Faced with ferocious neighborhood opposition, Palo Alto officials decided Monday to scrap a proposal to limit housing sizes in the foothills.
The City Council last year directed the city's planning staff and its Planning and Transportation Commission to consider setting housing limits in the foothills -- a request that outraged residents in the scenic and affluent open-space (OS) district.
More than 90 property owners from the area signed petitions dismissing the new proposal as a waste of the city's time and resources. Dozens attended the Monday night meeting to urge the council not to create new restrictions.
One resident, Peggy Law, told the council that the city's recent efforts to change the zoning rules in their neighborhood leave residents uncertain about their property values and the city's future requirements.
"This level of uncertainty interrupts people's lives, inhibits economic activities and creates fault lines in the level of trust residents have in their local government," Law said.
The council revised the zoning laws in the open space district a year ago to restrict density of development. Area residents argued that these revisions suffice to limit development size in the foothills and boycotted the city's outreach meeting to discuss the subject.
The planning commission and staff agreed and recommended against making further changes in the zoning ordinance. Commission Chair Daniel Garber told the council Monday that the council's recent revision to zoning ordinance "satisfactorily addressed the maximum house size that can be accommodated on any particular lot."
The commission also agreed that if the council decided to set maximum housing sizes, it should consider 12,000 square feet as the limit. Under this proposal, developers would also be allowed to exceed this threshold if they employ green-building practices beyond what the city requires.
The council agreed with the recommendations from residents, staff and planning commissioners and voted unanimously not to set any housing limits in the foothills. Council members agreed that the city's existing laws, as well as its green-building requirements and its stringent architectural-review process, suffice to ensure new developments won't be too massive for their environments.
Councilman Greg Scharff proposed not setting a housing limit, a proposal that was quickly accepted by the rest of the council. Scharff noted that the subject had already been considered at length by the city's planning officials and said he agrees with their conclusions.
Vice Mayor Sid Espnosa said the city's current policies and regulations "really do set out parameters for good decision making."