Jumbo home OK'd by Palo Alto planners
11,000-square-foot residence in foothills would stand near Portola Valley border
Weeks after Palo Alto's planning commissioners rejected setting maximum sizes for new houses in the foothills, they found themselves staring at the city's latest development proposal — an 11,184-square-foot "English manor-style" house and swimming pool in the city's pristine open-space district.
The Planning and Transportation Commission unanimously approved the project after voicing minor concerns about the building's architecture, tree selection, grading and light impacts.
Though normally opposed to large developments in the foothills, commissioners agreed that the project has been well thought out and merits approval.
"I think this is a great project that, I think, as a community we can be proud of," Vice Chair Samir Tuma said.
The application for the new house at 805 Los Trancos Road has been in the city's pipeline since 2004, when the Langenskiold Family Trust first proposed it.
On March 3, during a discussion of the city's Comprehensive Plan, which guides future planning, several commissioners said they would hate to see new mansions pop up in Palo Alto's open-space zone, potentially degrading the environment and blocking visitors' views of the rolling hills.
After hearing from several angry residents, commissioners agreed the city's existing regulations and procedures for review are stringent enough to ensure eco-friendly buildings that don't impact views. The commission recommended not setting maximum house sizes but said that if the council chooses to impose housing limits despite the recommendations, 12,000 square feet would be a reasonable number.
The Los Trancos Road proposal, which comes close to the hypothetical maximum, includes a 75-foot-long swimming pool and new palm trees that would screen the property from view. The two-story building would stand in a flat area about 120 feet away from Los Trancos Road, close to the Portola Valley border.
Planning staff said the building would not be visible from any of the city's public lands. The only locations from which the new house could be viewed are the slopes west of the site, near Portola Valley. The 26 new trees would also reduce the property's visibility from public roads.
Commissioner Eduardo Martinez wondered aloud whether the building's English manor style is consistent with the natural landscape of the foothills. He encouraged applicant Mark Conroe to "look at really expressing the building in a more sympathetic way to the beautiful environment where it will sit."
Commissioner Susan Fineberg suggested the palm trees chosen by Conroe are better suited to Stanford's quad-heavy campus than to the former farmland site.
Commissioners also questioned Conroe's plan to build a culvert to allow the Buckeye Creek to flow through the property. Some commissioners, including Tuma and Greg Tanaka, said a bridge might be a more appropriate design element.
But commissioners had more praise than criticism for the proposal, with Lee Lippert calling it a "great project" and Tuma lauding its sensitivity to the environment.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at email@example.com.