January 29, 2016

If you have never had to have plans reviewed by the Architectural and Site Review Board, you are lucky. For most COWs, it is not a pleasant, fair or productive experience. The anger reached such a boiling point that the COWncil has recognized the need for reform. The question is what form the reform will take.

Many public speakers told their horror stories to the COWncil at its September 8, 2015 meeting. In October, Staff provided a draft ordinance to amend Woodside Municipal Code provisions on Architectural and Site Review to streamline the process and procedures for the ASRB. The draft ordinance included the creation of a Zoning Administrator, identified a number of projects that would be reviewed by the Zoning Administrator, reduced the membership of the Architectural and Site Review Board from 7 to 5, and recommended various format improvements and clarifications.

Lots of people got up and spoke at the Oct 13th meeting as well as the meeting on the 27th both meetings are on site here and here; see here and here for the staff reports. An additional joint meeting was held by Planning Commission and ASRB on 10/7 regarding ASRB’s role and can be watched here; and read the staff report here and the minutes of that meeting here.

The expressed Council goal is to strike a balance between having a relatively simple, effective process and maintaining the look and feel of the Town. Council is considering adopting an ordinance. To highlight a few issues:

• The proposal is to reduce membership on the ASRB from seven members to a five member board. We do not believe that the number is as important as having clear limits in the ASRB jurisdiction and guidelines. The Code requires preference to membership by an architect and landscape architect. We do not think that members should have any specific qualifications. They should not be on the ASRB to substitute their expertise for the applicant’s experts. Terms limits would help a lot. There should not be ASRB subcommittees which review projects. Subcommittees should be limited to policy recommendations.

• The proposed Zoning Administrator in not needed. Current Staff needs to more clearly articulate what is and is not before the ASRB. Peer review of projects by a contract architect or landscape architect only should only be used where Staff has concerns or at an applicant’s request.

• Cut out multiple reviews by ASRB under most circumstances. Having gone before the ASRB once, it should be the applicant’s choice whether or not to return to the ASRB in order to address any comments.

• ASRB jurisdiction should be limited only to large complex projects. The Council agreed that review of fences and gates, outdoor lighting and signage should be removed from the ASRB. We agree with that proposal.

• We oppose adding new separate projects to existing but incomplete project in calculating the 2000 sq. ft. threshold. For example: For example, if have a permit to add a garage of 1500 sq. ft. to your property and 5 months later you decide to do a small addition to a dedicated laundry room and increase your closet and bathroom totaling 501 sq. ft. you would have to go to ASRB for this review because both projects taken together total 2001 sq. ft. and for no other reason. Since this is not required now and hasn’t been a big problem, it would be a step in the wrong direction; increasing rather than decreasing review. The current approach works and this unneeded change would add time and expense to the project. This unnecessary change is contrary to the goal of streamlining.

• The Town Attorney should have an annual training session with each Commission or Committee. Making the limits of their jurisdiction clear and reminding them of the ethical and legal obligations.

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