Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 3, 2010

Historic neighborhood debates home improvement

Palo Alto board postpones decision on 405 Lincoln Ave.

by Georgia Wells

When longtime Palo Alto residents Allen Akin and Michelle Arden bought 405 Lincoln Ave. in 2007, planning to build a larger home for their growing family, they didn't expect to still be bidding for the city's approval three years and $500,000 dollars later.

But their purchase in the Professorville neighborhood triggered a debate over property rights versus historic preservation. The neighborhood has been designated a Registered Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places, and their home — according to some people — contributes to that character.

On Wednesday, the city's Historic Resources Board met to review Akin and Arden's plans and solicit comments from the public.

No decision was made. The board will revisit the issue at its Oct. 6 meeting, when it will review more information about the proposed design's compatibility with neighboring houses.

The current home, which sits at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Waverley Street, is a modest, single-story Spanish Colonial-Revival structure, dating back to 1923. Due to its location in the neighborhood, changes to the home required an environmental-impact review be conducted.

"It was determined that the property is a contributor to the National Register, so the thrust of the environmental-impact report is to ensure that the replacement structure is designed in a manner that retains the integrity of the district," consultant John Wagstaff said.

Akin and Ardin explored a plan for adaptive re-use of the existing structure, but the resulting home would not be large enough for the family. The couple works from home, has two children and needs accessibility for Akin's disabled father.

"If we couldn't build something that could work for us, there was no sense in buying it," Akin said.

Preservationists fear that a domino effect will take hold in the neighborhood if the home is allowed to be replaced. Should it be demolished, "a precedent may be set for the demolition of other homes that are original to this historic district," Palo Alto resident Mary Ojakian said in an open letter to the city.

The structure, she said, is largely unchanged from its original design.

Other residents, including Miriam Palm and Beth Bunnenberg (a member of the Historic Resources Board but speaking as a resident) brought up the significance of the house's former owner and designer, the Duryea family, suggesting the structure should be considered more historical than its classification.

Father John Duryea became nationally famous in 1976 for publicly announcing he had "done the one thing the (Catholic Church) institution will not tolerate. I have fallen in love," according to a 2006 Palo Alto Weekly article.

Palo Alto resident Susan Beall also spoke to the fears that the Professorville Historic District designation could be lost with the demolition and re-development, she said in an open letter to the city.

"In the past, there have been demolitions in the neighborhood, and if this continues, the district will no longer meet the criteria of historic designation."

Akin and Arden, however, said they met with city planning and building staff before they bought the house, to ask whether the house could be demolished. They received both written and verbal assurances, they said, though they would not provide details or documents to the Weekly.

The city did not return calls for comment.

"Right now we'd much rather build a house than have a lawsuit," Akin said.

He sees no reason to worry about a domino effect if his demolition is approved.

"If it goes through, I think it will be the last new house in Professorville — because nobody will be willing to go through this," he said.

Comments on the draft environmental-impact report will be taken through Sept. 9. A copy of the document can be found on the city's website, www.cityofpaloalto.org.

Editorial Intern Georgia Wells can be reached at gwells@embarcaderopublishing.com.

Comments

Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 10:28 am

I thought this was settled in the late 1990's and we got rid of the onerous "historic" preservation ordinance. Is it back? I hope not.


Posted by Shame on them, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 2, 2010 at 10:37 am

>I think it will be the last new house in Professorville --
That's ok with me, we need remodeling not demolition.
What kind of rich luddites buy a charming historic house and want to demolish it?
Know-nothings without the imagination to update that wonderful house.
I visited when the Duryea family lived there. Shame on these self-important self-centered people with more money than taste.


Posted by Lisa, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

I am a long-time PA resident - and I think this is terrible - Another house to be destroyed - It always puzzled me why someone would move into a charming neighborhood, and then destroy the old, charming house that was a part of that neighborhood. If you want to destroy what Palo Alto, then just let this be part of the trend. Why do people want to destroy Palo Alto? I fought against the ordance back in 1999; and it should be re-instated. Just remodel,and keep the historic character. We have already lost too many nice old houses- If you want a new house - move to San Jose or Mountain View!


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:16 am

"What kind of rich luddites buy a charming historic house and want to demolish it?

Know-nothings without the imagination to update that wonderful house. "

Welcome to Palo Alto--were people are understanding and kind!!!
Notice how right away when someone disagrees with someone else's plans for their home, they immediately switch to insults and derogatory comments. Also telling people to move somewhere else because they disagree with their plans is a bit infantile as well.
this has been an ongoing issue in PA--where do personal property rights end and how far does the right of neighbors to tell you what to do or not do with your property go.
It would be nice if the current owners could produce the documentation that they claims shows that the city said they could tear down the place.
The easy solution would be for Mary Ojakian,Miriam Palm, Beth Bunnenberg and Susan Beall to buy the place and keep it as it is.
The problem in PA is the same one that we had 10+ years ago--some people feel that everything in PA is historic--they do not realize the difference between old and historic.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

This will affect their property values, after all, who will want to buy a home that they are unable to modernise, alter, and upgrade.


Posted by Stan Hutchings, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

Living in Old Palo Alto, I've seen dozens of "charming cottages" scraped and replaced with a new structure. I must say, most of the changes were for the better. I'd hate to live in some of those "charming cottages", with old lead pipes, ancient electrical systems, crumbling foundations, leaky roofs, and other ravages of time. It would cost more to remodel them than to scrape and build new, with a structure up to current building codes, and thus much safer. It should meet the needs of the family, not the nostalgic wishes of neighbors.
If we really want to retain the past, forget about new libraries, schools, police departments, city halls, stores, etc. Keep the ones we fondly remember. No? Then why should a homeowner be forced to live in discomfort just so neighbors can see an old structure?
We trade in old cars (except an occasional restored classic} - we aren't forced to remodel, we get rid of old computers, cell phones, and other appliances. Indeed, Palo Alto pays us to upgrade our furnaces, refrigerators and other inefficient energy-wasting appliances. Why not houses? Indeed, we should encourage scraping old energy-wasting houses and replace them with "green design" houses that are in harmony with the environment, using solar and all the other green principles that will help us live in harmony with nature.
That should be the function of the city permitting process, to encourage the maximum possible use of green design, in harmony with nature and the neighborhood.


Posted by commonsense, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:59 am

It was foolish for the buyers to think they could just tear this house down. Like it or not, this is a historic district and it's pretty clear that tearing down is a no-no. However, there should be exceptions and this is one of them. The code has maximum square footage rules that allow for a much larger house on this lot but the city is holding a double standard here. Preserve what is worth preserving but covering an entire neighborhood with that title is ridiculous.


Posted by A Presservation Supporter, a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:59 am

The Historic Ordinance never went away, it as been part of the municipal code since 1980. The current form of the ordinance leaves the HRB with only the power to make recommendations to homeowners (downtown properties are a different issue). What has happened here is that California Environmental Quality Act is now being applied to individual homes within the historic districts because the district qualifies as a historic resource under CEQA legislation. Don't be surprised to if this soon spreads to all historic properties or anything the city feels is a significant historic property not listed on the inventory, not just those home in the historic district. Unfortunately the City does not bother to tell home owners this until they are submitting their proposed design for review and that they now have to go through the EIR process or change their design if the city feels it does not meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

What everyone here has been skipping over is that the current homeowners asked the City Planning Department if they would be allowed to demo the home BEFORE they bought the property and the city said YES. Unfortunately this is not uncommon here in Palo Alto. I have heard from other prospective buyers of historic properties that Planning will tell them they can do anything they want with the property. This allows for the appearance of property rights, but unfortunately this just creates an horrible process and leaves new property owners with the wrong impression of what can be done to a property.

If you're going to blame someone, look at the City for the lack of clarity with homeowners and the inability to recognize that a simple overlay of adopted design guidelines or a revised historic preservation ordinance would solve many of the problems people have demos and remodels in Professorville.


Posted by Let them build, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Professorville is not historic Savannah or Charleston… and thank goodness. Our town has always been a forward thinking community and our lasting legacy is progress. Sure, there is much to preserve in Professorville and I'm sure the Duryeas are a proud family. However the family doesn't make the existing home historic and the home does not contribute materially to the character of the neighborhood. The Akin/Arden family should be allowed to begin building their home.

Like a lot of people, I still groan when old homes are demolished – these are the familiar places that I remember seeing over many years. I especially cringe when something dreadful is built, but the HRB's purpose is not to be an arbiter. Bad taste doesn't seem to be a problems with the proposed residence; neighbors should feel lucky that a stucco palazzo with a two-story foyer won't rise from the ground. The new home seems thoughtfully designed and as though it will add to the eclectic charm of the neighborhood.

It's a shame that this (probably very nice) family has received such a chilly reception from snobbish, clucking neighbors.


Posted by Defeated, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Brian says: "we got rid of the onerous "historic" preservation ordinance. Is it back?"

No Brian it never went away, Palo Alto has an old historic ordinance. The historic ordinance that was voted on and defeated some 10 years ago was an attempt to create a much tighter historic ordinance which would have affected all homes in Palo Alto 50 years or older. Or make it possible to create certain neighborhoods with predominantly 50 year old homes historic.

This was a historic regulation that could have prevented residents thoughout the City from either tearing down or remodeling their homes.


Posted by Good neighbors are important, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I think we pay too much attention to the homes people live in and not enough attention to the people who live in them. The family who is attempting to move into this neighborhood sounds lovely. If given a chance, they'll probably be great neighbors.


Posted by Clive, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm

The people who tell others what they can or cannot do with their property should buy the property and preserve it if they feel so strongly. The preservationists are trying to save something they feel is historic for future generations. But after they leave or die, will future generations feel the same way? A lot of hubris here.

Sounds like the owners are trying to improve something, not destroy it. We need more people like that, not fussy dictators of fashion.


Posted by costs, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm

How do you spend $500,000 on getting bidding for the city's approval?
Or is this mostly the architect fees and they want to build a $5,000,000 home? In which case, it's a bit of mis-reporting.


Posted by cost 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm

the cost are a combination of architect's fees during the many redesigns to get the city's approval, city staff fees for writing the EIR, and the costs of the city's EIR and Historic consultant. And yes the applicant pays them all.


Posted by Kathy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Wish there was an easy way to match up Palo Alto's growing families and empty nesters. There are probably nearby neighbors who are considering downsizing from a property that may be a very good match for this family's needs. They could make it their own with remodeling, and everyone would benefit.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Let me put in my 2cents of experience. I am at the moment in an historical area of one of the country's largest cities. Historical means that an area has important and unique characteristics that relate to its history, independently of its age. Professorville is an historic area and every building contributes to the atmosphere and recollection of the past.
The house in question is therefore an part of an historical footprint.
In the East Coast city I am currently writing from you wouldn't believe the restrictions we have and furthermore , the residents, shepherded by our local association, the city and the historical commission agree to them. The houses are not big, architecturally important, fancily designed,and none of them was designed by anybody famous. It the set of them, rather than each individually, that makes the area historical. Therefore no alterations of any kind shape or sort are permitted to what is visible to the outside.

I sympathize with the Arden/akins. I have many neighbors that have engendered interesting legitimate solutions for their lack of space, handicaps and alterations which go against the rules. So can the Akins/Arden. They knew or should have known that there are restrictions in the area in which they bought. What they should not do is to inflict a collective harm in their quest for their new residence. Palo Alto's origins and history will be unrecognizable in a few years if they should be permitted visible alterations to their structure. The Akins/ Arden architect will know how to adapt their needs to a renovated footprint, but it seems to me that what they are saying is essentially that they want it built and built as they want it. There are other Palo Alto non historical areas in which they could have bought and build to their needs without resorting to ersatz style. If they are successful a slippery slope will have been built from which the city will find difficult to extract itself. And we all lose.





Posted by Stan, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

"Clive" (from College Terrace) is exactly right. If a committee wants to control private property, then they should purchase it, put a restrictive covenant on the deed and a plaque on the house denoting its historical convenant. Problem solved!

Why are the historical committee types trying to take away private property rights? According to them, an historical house/district is worth more than if it is newly built. Commen sense says that they can have their cake and eat it, too.


Posted by T-par-T, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Shame on them, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

If the city wants to have property marked as historical, then the city should buy the house and make it into a museum. If it is such thing as "collective harm" from remodeling the house, the "collective" should put their money where their mouth is and pay for it rather than take the property value away from its owner.

These ordinances are usually voted in by folks who want to preserve their own view of what the neighborhood should be, and it's incredibly selfish.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Toady says:
"If it is such thing as "collective harm" from remodeling the house, the "collective" should put their money where their mouth is and pay for it rather than take the property value away from its owner"

The collective is represented by the city, state and country and by the power of the American Constitution regulate urban development. *. They pay collectively for many improvements that only some use, or some use less. Believing that some urban property has an intrinsic value beyond what is a market value, which is controlled among many other factors, by zoning (which cities control), makes no sense to me or the market. Nobody takes anything from these property owners. Rather, maybe they payed too much to begin with. The right to the value of a property is not guaranteed by the Constitution, as we can plainly see in the present economy and conditions.
As any educated person knows we don't live a libertarian dream of doing whatever we want. There are laws and conventions. And since beauty and ugliness is in the eye of the beholder I bet that property owners would object to other people's interpretation of it and would complain of eyesores and other"delicacies" in their area. To claim that we should do what we want with our properties shows lack of awareness of one's own limits for the acceptable. In any case, it will be decided at some point and I hope the threat of a lawsuit will not deter from the application of the rules....

* This is not an eminent domain case but if it were, actually, the Roberts Supreme Court (2005) affirmed the authority of cities under certain conditions to take private property by eminent domain.


Posted by Ashamed of some people, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I am not sure why Shame on them continues to denigrate this couplr--besides the fact that he feels that they should not rebovate their home. He has calle dthem Luddites and said that they are selfish and greedy. Plus he questions anyone that comments about these people being nice.
Does Shame on them know this couple?
Unfortunately this is not a unique response. We constantly hear of people who do not agree with other people's taste, insult them and/or their homes--the terms McMansion, taco Bell Home etc have become accepted terminology in Palo Alto. And of course people in PA love to say how wonderful they are and how special this city is--news flash--people in Palo Alto are just like people everywhere else.
Instead of hurling insults--we should be working towards a solution. One poster raised the point of where do individual property rights end and where do the rights of others to tell citiznes what to do with their property end. this has never been addressed--it seems that some people ove to throw around the word "historic" and then claim that they can control your property.
Unfortunately people like Shame on them contribute nothing towards a solution to these problems


Posted by Stan, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I seriously doubt that the City Council wants to see this thing raise its ugly head again. It was a real disaster last time, and they got beat at the polls. Same will happen again, if the CC tries to make property owners more exposed to takings.

Our CC unanimously supported HSR, now they are back pedalling as fast as they can. They don't need even more trouble.

So-called "historic" residences can be bought by individuals or groups, and established as "historic" by those individuals. They can then sell them in the open market, with the covenant on the deed that "historic" rules apply. No problem, as long as they assume the risk.


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm

"Nobody takes anything from these property owners. Rather, maybe they payed too much to begin with."

Sorry to be pedantic, but it's "paid."

You're absolutely false about nobody taking anything from these property owners. Having lived in the city and watch how NIMBYs ply restrictions upon restrictions on owners who wish to simply fix a window, you better freakin' believe that the property owner pays for these stupid restrictions.

It is definitely the collective taking away from an individual's rights.


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 3, 2010 at 8:27 am

Check out today's (fridays) Daily Post--there is an article about this whole issue. It is quite clear how people who are against change and feel that they can control other people's property operate in Palo Alto--it is through a never ending series of delays,reviews, double talk and obstruction--with the obvious hope that the cost will scare you off. As we all know--certain people in Palo Alto have figured out one way or another to get their way, regardless of the cost to others.


Posted by Gail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2010 at 8:49 am

What about the rights of people who have already purchased homes in historic districts because they enjoy being surrounded by older homes? Why should they be penalized and have to look out their front window and see a new, perhaps contemporary home? I guess the Akin family wants to be surrounded by older, charming homes, but they don't want to live in one themselves. They want to look out their front window and enjoy seeing a historic home across the street. What motivates people to purchase an older home in a historic district and then want to tear it down? Selfishness. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

"What about the rights of people who have already purchased homes in historic districts because they enjoy being surrounded by older homes?"
Well, that is a question I am asking as well--how far do the "rights' of neighbors extend? Becasue you have a home that you enjoy, do you have the right to tell your neighbors what their home should look like? Can things only change according to your tastes as far as all or your neighbors go? Do you really have a "right" to dictate what your surroundings will be like when it comes to other's private property?

"I guess the Akin family wants to be surrounded by older, charming homes, but they don't want to live in one themselves. "
where do you get that conclusion--if you read the article you will see that they want a bigger home. Maybe also if they had not been told multiple times that there would be no problem tearing down the house they would not have bought it to begin with!!
This issue of city double talk needs to change as does the onerous review process, that favors everyone else except for the actual property owner


Posted by MIssing Something, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I must be missing something, looking at the photos, the front entrance looks quaint but the photo of the thing attached to the garage looks horrible. I can't believe anyone would complain that they want to look at that or that the structure has any historic significance.


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Some People in Palo Alto do not know the difference between old and historic--the house is old --but does that make it historic?
Just remember it could be worse--a decade ago people were pushing to have anything over 50 years old declared historic--one of those people is on the city council (so heaven help us if the issue ever gets back there again). Some people in PA just cannot accept the fact that there is nothing historic in Palo Alto--so they must create "historic" structures--after all if THEY are living in this city, it has to be historic, otherwise PA is not special!!!


Posted by Michelle Arden, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

To all who have commented on this story: I'm the "Arden" involved. We can't respond to all of your comments individually. However, we have tried to document the complex set of facts and their history at the following URL.

Web Link

We understand that this is a difficult topic and that there are many valid opinions. CEQA has potentially very wide-reaching effects on the community as a whole and it is worthwhile taking the time to understand those effects.

For those who knew the Duryea family, we have long been in touch with John's daughters through a mutual contact, and they have expressed no concern to us about a potential demolition. They have our full agreement that, should a demolition take place, they would have anything that they considered to be of value from the current structure.

Michelle


Posted by J, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I recall an addition/remodel of a historic home in Professorville a year or so ago that raised concerns from a few people because an EIR requirement was being "threatened" if the project did not conform to the Secretary of the Interior's guidelines for modifying historic homes. I believe that the applicant ultimately avoided the EIR requirement by simply making a few architectural/design changes to the project so that the HRB was able to find that the project conformed with the guidelines. All it took was being responsive to the specific concerns of the HRB. I recall that the addition/expansion was a fairly large one.

It's the proposed complete demolition of the 405 Lincoln Ave. home that triggered the EIR requirement, and the corresponding big expense and additional delay, but Akins and Arden chose to pursue demolition instead of expansion, so I'm not sympathetic about the extra costs that they have incurred as a result of their decision.

While I'm not a big fan of Palo Alto's Planning Department as a whole, I think that the individuals on the planning staff who handle historic properties are careful, knowledgeable and helpful professionals, and I don't believe that staff gave assurances that a specific result would be achieved. I think that staff just provided the information on the process that needed to be followed in order to get approval for demolition, a process that apparently was successful in the past(perhaps all too often, depending on your point of view) for other applicants.

I've observed that property owners who work with their neighbors and who are responsive to their neighbors' concerns are able to get approval of their discretionary projects must faster (and presumably with less expense) than property owners who stubbornly insist on having things only their way.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2010 at 3:41 pm

"Maybe also if they had not been told multiple times that there would be no problem tearing down the house they would not have bought it to begin with!!"

For over ten years, the culture in the Planning Division has been to facilitate intensified development regardless of the requirements of the Zoning Code and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Applicants like large developers take advantage of the planning culture to make more profit on development.

Individual home owners who want to redevelop a property by relying on advice from the same planning staff are often submitting plans that violate the Zoning Code and state environmental law, but the only time the city and state laws are upheld is when somebody is willing to risk their own time and money in a CEQA lawsuit to uphold the laws.

Ultimately, the planning culture is a reflection of who is on the City Council and who they hire as City Manager.

The only reason an EIR was required for this project is because the City lost the Juana Briones lawsuit.

If there had not been a lawsuit that the City lost, then the planning staff would have continued to give pro-development advice contrary to law for historic homes based on the expectation that nobody would sue and, if somebody sued, the City's cost of any lawsuit would come from money that would have been used to supply services to residents.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Toady, tell that to the Roberts Supreme Court...

Some try to frame this discussion as if the problem is one house that isn't or is historical, so that they can argue it isn't.
The house is inserted in an historical area. weather or not the building itself is historical is of no consequence. My east coast house is a "fluke" of sorts since today it wouldn't be allowed to exist. It's one of the very few structures that is not old-it was build in the 70's
in a space provided by two decaying structures. Guess what? I cannot change anything on the visible footprint and even the back (visible from another street) and the visible side cannot be altered because it's in an historical area.
Maybe we should have some idea of what historical entails legally, in Palo Alto. I too, do not believe that city staff would assure the Arden/Akins that it would be possible to demolish their structure-staff have no standing to do that.
The previous owners' opinion is irrelevant.
Can the Ardens/Akins, simply add to the back of the house and have vegetation hide it from the street. Can they add and keep the style (without ersatz features , please).

If the city is forced to approve the project due to the threat of expensive litigation I foresee a slippery slope on these matters. In so young a country, and even younger Palo Alto, seems to me it's worth preserving whatever little exists of how it was that we got
were we are now. Urban preservation is a part of that collective history.


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2010 at 5:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Charming is not an exlusive RIGHT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 3, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Only people 100years ago knew how to build charming houses. It appears they do not have that skill anymore.

So a historical human being will make you believe.


Posted by Sue, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2010 at 6:42 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by EcoMama, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 3, 2010 at 8:04 pm

We briefly attempted to go through a permitting process in Palo Alto for a minor change to our property -- a change we abandoned because the department is run by imbeciles who seem to enjoy nothing more than holding families by the balls, dragging their feet, and, in the end, approving not a darned thing -- even within the regulations. Like this family, we have written commitments from the City that the City then failed to honor. Maybe if the City lost a bunch of related lawsuits, things would finally changed. To that end, I hope the family does sue. My change wasn't worth fighting for.

In my case, I learned my lesson: Buy a home in Palo Alto that requires no work and that you don't plan to change at all. Forget what the neighbors say -- you'll never get past the City. Like someone else said, if you want new, move elsewhere, to one of the surrounding cities that actually serves its residents well. I love living in Palo Alto, but you couldn't pay me enough to ever set foot in that miserable planning department ever again -- some of the worst, most misery-making people I've ever dealt with in my life. I'd rather go to the DMV!!!


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2010 at 3:59 am

EcoMama,
cities and their planning departments don't issue commitments-they issue permits or deny changes.The city couldn't have issue a "commitment" to you or to anybody else.
Yes, sometimes rules and regulations need to adjust, but did you want to change the outside or the inside of your house? If it is the outside, then the city is within their rights to deny alterations that don't conform with the regulations. But looking at the number of remodels that I see going on it looks that most people had no problem obtaining permits.
You say "Maybe if the City lost a bunch of related lawsuits, things would finally changed. To that end, I hope the family does sue."

Maybe , who knows they would win. Maybe who knows, they wouldn't.
What doesn't do is a diatribe against people in the planning department who are just enforcing regulations. You seem to think that they are there to make "your" life miserable as if you are so very important that they direct their misery at you. All others who are happily remodeling are just less important....or could it be that they abided by the rules?


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Sep 4, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Only in Palo Alto do residents love government rules and regulations. They complain loudly when they don't get their way but religeously embrace the "Palo Alto Process" when someone tries to move forward. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Bill, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I know Allen and Michelle well. They are more than reasonable people. They do not deserve this, and the process in the City is obviously broken (spoken by a former Planning Commissioner and an owner of a historically-designated home that we managed to save and renovate with great pain a decade ago).

I hope this public scrutiny convinces the powers that be on Hamilton Avenue to do something, and let them get on with their lives and build a nice home. I am very convinced they would would build a tasteful home that is very consistent with the historic character of the neighborhood.


Posted by Susan, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 5, 2010 at 7:52 am

To Michelle Arden -

Nice job in writing and posting your letter. Makes a lot more sense to me. Web Link

I'm sorry to hear about your difficult situation. I'm surprised the City of Palo Alto did not grandfather the agreement they had with you, as it seems they changed the laws to require a EIR only AFTER they previously assured you that demolition was OK. I don't see how that is fair.

I just wonder if they provided you these assurances in writing, and if yes, then how can they now go back on their word?


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

"Urban preservation is a countrywide issue."

Nonsense. It's a local issue for people who live in the areas affected. This is a neighborhood, not Disneyland. Living neighborhoods evolve. Frozen neighborhoods die. Your stance is the epitome of NIMBYism. It's the "I have my place here already and screw all the new people coming in."

If urban preservation were so important, why isn't everyone clamoring for the Mission in San Francisco to return to its Irish roots? Preservation is in the opinion and timeline of the beholder.

And by the way, this is not "urban" - it's suburban in every definition of the word. The use of the term here is hilarious. Anyone who's lived in a real urban area would not call this urban.

Stick to your neighborhood where you live, temporary or not.


Posted by Shame on them, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 5, 2010 at 10:59 am

I don't know how you would know it will be a nice house, there are no pictures of it, just sketches and elevations. I didn't see anything beautiful. It will be big and MODERN.
Since Bill is a friend of the people and he is, "very convinced they would would build a tasteful home" his opinion is not worth a whole lot.
I hope he wasn't so biased when he was on the Planning Commission.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2010 at 11:52 am

@shame on them

Why do we allow MODERN cars to park in Professorville? The neighborhood doesn't look historic with post-war cars.


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 5, 2010 at 11:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Shame on them, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm

No one is calling the police. Keep cool.
It's OK if you don't know who the Duryea family was, but don't be so proud of your ignorance.
They bought an old house in a historic district with the plan to demolish it. Yes, Shame on them.


Posted by old vs historic, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 6, 2010 at 8:18 am

Clearly some people feel that they have the right to control what does not belong to them.
AS for buying the house with plans to demolish it--they were told by the city that that would not be a problem. Well, at least you agree that the house itself is not historic, but just old. That is a good start.
As for the Duryea family--they may have been long time residents of Palo Alto, but that does not make their home historic in anyway.


Posted by Ada, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2010 at 8:34 am

Can't see what so special about this historic building. Pretty boring, in my opinion. I'd rather see it replaced with something more interesting architecturally.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 7, 2010 at 2:39 pm


The building may not be historic but reflects a time and style of architecture that is historic and the housing ensemble that is Professorville is one of not many such neighborhoods. Any significant element that is lost in rebuilding leaves the neighborhood in a difficult position to claim its stylistic heritage. This country is very young and Palo Alto younger still. Tearing down the past to unrecognizable shreds leads to a dilution of social and urban cohesion. Is that what people want?


The city has NOT told the owners that they could tear down . The city still has to make a decision. The City may well decide that they will allow a tear down. But so far it hasn't . But, of course, it may.

Toady, urban (a word that comes from latin urbi ), it''s any agglomerate that
forms a city of any size. In urban planning parlance it denotes any population of some density, its rods, buildings, institutions and social environment . I am well acquainted with the parlance of urban planning. The reason Toady doesn't want me this discussion is because he see I actually have some reasoned arguments. Having just arrived from new york where preservation is a big deal I am a little wary of comments that reflect a purely local view of preservation, but in any case Toady, I will comment as long as the editor doesn't mind. It is actually none of your business.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Toady says "If urban preservation were so important, why isn't everyone clamoring for the Mission in San Francisco to return to its Irish roots? "

Except that Mission san Francisco doesn't have Irish roots , tough the Irish are the late (relatively) newcomers to what was a Spanish Mission. You have your urban history a little scrambled today, Toady.


Posted by David Lieberman, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I live a block away from 405 Lincoln and I walk by it several times a day.

It is a rather nice Spanish style home. There are thousands of near copies in Palo Alto. The predominant style of Professorville is Craftsman. In fact 405 Lincoln is probably the the only Spanish style house in the district. The idea that replacing it would violate the integrity of the district is absurd. Furthermore the 400 block of Lincoln is completely eclectic and should never have been included in the district.

Apparently, the opposition to demolition is being led by four politically well-connected neighbors who simply don't want the inconvenience of construction next door. Their viciousness is frightening. There actually are communities in this country where newcomers are welcomed and problems are resolved personally and amicably. Unfortunately, Palo Alto is not among them.

And to the people who don't believe you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting through the permit process, you are wrong. I have heard horror stories greater than this one.


Posted by Shame on them, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 18, 2010 at 4:00 pm

"405 Lincoln is probably the the only Spanish style house in the district"
Are you serious? Time to get a new prescription for the bifocals.
The "newcomers" who claim to have lived a few blocks away for many years should have had a clue about the neighborhood they were planning to disrupt.
They hired an insider architect, he was on the Architectural Review Board for years, and was its Chairman for a long time. Chances are he is the one who assured them he would get their controversial plan approved.
There are no innocent novices here. They bought a house in a historic district with an insider architect and a plan to demolish.


Posted by Anti-Shame, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 18, 2010 at 4:13 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I tend to believe David Lieberman, given he used his name, and wrote a fair little piece, with some factual support.


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