News

Two-story homes banned in Greer Park North

Despite vocal dissent, Palo Alto City Council approves neighborhood petition

In a decision that left the majority in the audience cheering and a sizable minority seething, Palo Alto officials agreed early Tuesday morning to ban two-story homes in the Greer Park North neighborhood.

By a unanimous vote, the City Council agreed in the waning minutes of a long meeting to support the request from residents for a "single-story overlay," a zoning designation that prohibits two-story homes in Eicher neighborhoods where more than 70 percent of the residents support the restriction.

The residents of Greer Park North, an Eichler-style enclave that includes Metro and Moffett circles and portions of Greer Road and Amarillo Avenue, met this criteria and, as a result, became the latest community to join the emerging trend.

The council's vote came about a month after members supported a similar request from the Los Arboles neighborhood. In each case, proponents of the overlay argued that a ban on two-story homes would help preserve the Eichler character of their neighborhoods, which are marked by clusters of short, glass-heavy houses.

In each case, they argued that taller homes would destroy the Eichler vibe and — more importantly — allow residents of the new taller homes to peer from above into neighbors' backyards and bedrooms. In each case, the City Council unanimously agreed.

The council's vote belied, however, the deep division in the neighborhood, where a vocal minority staunchly opposed the new restriction. About 30 people attended the Monday meeting and waited around until well past midnight to offer their views. More than 15 addressed the council and urged members to help them preserve either their neighborhood character or property rights, depending on which side was talking.

David Hammond, who applied for the overlay, made the case for the zone change by pointing to the numbers. A petition from the community showed 50 of the 72 property owners supporting the change, a rate of 72 percent. Because these homes have covenants that prohibit two-story homes, the threshold for the neighborhood was 60 percent. Neighborhoods without the covenants require 70 percent. Either way, Greer Park North cleared the democratic hurdle.

Resident Dorrit Billman was one of many to speak in favor of the zone change. When residents buy homes in the neighborhood, they accept the fact that they will have to maintain its scale as a common resource, she said.

"The houses agree not to impinge on each other's privacy and each other's line of sight and sunlight — that creates a shared value for the neighborhood," Billman said. "I believe it is extremely valuable and should continue to be supported."

Richard Billington, who lives on Amarillo, agreed, saying, two-story homes "destroy the character and the intentional design of the Eichler neighborhood.

"Ample addition can be made without a second story," Billington said.

But others argued that any future addition would now require them to sacrifice their side yards or backyards — an issue of particular significance for properties on Greer and Amarillo, which tend to be smaller than the ones in the two circles.

Julia Li, who lives on Amarillo, made the point that residents would have to sacrifice their open space for any kind of expansion. She also noted that her street already includes a mix of architectural styles: ranch homes, Eichlers and others. She was one of several speakers who told the council that she would prefer to keep options open.

Kiran Joshi, who has a 10- and 12-year-old son, was one of several residents who told the council that their families are outgrowing the available space.

"Even though we still love the house, it's not always meeting our needs," Joshi said. "We just don't have the room that we need. The house was built in the 1950s and times have changed. We need more storage; we need more room."

To opponents of the zone change, the council offered some words (but no votes) of sympathy. Councilman Marc Berman said he was "not happy" about the vote, a position that he acknowledged he shares with many of the young families that attended the meeting.

"I hope the whole neighborhood realized tonight that there's a lot of folks who invested a lot of money in their home and future, who will now be in a place where they weren't expecting (to be) and (which) they don't support," Berman said. "The super-majority rules and we have this ordinance in place. But I just hope folks realize that while some folks will be happy, a lot of folks will be pretty bummed."

The council also rejected a recommendation from the Planning and Transportation Commission, which recommended approving the restriction solely for the two circles, which include 47 of the 72 properties. The commission reasoned that because Metro and Moffett circles tend to have larger lots and a higher level of support from residents for the two-story ban, they should comprise the entire overlay district.

That idea didn't get traction with the council. Councilman Tom DuBois made the case for not "gerrymandering" the district and called the overlay proposal "an exercise in shared neighborhood trust." He acknowledged that there's "a minority that's not happy with the majority," but argued that the council should respect the large number of people asking for the change.

"I understand some people aren't happy, but I think it's the right thing to do so I support the motion," DuBois said.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:18 am

I see many lawsuits coming.


63 people like this
Posted by AntiSSO
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:58 am

I think the citizens applying for SSO should stop being selfish. The SSO supporters are mostly retired folks, with only 2 people living in their 1900 sq houses , they have no kids, and they bought the house for 50000 dollars long time ago, so they want single story just for the luxury of saving Eichler architecture.

But for god sake stop being selfish. Think of the young people for a second. There are young couples who paid all their savings to buy their houses in past few years, they have 2+ children, and in cases they are taking care of their parents too. They need more storage. They paid over 2 million dollars to buy their house.

Imagine they are your own children. would you do this to your own children?


14 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:19 am

Democracy at its best


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:07 am

testing


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:08 am

Test


Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:01 am

How did Van Auken Circle avoid the ban?


46 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Times change. The economic conditions, styles, building materials, cost of land, and population pressure are all different than they were 50 years ago. We can't freeze the clock.

Yet we are all nostalgic for the good old days, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and all. This is natural, especially if you already own a house, are paying low taxes, and do not have to commute.

So do we want to embrace unrestricted development? No, this will not happen. Do we want to hold the town fixed in time, so that it becomes too expensive to innovate here, and the action moves to Dublin or Redwood City, with a bunch of rich old folks in Palo Alto holding onto the past? There has to be a compromise, that allows Palo Alto to stay at the forefront of the action, for at least a few more decades. It is unrealistic to think that Palo Alto can compete if we do not allow the density of housing, population, and business activity to increase. Otherwise Palo Alto will quickly become a beautiful old museum, like Florence is today.

Redwood City does not have near the stature and cache of Palo Alto, so they have had to be much more grounded in their decisions. They have recently adopted much more growth friendly policies, and we already see growth and innovation moving in their direction. The boom in San Francisco is at least partially related to the more free growth South of Market, and we see an astounding movement of nascent tech industry moving to San Francisco.

Maybe in 20 years Palo Alto will be a beautifully preserved Museum of Tech, and the rich old folks can be volunteer tour guides, take tickets, and keep everything the same as it was.


14 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I have no idea what Councilman DuBois means about 'gerrymandering' the district - It seems like the Planning and Transportation Commission's recommendation to approve the restriction for the two circles seems like a very reasonable and useful compromise.


33 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

This is an excellent result for the midtown neighborhood in question and Palo Alto in general. Palo Alto has some wonderful neighborhoods, some of which have coherent house styles and some of which do not. Those that do, such as with the Eichler mid century modern architecture, are prized by many, particularly those who live in them. It doesn't take much to ruin these kinds of neighborhoods and a few large 2 story homes can take away the whole look and feel irreparably. The argument made by a few dissenters that they need a second story as they intend increasing their family was completely refuted by other speakers who made it clear that they successfully remodelled their homes to accommodate their growing families by extending out their single story floor plan and that this was done deliberately to avoid the negative consequences of a second story.
The Greer Park North request exceeded all the city planning requirements whichever way you cut the numbers and the dissenters were unable to find majority support for any of their assertions on Amarillo, Greer, Metro Circle or Moffett Circle.
In the end a grassroots neighborhood campaign was won because of a clear majority of supports, and even though some were unhappy this is democracy in action.
I hope other similar neighborhoods follow the lead of Los Arboles and Greer Park North and organize to protect their neighborhoods.


19 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

This is an excellent result for the midtown neighborhood in question and Palo Alto in general. Palo Alto has some wonderful neighborhoods, some of which have coherent house styles and some of which do not. Those that do, such as with the Eichler mid century modern architecture, are prized by many, particularly those who live in them. It doesn't take much to ruin these kinds of neighborhoods and a few large 2 story homes can take away the whole look and feel irreparably. The argument made by a few dissenters that they need a second story as they intend increasing their family was completely refuted by other speakers who made it clear that they successfully remodelled their homes to accommodate their growing families by extending out their single story floor plan and that this was done deliberately to avoid the negative consequences of a second story.
The Greer Park North request exceeded all the city planning requirements whichever way you cut the numbers and the dissenters were unable to find majority support for any of their assertions on Amarillo, Greer, Metro Circle or Moffett Circle.
In the end a grassroots neighborhood campaign was won because of a clear majority of supports, and even though some were unhappy this is democracy in action.
I hope other similar neighborhoods follow the lead of Los Arboles and Greer Park North and organize to protect their neighborhoods.


24 people like this
Posted by Rachel
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Fantastic news! Congratulations to Greer Park North! This is a step in the right direction for Palo Alto.


16 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

This is an excellent result for the midtown neighborhood in question and Palo Alto in general. Palo Alto has some wonderful neighborhoods, some of which have coherent house styles and some of which do not. Those that do, such as with the Eichler mid century modern architecture, are prized by many, particularly those who live in them. It doesn't take much to ruin these kinds of neighborhoods and a few large 2 story homes can take away the whole look and feel irreparably. The argument made by a few dissenters that they need a second story as they intend increasing their family was completely refuted by other speakers who made it clear that they successfully remodelled their homes to accommodate their growing families by extending out their single story floor plan and that this was done deliberately to avoid the negative consequences of a second story.
The Greer Park North request exceeded all the city planning requirements whichever way you cut the numbers and the dissenters were unable to find majority support for any of their assertions on Amarillo, Greer, Metro Circle or Moffett Circle.
In the end a grassroots neighborhood campaign was won because of a clear majority of supports, and even though some were unhappy this is democracy in action.
I hope other similar neighborhoods follow the lead of Los Arboles and Greer Park North and organize to protect their neighborhoods.


6 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:23 pm

There was a recent article about basements and groundwater pumping. Will this not lead to more conflict in that direction or is there some reason basement construction would not be an option here, especially if storage is a main concern?


15 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

AntiSSO - you obviously have no idea about Greer Park North if you think they are mostly retirees with no children. On Metro Circle alone I can think of 9 families with 16 children and I don't even know all the people who live there. What are you talking about?
Hulkamania - Van Auken [including adjacent homes on Greer and Amarillo] is half of the originally designated Greer Park tract and had an SSO approved in 2002, now the other half of the tract, Greer Park North, has been approved so that the whole tract is covered. It's a logical extension to a group of homes which is are almost identical the Van Auken SSO.


10 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Can't build a basement in the flood zone - those folks are stuck.


46 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm

The comments from proponents of allowing two stories in this neighborhood do not address the fact that all owners of homes in this neighborhood did so and in full knowledge of the CC&R's, which are legal deed restrictions, that forbid second stories. The city is just adding protection of the already legal requirement that there be no second stories. Without that protection, the only remedy neighbors had was a private, expensive lawsuit.

I congratulate the city council for preserving the property rights of those owners who purchased the properties because there were deed restrictions forbidding second stories.

As someone who has had to learn to live with a two story house looming over my backyard, with a picture window no less, I envy those neighborhoods whose original builders protected their privacy by including deed restrictions against a second story. If you want a two story house, buy a house in a neighborhood with two story houses. Don't try to change the existing one story neighborhood, eliminating the privacy of your neighbors.


Like this comment
Posted by fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by details
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Application for an SSO is a democratic process. The homeowners decide what they want, then appeal to the city to approve the result. The SSO process is conservative: a very high bar is set.
The boundaries for an SSO are determined in advance, according to city code, with guidance from city staff. In the process of "voting for", each homeowner decides to give up the right to go up, in exchange for each of their neighbors doing so. Each homeowner may think about what any one of their neighbor's going up would do to their interests. In the end, the best interest of the neighborhood is served. This is communal altruism, orchestrated by the SSO process.
Hence, if the boundary is changed after the fact, that agreement of all the neighbors who have signed is invalid. Some who signed knowing the the whole neighborhood must accept it, would be double-crossed. That is what Tom DuBois calls "gerrymandering". Such fiddling after the fact with the boundaries should not be allowed in the process. This Council clearly understands that individual votes can not be thrown out, and over the bar, is over the bar.


55 people like this
Posted by Tell It Like It Is
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 1, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Now that the residents or Greer Park North and Los Arboles have eliminated any "out of character" development in their neighborhoods, the rest of Palo Alto is left to host all the urgently needed high density, and low income housing required to allow our workers, children, retired elderly, and less fortunate citizens to be housed. Not in my back yard -> Not even in my neighborhood.

I assume the residents of Greer Park North and Los Arboles will abstain from any voting or advocacy regarding housing development in the rest of our city - given that these special residents have legislated that they not shoulder any of the responsibility for hosting any new development


15 people like this
Posted by Maryann H
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Tell it Like it is: I don't see what allowing a single story overlay has to do with restricting multi family housing. The houses are already zoned one family residential. You couldn't tear several down for a higher density development without asking for a zoning variance. And by the way, we already have a high density housing project near our street, which I don't recall anyone protesting.


13 people like this
Posted by your uncle bob
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Tell It Like It Is: This decision has zero effect on density, you can build out to the same square foot limit, just in one story. The only thing this changes is that the city will enforce one-story. Previously, by buying into this neighborhood you agreed to a covenant that limited you to a single story, but this could only be enforced by a private law suit.

This is a storm in a teapot.

Also, a Green Acres resident calling out Greer Park North/South on higher density is truly ridiculous. Our average lot sizes are some of the smallest in Palo Alto - not like Green Acres.


22 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:20 pm

Congrats to Greer Park North. As someone whose privacy has been lost thanks to a looming two-story, I envy you. I can't say I'm shedding a tear for anyone who can spend $2 million on a tear-down and then-some for a McMansion. Families have been living in Eichlers for a long time. The idea that we somehow *need* huge houses is ridiculous. We don't.


5 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:17 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


64 people like this
Posted by generation
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:09 pm

I think to call this "democratic" is a bit odd. Yes, residents of this community voted on this. But it was TODAY'S residents who were voting on what TOMORROW'S residents could do. People by their own accounts got to live exactly as they wanted for 50 years in this community and the regulations they're passing are frankly not really going to apply to them. For the most part, these regulations will be affecting much younger homeowners for duration of THEIR lives in this community. No one's asking those people what they want and how they'd prefer to structure their lives. Maybe 1600 square feet was fine for a nuclear family of 3, maybe it's not fine for a young family that also includes grandparents. Maybe it's not fine for a baby boomer household that shares space with grown children who need their own privacy. Maybe it's not workable when you're elderly and need a live-in caretaker.

I get that you can argue "just don't move into an Eichler community if you don't like this restriction." I get it. But on the other hand we now have hundreds of homes with SSOs and more on the way. And we're basically not building any more housing. So, I don't know how much of a "choice" living in an Eichler community really is when the pickings are slim and your goal is to live in this particular community - be it for the family, the friends, or the job. Houses today don't seem to sit longer than just a few days on the market and many are gone immediately with all cash offers or never even make it onto a public listing. With housing as scarce as it is here, which neighborhood you end up in is much much less of a choice today than it used to be.

I would view this as much more fair if for every SSO we also approved a multifamily housing development or doing SOMETHING to offer people different choices. As it is, you're just ambering the city and making it really clear that gosh darn you're going to live here like it's 1965 or not at all.


4 people like this
Posted by democracy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:30 pm

@generation

It absolutely was democratic. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

What's the welfare of a few dozen families if some people are offended by a second story?


Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2015 at 12:13 am

To those commenting who did not attend or watch the council meeting on Monday night go back and watch to the council addressing the question of removing the SSO if a majority of residents no longer want it.


14 people like this
Posted by MD from TO
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2015 at 12:55 am

MD from TO is a registered user.

To antiSSO-

Your rationale sounds like many city councils of Southern Calif. back in the 40s and 50s. Build it and they will come and btw lots of dense-pack housing included. Perhaps you might try living in the San Fernando Valley or Orange County for a while and see for yourself how wonderful it is to be living in a stucco box in an over-crowded neighborhood.


16 people like this
Posted by Alice
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 2, 2015 at 7:29 am

@antisso - Yes, we're selfish. Years ago we mortgaged ourselves to the hilt in order to live in agreeable, safe neighborhoods with good schools and wonderful neighbors. Please forgive us if we have managed to pay down our mortgages. We somehow managed to live in 1400 sq feet of space with children, grandparents, dogs, and the other features of life that you find so unique to your situation. This is OUR community too.


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 2, 2015 at 10:35 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

The homeowners who voted in the overlay aren't being selfish, if anything they're being the opposite by limiting the potential value of their homes by not making McMansions an option and choosing to preserve the integrity of their neighborhood.

My street, when I moved to it, had some beautiful two-stories--they can be done well--that didn't encroach upon the privacy of their neighbors. But, then, in the latest round of remodel/tear-downs we started getting some encroaching eyesores. The city doesn't have the manpower or energy to deal with the glut of McMansion proposals.

For those of you whining about how homeowners should be able to do whatever they want--why should I pay the cost of that? Thanks to the newest McMansion the home I bought in part because of the sunny private backyard no longer has one of the things I valued most. (Throw in the flight paths of the FAA and the back yard's almost unusable.)

You want to do what you want--move where you can do that. Palo Alto's has a long history of protecting its neighborhoods. Quit trying to change one of the things that drew you here in the first place.


34 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Seriously? I cannot believe that a measure like this can be passed in this day and age. Ordinances such s this totally explain the sky high prices and complete lack of supply for housing in the bay area. I get that neighborhoods would enact laws to prevent more supply from coming up so that their property prices are protected. But this is going too far. I don't even understand how this will protect their property prices. Once these old Eichlers start falling apart as many are, this neighborhood is just going to become a relic of the past. And what about the rights of the other homeowners. How did these people get to decide that the only option to add more space is horizontally, not vertically? I can understand prohibiting 3 or 4 floors to prevent condo construction and stuff, but this is beyond ridiculous. 2-level house plans offer are desirable these days and offer so many advantages. Just cannot believe that in this day and age neighborhoods would pass ordinances such as this and that cities would allow it. We must have our heads completely in the sand!


9 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2015 at 10:30 pm

Palo Alto Resident,

The ordinance does nothing to change density. The lots in that area aren't large, so you're not going to do a bunch of infill there--and, indeed, you're not proposing that people take up less space, you want them to take up *more* by building larger houses for single families.

Because of the way Eichler's are built--with the large back windows, there's a big loss of light and privacy when a two-story is built. There are plenty of places in town with two stories.

If, someday, the residents want to change the rules, they can. They probably won't though because not everyone wants or likes living surrounded by large houses. I live near one of the protected Eichler areas and there is very little change-over. People like their Eichler neighborhoods, in part because they are neighborhoods.

It must be nice not to dread the "For Sale" sign going up on the street because you don't know what kind of oversized mansion is going to go up.


20 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 3, 2015 at 12:28 am

@AntiSSO: "Think of the young people"? What kind of argument is that? There are young people living in EPA too. And there are people raising children in apartments too. There is life outside of Palo Alto. The people who want to tear-down and build a two-story are the ones being selfish. They are the ones who would live in their castle, looking down upon single-story homes. If they cannot afford a two-story home, they must find a city where they can afford it. And plenty of children are being raised in single-story, 1400+sf houses in Palo Alto. Those who want it all but can't afford it and throw tantrums to get their way must look in the mirror to see the definition of selfish.

Congrats, Greer Park North, and thank you to the City Council.


5 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:01 pm

This is sad yet amusing.


7 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 6, 2015 at 12:24 am

To all those opposed to the restrictions, if you don't share the values and ideas of an Eichler, then DON'T BUY THE HOUSE. Eichlers are historically and architecturally significant buildings. Go to Woodside or Los Altos if you want to build a McMansion!


1 person likes this
Posted by Clintonite
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm

PA should ban foreign buyers next. The problem is we have an influx of foreign buyers who think buying an old house with old American spirits previously living there is not feng shui so they level a perfectly good home to build their MaoMansion with their front steps that climb up. Now we have a total hodgepodge of different size homes and styles.


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

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