February 4, 2014

So many rules and regulations have been put in place over the years that many buildings in Town are officially nonconforming. Staff puts the percentage of nonconforming residences in the R-1 zone at a staggering 75%! As most of us know too well, being considered nonconforming subjects you with a host of restrictions on what you can do with your own property. While Town staff and the COWncil have talked about this major issue for years, they haven’t really done anything about it. Some small measure of relief was passed by the COWncil at their last meeting in 2013. However, rumors of reform in 2014 are swirling. We’ll believe it when we see it!

Meanwhile, back in October, the COWncil heard an appeal from a resident whose house is nonconforming due to it having more square footage than is allowed in its zone. The homeowner was proposing a small addition to improve the home, and planned to demolish an equivalent amount of square footage so no additional nonconforming area would be created. The Town staff had denied this application, interpreting the Code to mean that the footprint of a home was the actual geometry of the existing home as it existed, not square footage. After some spirited debate, the appeal was granted by the COWncil, with Tom Shanahan saying he considered that the homeowner was rightfully interpreting the Code as written and if the Town didn’t like it, they should rewrite it.

Town Staff went ahead and worked with the Planning Commission on language to better define the rules, and to propose an amendment to the Code granting homeowners some relief by allowing them to relocate up to ten percent of the maximum residence size allowed in the zoning district without making them seek an exemption as long as this renovation does not impact neighboring residences.

Shockingly, the Town COWncil not only passed this common-sense change, but even worked with staff to make the proposed rules better! You could knock us over with a handful of hay!

COWncilmember Peter Mason stated that the proposed rules as written wouldn’t help him at his home, since the first requirement was that “the relocated portion [shall] meet all required setbacks and height restrictions.” He noted that his home, and many homes in Woodside, are boxed in in such a way that they have no buildable space in their setbacks. He suggested, and the rest of the COWncil agreed, that instead the standard should be that the new construction cannot intrude into a setback more than the house already does.

Including that change, the new rules will allow the relocation of space within a home so long as:
(a) “The relocated portion shall not encroach into setbacks further than currently exists and shall meet height restrictions;
(b) A portion of the residence equal to or greater than the relocated portion beyond the current footprint shall be removed;
(c) The relocated portion of the residence shall be equal to or lower than the plate and building height of the portion to be removed; and,
(d) The relocated portion shall be limited to 10% of the maximum allowable main residence size for the zoning district without an exception.”

Additionally, “the exception shall not cause significant adverse impacts on neighboring property owners.” Read the rules (without the change in the setback language) here.

We are really pleased that the staff and COWncil worked together to pass this small bit of relief for homeowners in this Town. The ordinance will have its second reading in January after the COWncil’s next meeting. We look forward to more sweeping changes to our Town’s overly restrictive rules on nonconforming structures.

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