HomeThis Meeting Is Called to Order

This Meeting Is Called to Order

Frank Hsu and William Dietrick Reflect On Their Time On the Design Review Committee

On Wednesday, June 21, Frank Hsu will gavel in his last meeting as the chair of the Design Review Committee—a role in which he’s served in for the past year.

Seated to his right, the committee’s vice chair, William Dietrick, will also serve in his role one last time at next Wednesday evening’s meeting.

Hsu, a five-year resident of San Marino, and Dietrick, a 45-year resident, could serve three more two-year terms on the DRC, according to the City of San Marino term-limit regulation.

However, after about two years as a non-voting alternate member and then another two years as a full voting member of the committee, Hsu and Dietrick, both of whom said they’ve enjoyed their experiences on the DRC, believe they’ve served their city well.

As they explained in an interview with The Tribune.

“I think we really have a good committee now. And the people we’ll leave behind when we are finished at the end of the month will do a good job. They’re all really nice people and they all do their due diligence,” Dietrick said.

“I’m in my 77th year,” he added laughing. “It takes me roughly 20 hours of time for each meeting—to go over the projects, visit the sites, look at the plans and get ready for the meeting. That’s a lot of time,” he said of the preparation that goes into the committee’s two monthly meetings.

That time commitment has made it impossible to take any long trips, Dietrick noted. “We put off some trips we’d like to take,” he said of his plans to travel with his wife, Joan.

Hsu, too, expressed faith in his fellow committee members.

After conversations with Dietrick, Hsu said, “We feel comfortable leaving it to the new members. I think we’ve done our civic duties for the community. We’re happy that we’re leaving it at this current state, which we’re confident our current members can continue.”

There’s another factor that gives Hsu, an architect, peace of mind as he passes the torch.

“It’s a process,” he said of the committee’s work. “My emphasis is the process rather than individual decisions or individual buildings. Once we have a process in place and people have the trust of this process, things will go much smoother. And so far it has been going pretty well.”

Hsu stated several changes that have been implemented in the last year to improve that process for everyone involved—the neighbors, the applicant, the architect, and the city. First, Hsu eliminated the distinction between ‘major’ projects and ‘minor’ projects, which impacted the city staff’s practice of noticing neighbors. Neighbors near a subject property undergoing a ‘minor’ project used to receive shorter notice about a public hearing than neighbors near a ‘major’ project, he explained.

Hsu reasoned, “But a lot of times we know certain things we say are minor issues, actually it catches a lot of people’s attention. There’s more turnout. So you can’t define a minor project or a major project by the size of the project. Sometimes it has varying significance.”

Another change also involved noticing practices. Committee members now receive their meeting packets, full of architectural plans and analysis, two days sooner than the usual Thursday before the Wednesday meeting. That gives members more time to ask city staff questions, Hsu said, which saves time at public hearings.

“They’ve been pretty good at it, but lately the workloads [increased]. Staff is doing great with what they have. I definitely think they need to staff up a little bit more,” he said.

Dietrick agreed that the workload has increased.

“It’s gotten much busier in the last couple of years. Originally, it would be a busy night if we saw one big, major project and three minor ones with maybe just a roofing change or a fence or a fountain or something like that. Now we’re seeing, every time, five or six projects and at least two major building projects with demolition of the home and building a new two story home,” he observed.

The DRC has taken a different approach to how it handles each project.

Dietrick explained, “Now our committee, that we’ve had for the last year at least, is more concerned with community rights and neighborhoods rights. And I think that’s more important than property rights for the individual myself. I think we really have to take into consideration what this town is and what it means to everybody—that’s why [people] moved here.”

Hsu concurred.

“Now we’re more focused on community and we closely follow the [city’s] Design Review Guidelines,” he said, noting that the committee used to take a right or wrong approach similar to that in a court of law.

“We’ve had these guidelines for 15 or 20 years, but it was more loosely interpreted in the past,” Hsu continued, noting that it’s not the committee’s job to provide design solutions to applicants.

Instead, to receive the most constructive feedback from the committee, he said, architects and designers should come fully prepared.

“I advise these applicants who come here to have as much information as possible, because the more [committee members] know about it, the more we can visualize what they’re trying to achieve and whether it will be appropriate for the neighborhood,” he explained.

One way, he said, would be to clearly identify areas in the architectural plans that are under consideration by the committee—another change that Hsu implemented.

Nevertheless, the city has seen good architectural plans from good architects and an active citizenry, which, Hsu said, is what makes San Marino great.

Dietrick, who referred to his fellow colleague as a “ray of sunshine” for his architectural background and improvements to the communication process with residents, shared a similar thought.

“A lot of the architects are good architects. But, you know what, they’re between a rock and a hard place. They have to deal with us, they have to deal with staff, and then they have to deal with their clients,” he said.

And then there are the neighbors.

“When the neighbors get together and come here, they’re a force,” he observed.

Dietrick summarized, “I think San Marino is a really traditional, small city with neighborhoods, shady streets, [and] nice homes. Everybody’s comfortable here. That’s why it’s in demand.”

Both Hsu and Dietrick listed a house currently under construction at the corner of Virginia Road and Monterey Road as an example of a poor decision by the committee. They opposed the project, which was a 3-to-2 decision.

“That is a very important corner for this city. It serves as a gateway to the heart of San Marino,” Hsu noted.

“Those four corners are all occupied by single-story homes and it had that wide open feel,” he stated, commenting that this two-story home is a “character-changing project.”

“Losing that vote was tough because that house is way too big and massive for the area. But that’s democracy. We had an honest vote and we lost,” Dietrick recalled.

However, Dietrick contrasted that failure with two successes—one on Longden Drive and another on Lorain Road.

“On his fifth time we finally approved it. It was going to be an awful monster of a house and now it’s beautiful. And if you drive down there, you’ll see it fits in perfectly with the neighborhood,” Dietrick said of the Lorain project.

He reflected, “And that’s what our committee has done, we’ve made these big projects into conforming, compatible buildings.”


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