Los Arboles makes bid to ban two-story homes

Two Eichler-style tracts apply for a 'single-story overlay' zone

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.

Related content:

Palo Alto residents seek to keep their Eichler neighborhoods from growing — upward

Planned home brings angst to Eichler block in Palo Alto

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14 people like this
Posted by your resident palo altan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 11:25 am

This has seriously got to be the dumbest and snobbiest issue ever. Let people build whatever houses they want on their properties, even luxury skyscraper apartment buildings for all I care. Unless there are federal airspace regulations, there shouldn't be any restrictions on what kind of homes people can build on their own properties.

10 people like this
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Dumb, who knows what the future will hold!!! Realtors tell me that single story overlay has not affected property values yet but in the future when the next generation comes on board they will want to rebuild their houses in the modern two story style. At that time single story overlay may very well be a deterrent and affect property values downwards.

6 people like this
Posted by Greenmeadow
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I wondered the same when we bought in Greenmeadow. Eight years later our property value has doubled.

7 people like this
Posted by DrEichler
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

"Your Resident Palo Altan" sounds like someone who has never owned his own property before. There are reasons all municipalities zone areas for different uses. Without it you might as well be living in Nigeria. Imagine putting up a chemical factory next to a day care center. Its not a stretch that a community with single story homes with walls made of glass have a legitimate desire to prevent McMansions next door. Especially when those are bought and created by outsiders with no intention of living in the community themselves. I'm not saying we should preserve run down and outdated Eichlers, in fact they should be replaced. But if the community wants it single story, they should have that right.

10 people like this
Posted by Values
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:48 pm


And without the SSO it might be worth 2.5x or 3x now, instead of only 2x.

The more people that want to buy your home the higher the value will be, so for every person who decides not to make an offer on your home because of a single-story overlay, your home's value is lower. To say the SSO has no affect on a home's value is naive - unless you also believe 100% of potential buyers want the SSO, which I sincerely doubt is the case. If it were, 100% of neighbors would support the SSO.

Realtors use a statistic for what to offer in a multiple bidding situation based on how many offers are coming in (as well as other factors, obviously). Don't quote me, but I think each additional offer is worth about 5%.

All that said, as long as the Eichler style remains popular there probably won't be much impact. If and when it becomes unpopular those homes in SSO neighborhoods will suffer decreased property values.

7 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

I applaud Los Arboles for putting a process in place to maintain the character of their neighborhood, the other neighbors that are following suit, and the city for helping this along by not charging any planning fees.
If a neighborhood has a consistent architectural look and feel and the majority of the people who live in it want protection via an Single Story Overlay they should be able to have it. Bear in mind that the city has specific rules regarding the overall architectural makeup of a neighborhood and the % of people in it who must signify approval for an SSO to be considered.

9 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Perhaps future buyers will pay a premium for a guarantee that the property will retain it's privacy.

16 people like this
Posted by Values
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2015 at 12:27 am


"Perhaps future buyers will pay a premium for a guarantee that the property will retain it's privacy."

Guarantee? Like the current owners thought they had a guarantee of building what they wanted, based on City code and all known applicable laws? Those folks are having their "guarantee" ripped away because they find themselves in the "non 70%."

Clearly, there are no guarantees with property ownership in Palo Alto.

2 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 14, 2015 at 8:27 am

If they are not worrying about their future home value, Just do it!

We can always have a special district and the other neighborhoods will benefit from the restriction.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident since the 50's
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2015 at 11:02 pm

I would pay more knowing my property and investment are protected against neighbors building second stories, and also potential groundwater pumpers which could crack my foundation and cause flooding over to my property once the basement is finished.
The original set backs were designed for single story homes - with no basements set into groundwater.
People who want basements should be directed to buy homes on larger parcels in some of the older areas near downtown, or higher in the hills - where the water table is much lower.

Someone from Taiwan once told me he would never be interested in any property which had a swimming pool (or filled pool). He said people wanted land which was settled and firm. He felt that once a hole had been dug on the property, the ground would never be fully settled.

Like this comment
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 17, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Eichler's are post and lintel construction, if memory serves, with some glass walls and open interiors. It's past overdue for earthquake inspections and suggested or mandatory revisions. Revisions are surely possible and not hugely expensive. Without reinforcement, the houses should have much lower valuation and be a risk to their present inhabitants. It's past time to stop fooling around and being in denial regarding major earthquakes. It's always better to prevent a lot of damage rather than have mass funerals and maybe rebuild. Eichler's have to be addressed.

7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 17, 2015 at 7:18 pm

I don't live in a protected area, right now, I'd pay extra for that just so I wouldn't be surrounded by construction for years on end. Between that and the privacy, there's a lot to be said for SSOs. Not all of us need houses with maximum-square footage.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2015 at 7:44 pm

SSOs may stop two story homes...but it won't stop scrapping houses and building any style they want...or building basements (assuming no flood zone).

Like this comment
Posted by Values
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2015 at 7:48 pm

An SSO doesn't guarantee there will be no construction (or basement with ground-pumping), just no construction of a two story home.

6 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 18, 2015 at 10:59 am

It won't stop construction, but it does limit the appeal of doing so. It's a lot easier to deal with the occasional bedroom/bathroom add-on than a McMansion going up. I've lived near both and the former isn't destroying my backyard privacy, the latter is.

The problem isn't two-story houses, it's two-story houses on small lots, which, in turn, affect the light and privacy of their neighbors.

So good luck to Los Arboles.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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