March 17, 2008

We constantly hear complaints that Planning Director, Hope Sullivan, is inconsistent in her decisions. Based on what COWs tell us and things we have herd at Council meetings, we believe that staff is consistently inconsistent.

During the discussion of the gravel policy at the Council meeting on February 26th, a speaker, who is a project manager, expressed the frustration many have with Woodside’s planning process. This gentleman’s client does not have enough “paved area” left to put a wooden deck around his pool. Apparently, other people, including a couple of the speaker’s own clients, have had credit added to their paved area allowance for having permeable surfaces like clay tennis courts – but this client was denied similar credit. We want to know why. We have herd that staff sometimes ignores all the gravel used for a riding arena, yet counts a walkway of gravel to the barn. We don’t understand why.

Some COWncil members are beginning to express concern about the uneven hoofed way that COWs are treated, which gives us hope. (check out the video here from that COWncil meeting). We urge them to make addressing this concern a priority.

An example of the arbitrariness of the building process, caught our ears at a Town COWncil meeting on October 23rd (check out the video here or our Round-Up here) As we understand it, that appeal involved remodeling the existing garage of a guest house to create a nicer appearance and more useful cabana. The guest house was nonconforming. Hope said that this proposal was a change in use and therefore, not allowed. It was allowed by the Council when they became convinced that others had been allowed to do exactly what this applicant proposed to do.

This sure peaked our interest and we have been checking out the Town records for ourselves. And yes, we found examples of others who were treated differently. For example, another non-conforming garage was allowed to be changed to an art studio and an attached garage was allowed to be changed to a family room although both are nonconforming properties. Another property owner was allowed to remodel a garage which was attached to a nonconforming structure because of a setback exception. However, a setback exception is only supposed to be allowed on one side of a building not two and this house is nonconforming on both side yards. What the hay?

One that we are really amoozed at was a nonconforming shed (that was too close to the property line) which was allowed to be torn down and a pool house built in its place, even though it would still be too close to the property line. Those property owners were able to tear down a falling down shed with no electricity and rebuild adding plumbing, electrical, and sewer lines and a porch area to it changing it to a new pool house, with staff approval. We think this certainly a change in use but it was allowed. So why did Hope treat one applicant differently from others? We don’t have an explanation.

We keep hearing complaints about inconsistency. We have been told of some construction work in creeks allowed without notifying Fish and Game or review by the Planning Commission while other similar work is referred. Why are some projects required to pay for geology tests and fees yet, others, in similar circumstances are not? Why are some required to “prove” their cost estimates on a job and forced to use “Woodside rates” while others are not? Why are some small projects required to have costly full site surveys done while other larger projects are not? This list goes on – we think you get the idea.

We can’t help but wonder why properties are held to different standards, despite identical circumstances? Apparently, because Hope Sullivan decides so.

Based on the concerns expressed about arbitrariness and fear of retaliation, Susan George took on the task of looking into the problem over two years ago. She held a number of meetings regarding arbitrariness and retaliation (see our story here ) but there was no public report, no COWncil hearing, no recommendations and obviously no change. COWncil, we ask you why?

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