Seeking to protect the distinct Eichler character of their neighborhood, residents of Los Arboles have applied for a zone change that would prohibit two-story homes.
The neighborhood, which is located just south of Loma Verde Avenue, between Middlefield and Ross roads, includes two Eichler tracts that together make up more than 110 homes. Both tracts have applied for a "single-story overlay," a zone change that is currently in place at 12 locations throughout the city but that has not been implemented over the past decade.
The applications were submitted one day after the City Council voted to remove the fees that have traditionally been associated with the zone-change requests but that have not been collected in previous 12 successful applications.
The council's June 29 decision was prompted a grassroots movement from five different Eichler communities that are now considering the restriction. Residents have argued that new mansions are threatening the mid-century Modern character of the Eichler tracts and threatening the privacy of the residents in the squat and glassy Eichler homes. The various fees, which collectively totaled about $8,000, were cited by residents at recent council meetings as the biggest barrier to getting the zone changes.
Now, with the fees stricken, Los Arboles and a smaller adjacent tract Los Arboles 2 are both seeking entry into the no-second-stories club. According to the two applications, each tract has succeeded in getting signed support from more than 70 percent of its homeowners, the city's threshold for such changes (it's 60 percent in areas where there are deed restrictions on second-story homes).
In the case of Los Arboles, the application includes signatures from 66 of the tract's 83 property owners a rate of 80 percent. Rebecca Thompson, who presented the application on behalf of the neighborhood, noted in the application that support has been "enthusiastic and consistently high on every block and even among owners who no longer live here, but are committed to protecting Los Arboles." Faxed and mailed signatures have been received from homeowners living in Texas, Michigan and even Paris, France, she wrote.
Residents of Los Arboles, which includes Holly Oak Drive, Cork Oak Way and Ames Avenue, have been seriously considering pursuing a single-story overlay since at least last fall, when they circulated a survey at the neighborhood's annual block party. The letter accompanying the survey "prompted a lively and overwhelmingly positive discussion at the block party," according to the application, and response to the survey was "high and very strongly in favor of pursuing a zone modification."
In the past, proposals to ban second-story homes have been contentious. The city's last overlay, adopted on Allen Court in 2004, divided the neighborhood down the middle, with supporters of the overlay touting the need to protect the area's character and opponents citing the threat that the new overlay would deal to their property rights and plans for future redevelopment.
After agonizing over the decision, an equally split City Council voted to approve the overlay request. A year later, the city changed the rules to create the 70 percent threshold. And in 2010, the city rejected a proposed overlay in a section of Fairmeadow because there was inadequate support.
In Los Arboles, by contrast, sentiment appears to heavily favor the the new overlay. Of the 17 property owners who have not signed the petition to the city, only six said they were opposed to the overlay. The other 11 were either undecided or unreachable, according to the application. The signature drive took place in May and the application was submitted on June 30.
"The desire of co-applicants is to preserve and protect the single-story character of our unique Eichler neighborhood, and therefore, we ask that this application be processed, approved and adopted as soon as possible," the application states.
The smaller tract known as Los Arboles 2, which is located along Torreya Court, is seeking a similar protection. The application from the 30-home community includes signatures from 24 property owners, an approval rate of 80 percent. This Eichler community is unusual in that it includes nine two-story homes, though as the application makes clear, all nine were built by Eichler and are consistent with the area's aesthetic.
"The houses in our division are architecturally cohesive, sharing similar design style and exterior siding and detail characteristics," the application submitted by Torreya Court resident Dorianne Moss states. "Moreover, with their steeply-gabled roofs that mimic the high cathedral atriums of our subdivision's single-story designs, our asymmetric two-story designs blend in harmoniously with their single-story neighbors.
Moss, who on June 29 urged the council to waive the fee, wrote in the application that many neighbors in Los Arboles 2 have "watched with interest the recent developments in neighboring Eichler communities.
"Gathering signatures for this proposal has been a way to put those concerns into action, and our neighborhood has been pleased to work with our neighbors in the adjoining tract," Moss wrote.
Once the city conducts its own survey of the neighborhoods and confirms the levels of support for the zone change, the council is expected to approve the single-story overlays at the two tracts. The 111 properties would then join the 896 throughout the city that currently prohibit two-story homes. These include sections of Greenmeadow, Charleston Meadows and Barron Park.