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[whitespace] Unhappy planning applicant takes off the gloves and circulates petition

Commissioner Sandy Decker is target of personal attack

Los Gatos--An applicant, frustrated with the Planning Department's handling of his proposed 10,000 square-foot home, is demanding an overhaul of the Planning Commission and the process.

Los Gatan Dennis Omanoff, armed with the experiences of other disgruntled applicants, has been waging a campaign to make the planning process less subject to the discretion of planning commissioners. He has been circulating a petition airing his grievances about the process and has singled out Planning Commissioner Sandy Decker for a personal attack, claiming that she imposes restrictions on applicants that she ignored when she remodeled her own home.

Omanoff has also posted his complaints and criticisms about Decker on the Internet. His campaign has included several letters to the editor of this newspaper, arguing that commissioners have too much room for subjectivity in their decision-making process.

Decker adamantly denies all of Omanoff's claims about her home remodel. Still, the brouhaha has made her decide that she will recuse herself when Omanoff returns to the Planning Commission Feb. 23 with plans for his home scaled down to 8,000 square feet.

"I don't want to jeopardize the process," Decker said of her decision. "I believe in it."

Omanoff, a high-tech businessman, points to a number of what he calls "arbitrary" commission denials in an attempt to shake up the composition of the Planning Commission and install what he refers to as a more "customer service-oriented approach."

Omanoff, who unsuccessfully applied for a Planning Commission vacancy on Feb. 7, said in a telephone interview, "The applicants have the experience of feeling like they've committed misdemeanors. At the last several meetings I was horrified at the way they were treated and the decisions that were made."

Omanoff has gathered approximately 100 signatures--many from rejected applicants--in his attempt to prove the Planning Commission is out of step with the public.

He told the Los Gatos Weekly-Times, "Sandy Decker in particular has been pretty bad at destroying people's hopes and dreams," Omanoff said. "But her own home is inconsistent with that."

Decker disputes Omanoff's charge that her home is over the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) limits imposed by the town or that her home has been historically compromised. "There isn't a thing on this house that isn't historically correct," she said. According to planning files, Decker's home, even after a new garage and relocated secondary dwelling, is under FAR by two percent.

"He needs a focal point and a rallying cry," Decker said, "and as long as he can use me as an example--and I'm not a good one--he will."

Omanoff's general objections stem from what he sees as the Planning Commission use of "guidelines" as "standards." He claims the commission does not give enough weight to the opinions of project neighbors. "It should be about people, that's what this town is about," Omanoff said, adding that commissioner recommendations on windows, color and other style-related issues are out of line.

However, according to Community Development Director Paul Curtis, because Los Gatos has no separate architectural review commission as some cities, that power is vested in the Planning Commission. He added that while neighborhood concerns were of relevance, those concerns were only one of many factors commissioners had to consider.

"The council is elected by the people to represent them," Curtis said. "They appoint the commissioners to represent the policy of the people who elected them. If five people show up at a meeting, are they representing 30,000 people, or themselves?"

Decker said the commission also has a right and responsibility to examine the size of proposals, even if they technically fall within the FAR requirements, another point with which Omanoff heartily disagrees.

"Mr. Omanoff and I see streets like Chester differently," Decker said, referring to several home additions the commission has recently rejected on the street. "He looks at every large house and I see five large houses and say, 'do we want five more?'"

Omanoff, on the other hand, has argued that the Planning Commission is trying to turn back time instead of looking at neighborhood compatibility. "Standards should reflect what exists today, in reality," he said, adding that he believes the arduous planning process may discourage people from moving to Los Gatos and thereby lower property values.

When speaking of his own proposed house--the third revision of which is a two-story 5,250-square-foot home with a 2,843-square- foot basement and 1,100-square-foot cabaña--Omanoff questions why a house with what he says has a lower FAR than any of the Planning Commissioners' homes is even in question.

"If my neighbors agree and the house is invisible from all public areas and it meets the standards," Omanoff said, "then I'm getting held up be a subjective assessment." Omanoff also rejects any claim that his home constitutes a "monster house," claiming that Commissioner Decker and Commissioner Laura Nachison's homes have much higher FARs and look more out of scale.

"FAR is only a guideline," Decker said. "A monster home is a house whose mass and architecture do not fit with the rest of the town."

Curtis said Decker's choice to recuse herself was based on her own judgment. "Sometimes," Curtis said, "the perception of conflict [of interest] is just as strong as a real conflict."
Nathan R. Huff

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