracking in the first couple of years (of the RHNA cycle)."

Fire safety

773 Cañada Road in Woodside. Via Google Maps.

Residents asked that the town at least roll back the development of 773 Cañada Road to 10 units per acre versus 20. The council complied, modifying the plan.

Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Don Bullard noted in a June 24 letter to the town that development of 30 units of housing at 773 Cañada would actually increase fire safety in the area. This is because most of the existing rolling grasslands will be covered with pavement, ignition resistant and/or non-combustible construction and have improved infrastructure.

The fire district would require and impose a wildfire hazard assessment plan on the development that requires a 200- to 300-foot perimeter fuels management plan. Additionally, a connection to West Maple would be an improved evacuation benefit for both future 773 Cañada residents and Western Emerald Hills residents.

"The potential for swift evacuation of this area is good," he said.

Resident Heidi Hess said the Emerald Hills Fire in June is an example of why the town should be cautious about developing high-density housing at 773 Cañada. She said that she and her neighbors are scared that if more housing is put in, that would remove a buffer.

"We dodged a bullet yesterday," she wrote on June 22. "Luckily when the fire broke out, we had no wind, heroic firefighters with quick response and only grass and light scrub between the park and our houses. The fire came dangerously close to Palm Circle, where we live, and the power substation. … If this fire isn't clear evidence of this, I don't know what is. This was our concern and nightmare come true."

Reliance on ADUs

Some commenters are wary about how much the town is leaning into accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in its plan. The town's original draft included 200 ADU units, but the revised plan had 152 (assuming there will be 19 units built per year). At the meeting, the council opted to increase this to 20 units a year, bringing the ADU count to 160.

The Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, which was founded to build a network of people who support the development of new housing, gave the town several suggestions for improving its housing element plan. The group, in a letter to the town, said the town does not provide adequate evidence it can build the number of ADUs it promises.

"This is not just a technical exercise; this is an opportunity to demonstrate Woodside's genuine commitment to promoting housing at all levels of affordability by implementing new policies," said HLC Policy Manager Jeremy Levine.

The group has several suggestions. It notes the town could spur ADU development with pre-approved ADU designs and waiving impact fees for building ADUs.

Levine also recommends commissioning an environmental impact report (EIR) to study the impacts of upzoning to allow 20 units per acre in Woodside in all neighborhoods located within half a mile of transit stops. The group would also like the town to allow development up to 20 units an acre in its commercial zone, and upzone for 10 units per acre within a quarter of a mile of this area to minimize the impact of new housing by allowing it in the center of town, near amenities and transit corridors.

Cañada College site

The plan includes 80 units of faculty and staff housing at Cañada College.

There are 60 units of housing on the Cañada campus off of Farm Hill Road for faculty and staff, which is located on 3.8-acre of land annexed to Redwood City in 2008, according to the town's 2015-22 housing element.

The housing project, known as Cañada Vista, includes two three-story buildings with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and a community/recreation center at 1 Olive Court, according to the project developer's website.

As part of the agreement between Woodside and Redwood City, 24 of the 65 housing units required to be built in Woodside between 2007 and 2014 through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process were transferred to Redwood City's allocation. Under the agreement, Woodside's RHNA allocation was reduced from 65 to 41 and Redwood City's number was increased from 1,832 to 1,856.

In the 2015 element, town staff said the land in the 2015 overlay at Cañada could be used to potentially develop affordable senior housing, which was not built during the cycle.

Town staff plan to send the draft housing element to the state on Friday, July 15, at which point a 90-day review by the state will be triggered.

The Town Council plans to review and adopt the final housing element on Jan. 24, 2023.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Woodside council sends draft housing element to the state

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 13, 2022, 11:44 am

After two hours of public comments, many in opposition to new multifamily housing units in town, Woodside's draft housing element is on its way to the state for review.

Speakers told the council on the evening of Tuesday, July 12, about everything from their concerns about more building resulting in increased traffic and fire danger to the "desecration" of Woodside's rural character. The council ultimately voted 5-1, with Mayor Dick Brown in opposition, to a modified version of the town's housing plan, which made some concessions but left much of the multifamily housing plans in place.

The town's 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) brings a larger increase in the number of units to plan for than in cycles past. The town was required to plan for 62 units last cycle and 328 units this time.

"I love the fresh air in the morning when I'm walking," Christopher Canellos told the council on Tuesday night. "I love looking up in the sky at night and seeing the Big Dipper. I don't want to see this town lose any of the charm, the beauty it has."

Council member Chris Shaw noted that planning for so many units "sucks," but the town would face dire consequences if it didn't comply with state law.

"If we don't, the state will come up with one for us," he said.

The town's revised draft housing element, dubbed the "Shawkowski" proposal for the councilmen who created it, Shaw and Brian Dombkowski, includes 395 units.

The council modified the plan during the meeting to include eight more Senate Bill 9 units for a total of 16. The state duplex law that took effect in January requires local agencies to grant ministerial approval to certain lot splits and up to two primary units on each resulting lot, with 4-foot minimum side and rear setbacks.

Some 49 commenters wrote the town with feedback on the draft element up until July 12.

The draft housing plan the public commented on before it was adjusted and approved on Tuesday:

Dispute over covenant

Some residents referenced a 2009 covenant between the town and Woodhill Estates HOA to retain the Farm Hill Road parcel included in the draft element as open space, with one threatening to sue the town if necessary. The town is proposing 10 units of housing at the site.

This covenant was agreed upon by neighboring property owners as a compromise to the development of Barkley Fields and Park, at 5001 Farm Hill Boulevard, in 2010.

Brown would have preferred the housing plan without the Farm Hill site included.

"This parcel is unsuitable for the proposed intensive residential use for many reasons — open space violations, environmental and wildlife impacts, capricious and discriminatory sewer permitting, lack of nearby public transportation, and lack of nearby business, employment and consumer services," wrote Woodside residents Drs. Geetinder Chattha and Eldan Eichbaum in a July 1 letter. "You should know that our neighborhood is fully prepared to litigate each and every one of these violations should that become necessary."

Woodhill Estates resident Stacy Harris told the council on Tuesday night that it is "really disconcerting" that the town has surprised residents with this proposal. She hoped it was a mistake and understood officials are working fast to plan for the housing element.

Other speakers said the town would lose credibility if it ignored the covenant.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Jenn Wall asked for clarification from Principal Planner Sage Schaan about whether including the parcel in the draft housing element would mean the town could rezone the land (in September). He confirmed this and noted that the town would still need to take formal action to undo the covenant.

"I don't think there would be merit to a breach of contract claim," Schaan said.

"Don't want to belittle this because obviously there was an agreement reached 13 years ago. … One of the benefits of using town-owned sites is we have control over the design and timing of those sites and we could see how necessary it is based on how we're tracking in the first couple of years (of the RHNA cycle)."

Fire safety

Residents asked that the town at least roll back the development of 773 Cañada Road to 10 units per acre versus 20. The council complied, modifying the plan.

Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Don Bullard noted in a June 24 letter to the town that development of 30 units of housing at 773 Cañada would actually increase fire safety in the area. This is because most of the existing rolling grasslands will be covered with pavement, ignition resistant and/or non-combustible construction and have improved infrastructure.

The fire district would require and impose a wildfire hazard assessment plan on the development that requires a 200- to 300-foot perimeter fuels management plan. Additionally, a connection to West Maple would be an improved evacuation benefit for both future 773 Cañada residents and Western Emerald Hills residents.

"The potential for swift evacuation of this area is good," he said.

Resident Heidi Hess said the Emerald Hills Fire in June is an example of why the town should be cautious about developing high-density housing at 773 Cañada. She said that she and her neighbors are scared that if more housing is put in, that would remove a buffer.

"We dodged a bullet yesterday," she wrote on June 22. "Luckily when the fire broke out, we had no wind, heroic firefighters with quick response and only grass and light scrub between the park and our houses. The fire came dangerously close to Palm Circle, where we live, and the power substation. … If this fire isn't clear evidence of this, I don't know what is. This was our concern and nightmare come true."

Reliance on ADUs

Some commenters are wary about how much the town is leaning into accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in its plan. The town's original draft included 200 ADU units, but the revised plan had 152 (assuming there will be 19 units built per year). At the meeting, the council opted to increase this to 20 units a year, bringing the ADU count to 160.

The Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, which was founded to build a network of people who support the development of new housing, gave the town several suggestions for improving its housing element plan. The group, in a letter to the town, said the town does not provide adequate evidence it can build the number of ADUs it promises.

"This is not just a technical exercise; this is an opportunity to demonstrate Woodside's genuine commitment to promoting housing at all levels of affordability by implementing new policies," said HLC Policy Manager Jeremy Levine.

The group has several suggestions. It notes the town could spur ADU development with pre-approved ADU designs and waiving impact fees for building ADUs.

Levine also recommends commissioning an environmental impact report (EIR) to study the impacts of upzoning to allow 20 units per acre in Woodside in all neighborhoods located within half a mile of transit stops. The group would also like the town to allow development up to 20 units an acre in its commercial zone, and upzone for 10 units per acre within a quarter of a mile of this area to minimize the impact of new housing by allowing it in the center of town, near amenities and transit corridors.

Cañada College site

The plan includes 80 units of faculty and staff housing at Cañada College.

There are 60 units of housing on the Cañada campus off of Farm Hill Road for faculty and staff, which is located on 3.8-acre of land annexed to Redwood City in 2008, according to the town's 2015-22 housing element.

The housing project, known as Cañada Vista, includes two three-story buildings with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and a community/recreation center at 1 Olive Court, according to the project developer's website.

As part of the agreement between Woodside and Redwood City, 24 of the 65 housing units required to be built in Woodside between 2007 and 2014 through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process were transferred to Redwood City's allocation. Under the agreement, Woodside's RHNA allocation was reduced from 65 to 41 and Redwood City's number was increased from 1,832 to 1,856.

In the 2015 element, town staff said the land in the 2015 overlay at Cañada could be used to potentially develop affordable senior housing, which was not built during the cycle.

Town staff plan to send the draft housing element to the state on Friday, July 15, at which point a 90-day review by the state will be triggered.

The Town Council plans to review and adopt the final housing element on Jan. 24, 2023.

Comments

Mary Hufty
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jul 13, 2022 at 2:03 pm
Mary Hufty, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2022 at 2:03 pm

Thank you Angela for this helpful reporting. Woodside Town Council has done good work on their housing plan. Tonight is the Portola Valley Town Council opportunity to make wise and hard choices, to remember that the environment, the animals both domestic and wild, and the land can not speak for themselves, and to practice respect for residents and employees, though it is may try everyone's patience, enjoy curiosity driven listening.

It is complicated but we can do this!

Mary


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jul 13, 2022 at 2:44 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2022 at 2:44 pm

To Mary & others:
What does "we can do this" mean? What will Woodside & Portola Valley look like after this "Housing Element" & the next one & the next one? Will the every peninsula city look the same? Will the housing/office/retail sprawl along all of El Camino be duplicated along many more arteries? Where does it lead to?

The root problem is NOT the Town Council but rather the remote & distanced bureaucrats at California's HCD & our Regional ABAG that have taken away local control & are enforcing their view of how you should live. YOU are now the endangered species!

The only answer is to "educate" & hold our local State Representative (Marc Berman) & State Senator (Josh Becker) accountable for voting for & continuing to support this madness. We can only stop the destruction of our neighborhoods by changing our representatives (& Governor) in Sacramento! We should be "lecturing" them & not the beleaguered Town Council members.


Stuart
Registered user
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jul 13, 2022 at 5:19 pm
Stuart, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2022 at 5:19 pm

We listened to the meeting on Zoom last night (the audio was terrible unless the speaker was up against the microphone). Whichever member of the council that blasted the state is right: how will California build 300K+ houses per year when the total production has never exceeded much more than 100K?
Insanity!


Meg
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 14, 2022 at 3:05 pm
Meg, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2022 at 3:05 pm

We can have both housing and wilderness, but I certainly agree we need to get new representation in order to achieve it. Both Berman and Becker are part of that Sacramento lazy way out. They prefer to turn the problem over to big business and hope for the best. That has not served anyone well.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jul 15, 2022 at 3:01 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Meg:

You are correct, but Berman & Becker have really turned over to "opportunity" to:
1) Big Donors
2) Big Real Estate Developers & Agents
&
3) Big Government

Our local communities will have no say in the decisions until we vote out those currently in power. Yet, the Almanac is silent about which November candidates have what positions on the "Housing Element" & SB-9.

Perhaps the Almanac could do the community the service of helping the residents (their subscribers) to understand the true positions on Berman, Becker & their November opponents!


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