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restrictive building rules

Original post made by Ashok Srinivasan on Mar 11, 2008

Folks, we live in a 1200 sq foot Eichler in the midtown area
and after many years of saving up, decided to take the plunge
and remodel. we are lucky since out house is offset on the lot
and we can add a couple of rooms there. However it seems that
the building rules require us to keep 75% of the walls if we
dont want to be pushed into the new set of rules that require
2 parking spaces which means we'll lose a lot of the space
we add in the bigger garage. The 75% applies to the perimeter
of the house, which means that even if we keep the exterior walls
and use them as interior walls, it wouldn't count. This sounds
extremely unreasonable and will push us into considering a
2-story construction which is not necessarily the best thing
for the neighborhood. Also I have heard 2-story permits
take forever to get. I was wondering if other people have
gone through this process and if they can give me their
impressions/experiences. Perhaps not enough people attend
the city council meetings and provide feedback. I have attended
a few but with kids and a job I barely have the time. Its
completely understandable to make rules that maintain privacy
and neighborhood character but mandating 2 car garages seems
to go too far.

Ashok Srinivasan
Ramona Street

Comments (18)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2008 at 5:37 pm

You are right. These rules are so confusing and do not make any sense. We have been in the same sort of predicament about not being able to add more than 800 square feet to our eichler without having to raise the whole thing 6' above the ground because of the flood plain rules.

This is why there are so many completely demolished houses in Palo Alto rather than add-ons. It is much simpler to get permits to build a new house rather than add additional square footage. If you go too big, you then have to get the whole house up to latest code. The planning department is a law unto itself and I wish you the best of luck.


Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I agree, it is easier and might even be not much more expensive to build a new house, especially if you go with a prefab. Prefabs these days are great, for $120K you can buy a 1,600 - 1,800 sq.ft two story house package, and they come in many styles, people would never guess it is a prefab.


Posted by A Tax payer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2008 at 6:13 pm

You have no idea what might be coming.

A lot of Eichlers can't add a second story even in the flood zone and this is by ordinance of the city and not deed restrictions.

This appears to be a way to devalue your home and make it more easy,less costly for a redevelopment agency to acquire it so the big developers in the city can take over large areas and put in high density housing.

Not long ago it was one wall that had to stay and there were no requirments for two inclosed garage spaces. They probably went to two garage spaces to limit your house size.

What is the current FAR no.?

The new policy seems to be "If certain developers don't own it it can't be used or inproved,expanded"


Posted by BeenThereDoneThat, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 11, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Ashok - Hire a good architect who is familiar with the City rules. Getting permits is not so very complex. A lot of folks choose to demolish the house, since the cost of the extensive remodel comes close to a new construction.

Two car garage a new rule? There are so many new houses being built currently that have just a single car garage. Earlier a car port was required for the second car. These days the car port does not seem mandatory ( atleast haven't seen any new houses sporting a car port )

Get a good architect !

Disclaimer: I am not an architect and no way connected to the construction business.


Posted by Ashok, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 6:42 am

Thanks folks for all the information. This is a great resource!
I think I will get more involved with City politics now! I doensn't
seem like they're working for the citizens.

Claude, Do you have any prefab companies you have had experience
with?

Ashok


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 8:45 am

You can't blame the City for all the building code changes; many of them have been put in place to make the house safer and stronger in an earthquake.

My old home was built on a concrete slab floor which we found had an enormous crack from front to back when we came to enlarge the house. Obviously remodeling was not an option. We had to start with a new foundation - what kind of condition is your house in?




Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

Ashok,
I saw a picture of a house in Palo Alto which was built with a prefab from a Canadian company called Pacific-homes.
Here is the link:
Web Link
and another one:
Web Link
That house in Palo Alto was absolutely gorgeous, mediteranean style, with plastered walls, tile roof and wrought iron details.


Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

Ashok,
I saw a picture of a house in Palo Alto which was built with a prefab from a Canadian company called Pacific-homes.
Here is the link:
Web Link
and another one:
Web Link
That house in Palo Alto was absolutely gorgeous, mediteranean style, with plastered walls, tile roof and wrought iron details.


Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

Ashok,
I saw a picture of a house in Palo Alto which was built with a prefab from a Canadian company called Pacific-homes.
Here is the link:
Web Link
and another one:
Web Link
That house in Palo Alto was absolutely gorgeous, mediteranean style, with plastered walls, tile roof and wrought iron details.


Posted by Euclid, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2008 at 10:10 am

The City does not have a requirement for a two car garage. The current parking requiremnet for a new single family home is two parking spaces, of which one must be covered. You can acheive this requirement with a two car garage, a one car garge and one uncovered parking space located outside the required front setback, a two car carport, or a one car carport and one uncovered parking space located outside the required setback, etc. So in theory you don't need a garage at all. There are countless home layout variations permitted under the current zoning code. I recomend you familiarize yourself with the zoning and building codes or hire a licensed architect who is familiar with the codes in order to find a suitable solution for your situation.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Claude - do you have any idea on what a 2500 sq ft two story prefab house costs? Where in PA is the pre-fab house you saw?


Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2008 at 4:09 pm

I have 3 year old quotes from pacific-homes, back then the prices ranged from $80K to $120K depending on the size. With US dollar weakening against Canadian dollar I wouldn't be surprised if prices increased. I do not know where Palo Alto house they once featured on their web site is located, you can call their California rep and ask yourself. It was a white two story house with red tile roof which looked mediterranean in style. I do not know why they no longer show that picture on tehir web site, perhpas the owner did not want to be bothered....


Posted by Ashok, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2008 at 10:43 am

Thanks Claude, I'll check out the pre-fab house.

I've been talking to the prefab guys and while I dont have
an estimate, they told me it would be close to the best quote
for on-site construction I've had so far - $180 per sq ft or thereabouts.
However if u pick an existing design u save on architect fees
and u save on time and the pain of moving out for 8 months - 1yr.
The foundation takes a month or so to cure and the house can be
put together in a few weeks. I'm seriously considering this option
now but am a little worried that there are so few prefab houses
in palo alto. Also I'm not sure how the house will be appraised
vs an on-site constructed house.


Posted by Ashok, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 13, 2008 at 10:49 am

Jenny, many of the codes do have to do with safety but the many
seem just perverse and unreasonable. For example the reqirement
to keep 75% of the exterior walls on the exterior failing which
new rules apply. That is just ridiculous. You can barely add a
room without touching 25% of the walls in most houses.

Also yes I meant 2 parking spaces not a 2 car garage. In wither
case it takes up a lot of area unnecessarily. I dont see why the
city should mandate how many parking spaces you should have. THe
idea apparently is to take cars off the driveway. That is based
on a mistaken sense of aesthetics. Given how small houses are
in this area and how expensive, the city should be reasonable
and not expect people to use up precious inside space and park
cars in garages. On the east cost with a 3000 sq ft house, yes
you can afford to give up garage space. Here, no. Where will
I store all my junk :)


Posted by Claude, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I actually support the idea of taking cars off driveways, it makes neighbourhood look neater. Not every house has nice looking cars, and the view of a dusty rusty 1970-ies Camaro indeed is not very pleasing.
That said, I agree space is a big issue. That is why I am all for going up, building 2 story houses, whenever possible.
$180 per sq ft for onsite construction sounds like a good deal, so if you are building a 2500 sq.ft house it sums up to $450K.
When I looked at prefab option 3 years ago, I arrived at an estimate of about $300K for a prefab construction (with labor and some upgrades such as exterior stucco), which was roughly $120K materials and $180K labor.


Posted by Also interested, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Ashok,
I think there are quite a few prefabs in Palo Alto, many of new constructions on my street seem like they are.
There is a difference though between a prefab and a modular house. Modular homes are more rare.


Posted by Ashok, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2008 at 6:50 pm

wow, I never considered prefab. I was thinking modular all the time.
I should investigate that. Claude, I'm all for taking cars off
the driveways, It just makes no financial sense in this area. $450k is a
fortune. With these prices its not reasonable for the city to
ask people to give up interior space for cars.


Posted by Cooper, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2008 at 11:27 am

Michelle Kaufmann Designs, architect living in Marin
Web Link
Beautiful pre-fab homes

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with this company. Just appreciate the beautiful design and company philosophy.


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