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Guest opinion: Woodside council should reject 'art cave' project

Original post made on Jan 9, 2015

The Woodside Town Council should overturn the recent Planning Commission decision to approve a lot line adjustment (reported Dec. 4 in the Almanac) for an "art cave" project. The decision, made by the narrowest possible margin, and against the recommendations of the town's planning director and the ASRB, opens the way to allow construction of a 400-foot-long, 11,000-square-foot building immediately adjacent to Whiskey Hill Road, a designated scenic corridor. Construction of the proposed cave will require excavating into a steep hillside with 35-plus percent slopes, within a geologically sensitive area (Canada fault), and beneath mature oak trees.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 12:00 AM

Comments (11)

Posted by Woodsider Forever
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 9, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Wow! 11,000 square feet, in a town that doesn't allow homes to be more than 8,000 square feet. Built in place that a driveway isn't even allowed on. How can this even be considered?????

Posted by curious
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jan 10, 2015 at 7:16 am

Does anyone know the status of this project? When would the council review it?

Posted by Woodsider
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jan 10, 2015 at 10:56 pm

I was at the Planning Commission meeting on December 3 when the Commission reviewed the lot line adjustment on 230-240 Whiskey Hill Road and upheld the appeal of Architectural Site Review Board (ASRB) decision to deny the project.

The author of the opinion piece is a member of the ASRB. She did not attend the Planning Commission meeting on December 3. She did not hear the changes made by the property owner to alleviate the concerns of the Planning Department. Yet this has not stopped her to make judgements about the Commission's decision. The decision was made as a result of a lengthy public hearing when the Planning Commission heard what the "concept" involved. After consultation with the Town Attorney, the Planning Commission approved the project only on the conceptual level. This does not mean that the project was approved on the design level. The Commission only gave the go-ahead to the property owner to prepare for a formal design review of the project which was denied to him by the ASRB.

Several claims made in the opinion piece are incorrect such as the author's claim that a 400 ft long 11,000 square foot building will be built immediately adjacent to Whiskey Hill Road.The project does not involve a 11,000 square feet building structure. All development is proposed to be underground which is allowed under the Town's basement ordinance.

The author claims that the project will take place in a geologically sensitive area. Because the project was reviewed only on the conceptual level without any formal design in place, there is not any geological report that any claim of geological sensitivity can be substantiated with.

The author claims that the excavation for this project will involve 6,400 cubic yard of dirt haul which would require 1000 to 1600 dump truck trips.

Since the rejection of the project on the conceptual level by the ASRB, the property owner has proposed to deposit the dirt in a swale in the lower portion of the property which has alleviated the Planning staff's concerns.

The author claims that the Commission's decision sets a precedent. On the contrary, the Town Attorney advised the Commissioners that their decision does not set a precedent.

The author claims that the "cave" could be re-purposed for any number of underground uses. However, the lot line adjustment rezones the lot and restricts use. There is not any other alternative for the lot besides the one proposed by the property owner.

Without a lot line adjustment that designates the lot open space and proposes to build an underground art gallery, the property owner could build two houses visible from a scenic road disturbing natural features and the land form. An underground art gallery will not alter the natural features and will not disturb the land form currently visible from Whiskey Hill Road.

Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 11, 2015 at 10:05 am

This is an outrageous abuse of Woodside's zoning laws. We will be curious to see if the Town Council will object to such blatant disregard for the intent of the ordinances.

Posted by Confused
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Jan 11, 2015 at 10:19 am

I don't understand how an underground art gallery that is proposed to get built by boring -- not excavating as Ms. Reyering suggests -- without disturbing the land form and natural features on the surface could undermine Woodside community values?

Owner of the lot has taken great lengths to keep the woodsy character of the lot by agreeing to rezone it to open space. How could an open space designation on a lot that the property owner could otherwise build a house by removing the trees and disturbing the natural features undermine quality of life in Woodside?

Posted by Woodsider Forever
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 11, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I'll give you an example. Our uphill neighbors put in a 3,000-square-foot basement when they built a new house. The excavation for that basement apparently disturbed the underground aquifer. Ever since, we must, 365-days a year, pump out the water that now pools at the foundation of our house.
Since the part of the house that the water is pooling under is relatively new construction, we know that condition did not exist when we added on to our house, as the town would probably have required major engineering if that condition existed at the time. As it is, this completely "legal" construction by our neighbors could someday cause our house to sink into the ground. For the time being we have to expend energy to run a pump hours each day to try to avoid that.

Posted by Alex Lascarides
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2015 at 2:24 pm

There is absolutely no point in having regulations unless they are followed. The regulations that planners in Woodside have to follow are hard won, and once gone they don't come back. Woodside is a unique area: rural, but in the centre of one of the world's most active commercial activity. It deserves to be protected and nurtured, instead of exploited. One cannot say that basements are harmless; even in an urban area like London, with no fault lines, digging down in areas like Kensington has caused no end of problems both to the natural habitat and existing structure. Madness!

Posted by Woodsideresident
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Jan 11, 2015 at 6:58 pm

The guest opinion reminds me of the actions of the small but loud minority in Woodside when they tried to pass very restrictive fence regulations last summer. Ms. Revering was a member of the committee that prepared these regulations. Every Woodside resident who spoke up at the Town Council meeting opposed the proposals of the committee.

I am not surprised that Ms. Reyering is asking for even more regulations and is asking the Town Council to overturn the Planning Commission's decision that granted the property owner only the right to prepare a formal design for his concept of an art gallery. Furthermore she wants the Town Council "to enact a 'time out' " to "update" the Municipal Code which has already been updated as recently as two years ago and is quite restrictive.

Majority of Woodside residents do not want more restrictive regulations. We already have enough regulations.

(The link Ms. Reyering has provided contains only ASRB deliberations. It does not contain the changes the property owner has made to the project to alleviate the concerns of the Planning Department. These changes were reviewed by the Planning Commission after ASRB denied the project on the conceptual level. )

Posted by Emerald Hills resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2015 at 7:52 am

Digging into steep hillsides can cause landslides, whether you're grading above ground or excavating underground. In fact, excavating a huge "cave" like this could be even more dangerous, because you're undermining the entire side of the hill and making it more unstable. What do the neighbors who live below this person's property think about this proposal?

400 feet long is bigger than a football field. This isn't an "art cave" -- it's a gigantic cavern. Who can possibly claim that they need something like this underneath their house?

It's easy to shout "too many regulations!" but the fact is that regulations are there to protect us from neighbors who don't care whether our homes are damaged. Nobody has the "right" to build something that's going to destroy others' property.

Posted by AJK
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 12, 2015 at 9:32 am

According to Almanac News, December issue "Woodside resident Alex Balkanski is proposing to bring thoroughly modern methods to drilling out a tunnel for an art cave in the manner of wine caves built in Napa." He has hired a firm experienced in building tunnels by hillsides in Napa and a geotechnical firm.

Tunnels can stabilize hillsides. Devil's slide area in Half Moon Bay got stabilized by the new tunnel. Tunnels are inherently strong structurally , much stronger than above ground structures but they are very expensive to build.

If he builds the tunnel, Whiskey Hill Road area would get more stabilized. A geotechnical report is necessary. It is very expensive to build a tunnel.

There are no neighbors below the lot where the art tunnel is proposed. Balkanski bought the surrounding lots.

Posted by Nancy Reyering
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:24 pm

The point of the piece is to encourage the Town Council to enact a moratorium on grading and excavating until the ordinances can be aligned with the new award-winning 2012 General Plan and Residential Design Guidelines. Woodside is alone among our neighbors in that we do not define what grading is or isn't, and what reasonable limits should be in place. Even Atherton, sister city in at least its average per capital income, has seen fit to do so. And Bel Air, a similar demographic in SoCal, is currently under a grading moratorium while their Council tries to bring code changes about.

Interested residents may easily review the minutes and full tape of the Planning Commission meeting, which show clear and strong argument was made for pausing the process. The Council would show support for the General Plan by hastening a review of the ordinances, and halting extraordinary grading requests until a review is completed.

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