Avoiding Ambushes

March 12, 2009

As any one who has needed a project approval knows, the Architectural and Site Review Board plays a critical role in this Town. Appointments to the ASRB were considered at the February 24th COWncil meeting. All three candidates were incumbents and the interviews served more as a checkup on the current functioning of the ASRB than as probing interviews to determine their qualifications to serve.

Jack Helfland, who had been appointed to a partial term last year, was asked how his experience on the ASRB so far had gone, and what he thought of the Board. He replied that it was “much better run” than he had thought it would be, and that he had “heard things…”, presumably indicating that he had heard unflattering things about the ASRB before his appointment. He said (and we agree) that the ASRB was a group of people who are “100% committed” to Woodside.” Asked what challenges he had faced, he mentioned learning about the newly required and allowed building materials. He said that it felt like “shifting sands.” Jack’s closing comment was that he’d “like to tell [the COWncil] that we [the ASRB] were 100% consistent [in its findings and rulings……..]” His sentence trailed off, acknowledging that the ASRB in fact is NOT always consistent. He assured COWncil that “We try” which unfortunatly is cold comfort to those whose designs were unnecessarily rejected!

Martha Putnam, another longtime ASRB member, was the next interview. It was very similar to Jack Helfland’s in tone, probing how the ASRB is functioning from her viewpoint rather than assessing her qualifications. She stated that she enjoyed serving on the board. She was very passionate about the use of new materials – especially as her work is now in the design field. She said that new materials are “not perfect” but they’re “getting better.” She did get into a bit of a discussion with COWncil member Carroll Ann Hodges about the upcoming General Plan revision and its effects on the ASRB’s actions. She has some concerns with the current Plan. When Carroll Ann Hodges asked, “Do you think our current Plan is ambiguous?” She replied with a definite yes. She also spoke about the subjective nature of the ASRB’s duties, stating that many Woodsiders want 8,000 square feet houses on lots that should only have 3,000 square foot homes, but also saying that she had seen 8,000 square foot houses that “looked” like they were 3,000 s.f. homes.

Jack and Martha were unanimously appointed to a new full term. Anne Kasten, longtime ASRB member, was out sick and unable to be interviewed by the COWncil. She was rescheduled for a future meeting.

It is interesting to see acknowledgements that there are problems with education and inconsistency of the ASRB aired at a COWncil meeting. The COWncern we hear most often is about the inconsistency in project approvals in Woodside. Eliminating ambiguities in the General Plan is one place to start. Having ordinances which are clear and unambiguous is another. Formal interpretative policies help. Having a Planning Director who does not make up policies as she goes and who is fair will go along way. Training the ASRB, Planning Commission and COWncil itself on changes in the Building and Fire Codes as well as the General Plan once it is complete is essential. Given how important and powerful the ASRB is, we think the COWncil should take some affirmative steps to remedy the concern about the consistency of its decisions.

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