Woodside council votes for change on architectural review board | March 8, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - March 8, 2017

Woodside council votes for change on architectural review board

by Dave Boyce

Woodside's Architectural and Site Review Board was set this week to conduct a design review of a proposed single-family home on Mountain Wood Lane. The meeting is the first to include John Carvell, who was appointed to the board by the Town Council on Feb. 28 on a 4-1 vote. Five-year board member Maggie Mah, who had applied for re-appointment, received one vote.

Mr. Carvell, who lives in the Woodside Hills neighborhood east of Interstate 280, joins former councilman William McSherry, another Woodside Hills resident, who was appointed to the board by the council on Feb. 14.

Mr. Carvell is a partner at Portola Valley-based 38 Degree Advisors, where his specialty is taking Silicon Valley startup companies through to initial public offerings and beyond, according to a company bio. He has a bachelor's degree in management science from the University of California at San Diego and a master's degree in business from UC Berkeley.

In the 4-1 vote, council members Tom Livermore, Deborah Gordon, Chris Shaw and Daniel Yost voted for Mr. Carvell. Councilwoman Anne Kasten voted to reappoint Ms. Mah.

Not voting were councilman and architect Peter Mason and councilman and general contractor Dave Tanner, both of whom occasionally bring business before the review board. Mr. Tanner was present but recused himself and left the room. Mr. Mason did not attend the meeting.

Ms. Kasten, asked to comment on her vote, said: "I'd just as soon not get into it. This has been too hard for the town. I think the decision has been made. Extremely painful."

Mr. Yost said he based his vote on public testimony, Mr. Carvell's remarks and communications with residents. "I felt that, on balance, a new voice with a new perspective would be preferable," he said.

Mayor Livermore said it was "time for a change." "Maggie has done a great job, a lot of effort," he added.

Ms. Gordon did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Shaw said he voted for Mr. Carvell based on his (Mr. Shaw's) success in the 2015 Town Council race as the "candidate of change" running against then-review board member Nancy Reyering, a target of board critics.

Flash points

The review board had become a flash point for critics complaining that some members were inappropriately subjective in assessing residential projects against the town's design guidelines.

Ms. Reyering recently chose not to reapply for her seat after the mayor and town attorney engaged an outside attorney in mid-2016 to investigate allegations of ethics code violations brought by former councilman Dave Burow, a board critic.

(The council dropped the matter in February after spending nearly $27,500 on the investigation and before determining whether Ms. Reyering had, in fact, violated the ethics code.)

Ms. Mah, asked about critics who associate her with Ms. Reyering and board member Thalia Lubin, told the Almanac that the crux of the issue is that not every site can support the maximum house size while meeting design guideline standards. She and her two colleagues helped revise the general plan and understand the design guidelines' role in upholding the plan's values. "In expressing our opinions, we get accused of being arbitrary and unreasonable," she said.

"I certainly would like to say that I think I've learned a fair amount about this whole process, and if I said anything that ruffled anybody's feathers, it was out of passion," Ms. Mah told the council.

Darlene Batchelder, a Woodside Glens resident, commended Ms. Mah on her passion, recalling a long ago home-building experience that was "incredibly contentious." Had Ms. Mah been on the board, her defense of rural character would probably have led her to "really scrutinize and analyze and push back on plans," Ms. Batchelder said.

"A lot of the push back that we got was warranted," she said, despite the frustration and expense. "It's a slippery slope ... and might really be quite easy," she said, for town character to approach that of Atherton or Los Altos.

Mr. Carvell told the council that he'd remodeled homes of his own in Woodside, Menlo Park and Atherton. He said he'd "heard stories about how difficult it was to build" in Woodside, saying that some contractors he'd worked with told him that working in Woodside was "not worth their time or energy."

"I think it's important for (board) members to have the experience of having gone through the process so they can appreciate what applicants are going through as far as trade-offs and budget constraints," Mr. Carvell told the council. Board members should put aside personal aesthetics and inclinations to micro manage or redesign the house, he said.

The design guidelines are "quite clear," said Glens resident Annie Kaskade in support of Mr. Carvell. "Anybody, anybody, should be able to read them and administer them. In my mind, fresh eyes and a fresh perspective (are) going to interpret them as they are written."

Residents need to know, she said, that when they follow the rules, their projects will be approved.

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