Survey Results: The Character Of The Town

June 20, 2006

In our recent survey, we asked a number of open-ended questions. This is the second in a series of posts analyzing the information that we received.

Many comments expressed concern about preserving the unique character of Woodside. A sampling of comments showed concerns about:

o “Keeping Woodside a rural, quiet, small town with no street lights or traffic signals.”
o “Not blocking long-time residents views with over-sized construction. We have a great community that needs to retain its rural, equestrian and friendly atmosphere.”
o “Keep a rural feeling in Woodside – No ‘monster’ houses that don’t fit in this ‘country town.'”
o “Loss of rural character. Pressure on the land by those who want to turn Woodside into Atherton.”

Many believe that these concerns are the driving force for the attitude of the Town staff and officials.

However, others, while not wanting to change the atmosphere of the Town, talk about an atmosphere of “overkill.” Here are some comments reflecting this view:

o “The greatest challenge is maintaining the ‘small town’ atmosphere while allowing residents the opportunity to create the homes they want on the property they own. I do think it’s been good to be ‘particular’ with building so we don’t turn into another Los Altos Hills, but I also think people should be able to create the homes they want in keeping with the size of their properties. I think a more transparent process and one that isn’t so daunting would keep people from making changes to their homes without permits – which could create unsafe homes.”
o “Thoughtful development without the attitude of ‘I have the house I want but you are too late to have the one you want’.”
o “Making it a friendly, well-managed place that accommodates different tastes. I think the town needs to focus on issues related to families as well as equestrians. Sometimes I feel like the horses are more highly valued.”
o “Fixing the planning/permit process is also very important. There is a difference between having high standards and just being difficult for the sake of being difficult.”
o “Rigid building rules and the perception that building and renovation are extremely difficult. This results in reduced property valuation as compared with the surrounding towns of Atherton, Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills. It has also inhibited me from making home improvements.”

Here are specific examples people gave us of their dealings with the town:

o “The Town erroneously issued us a fence permit which allowed us to build a fence on our South property line. After we erected the fence, the Town realized their mistake and ordered us to take it down. Even though the Town was in error in issuing us the permit, we eventually were forced to pay to remove and erect a new fence at our expense.”
o “I was given the roundabout every time I tried to get a straight answer. I was bullied and told how other people would like me to design my house. I felt the attitude of staff and the A.S.R.B. pompous, self centered and flat out rude. The entire process was indescribably horrific.”

We all want Woodside to remain Woodside. No one we know is advocating the building of “monster houses.” Our codes are strict and should remain that way. But the process needs to be fair and even-handed. It needs to be efficient. It needs to allow for some individuality. It needs to take into account the size of the lot and its visibility. Regulations need to be clear. Staff needs to be competent and customer-friendly. A planning application should not make you think you are a bull entering into the bull ring with no chance at survival.

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