Paved Area Regulations Get Chewed Over

March 16, 2012

There are few issues which impact COWs more than the question of how much paved area is regulated. To understand the impact on your property, take a few minutes and watch our description of the impact in a Special Report on MooTube.

There are 2 fundamental questions which need to be addressed: (1) what materials count as paved area and (2) how much paved area is allowed. It is important that Paved Area Regulations have a clearly articulated purpose; be designed to achieve that purpose in the manner which limits our use of our property as little as possible; and avoids being any more bureaucratic and costly than absolutely necessary.

At last Town COWncil is beginning to have a serious discussion of the issue. Staff’s interpretations have varied over the years and similar lots have not always been similarly treated. Depending on who you listen to and who you believe; and what year it is; and what administration is in charge of the Town; and perhaps the phases of the moon and whether moss grows on the sunny side of a tree or not, the reason for the Paved Area Coverage Regulations is that development and covering the land creates “site disturbance” or changing the land from its natural state. Or maybe that’s not why – after all, as has been pointed out by COWncil members, digging a vegetable garden disturbs a site’s natural state. Well, perhaps the issue is drainage – a rationale that says if you cover the land in concrete, the runoff has to go somewhere. But if that’s the case, then gravel and other porous materials shouldn’t be counted against you, as water seeps right through them. Plus, as COWncilmember Burows pointed out at the meeting, Woodside already requires that property owners take care of all water runoff on-site.

Then perhaps the reason is our rural aesthetic – the look and feel of our rustic Town. Perhaps we don’t want all of our trees cut down and property covered in concrete from fence line to fence line. That makes more sense to us and apparently it makes more sense to the COWncil. But what are the limits and what does common sense tell us? Should someone with a larger property only be able to develop a tiny fraction of that property, since the allowed amount tops out at the same square footage whether you have five acres or thirty? Should we encourage gravel – or gravel of a certain color – as opposed to asphalt? Should we carve out exemptions for “rural” or equestrian facilities that would allow people to have riding arenas without using up their entire Paved Area allowance?

The COWncil dug into all these issues at the meeting, and we need to give them credit since they seemed to fully realize that the current standards just don’t work and just don’t make sense. In fact, the confusion over just what the real purpose of this regulations is, reflected the schizophrenic history of the issue.

The COWncil ultimately coalesced around the idea that the real purpose of the rules is to protect and promote Woodside’s “rural aesthetic”. They rejected the idea that site disturbance alone or that drainage should have anything to do with how Paved Area Coverage is calculated.

The COWncil also considered allowances for large equestrian structures like riding arenas and said that they are in favor of giving such allowances in order to encourage and support our equestrian heritage. The COWncil has been signaling a move in this direction for months, recently allowing a homeowner a variance to construct an arena.

Staff was tasked to do calculations to figure out what effect different requirements would create on development in Town and come back with a proposed policy based on those requirements, as well as these rough rules:

• “That if a plant can’t grow through it if it wants,” it is paved area – unless it’s a structure. (Or a pond. Maybe).
• That paved area coverage should be based on a multiplier of the allowed house size on a parcel, but with some method of fairness and common sense involved so that owners of small parcels are not unfairly restricted and that owners of large parcels can not pave over half their land.
• That there should be fair allowances for fire truck turn-arounds in driveways.

The COWncil had some minor disagreements during their discussion, but overall seemed unified in their desire to amend the regulations in the direction of making more sense and allowing more flexibility to homeowners, which we heartily support! Not everyone agreed with the proposed guidelines. One member of the public didn’t think it was a bad thing that homeowners be forced to remove a pool if they want another amenity for their property. The Town Staff, as well, seemed a little bit resistant to the change. It is hard to blame them, since when you’ve been responsible for upholding rules that don’t make sense, sometimes a ‘Regulation Stockholm Syndrome’ occurs.

We’re glad that the Town is finally moving to improve these broken rules. We suggest that they allow for larger limits on lots over the minimum lot size for the zone by making those limits a sliding scale based on lot size similar to limits on floor area. Allow non-conforming lots (lots with existing paved areas over the limit) to reuse paved areas elsewhere as long as they don’t increase the total paved area (using the new limits and percentages). Material limits should be based on appearance with percent allowances for certain types of material over others.

We hope that this issue can be resolved quickly without undue delay and the result will really focus exclusively on the rural appearance and avoid any unnecessary limits on how COWs use their properties and unnecessary bureaucratic hassles.

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