Royal Manor neighbors clash over ban on two-story homes

Plan for 'single-story overlay' in Eichler community ekes out approval from Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission

Royal Manor, a community of more than 200 homes in the Palo Verde neighborhood, is seeking to become the latest Eichler-style enclave to ban new two-story homes -- an effort that is pitting neighbors against one another in a bitter debate about privacy and property rights.

The neighborhood has recently submitted an application for a "single-story overlay," a zoning designation that would prohibit new two-story homes in an area that includes Kenneth Drive, Thomas Drive, Janice Way and sections of Loma Verde Avenue, Louis Road, Greer Road and Stockton Place.

If approved, Royal Manor would be the third Eichler community to obtain the restriction in the past year, following in the footsteps of Los Arboles and Greer Park North.

In this case, however, the stakes are larger and the margins are smaller. Whereas both prior applications easily cleared the threshold for resident approval (generally 70 percent; for neighborhoods like Greer Park North, which have deed restrictions that prohibit two-story homes, it is 60 percent), the one from Royal Manor is right at the limit.

When the application was submitted last October, it had signatures of support from 71 percent of the homeowners (144 of 202 properties). Since then, there has been some fluctuation, with some homeowners requesting that their support be withdrawn and others adding their signatures to the list.

When the Planning and Transportation Commission opened its hearing on the proposal Wednesday night, the level of support was at 69 percent and the Council Chambers was split roughly evenly between those who came to support the application and those adamantly opposing it.

Despite some reservations and words of sympathy toward opponents, the commission ultimately voted 4-0 to send the application to the City Council with its stamp of approval. In doing so, however, the four commissioners present – Chair Adrian Fine, Vice Chair Pzemak Gardias, Kate Downing and Asher Waldfogel – recommended that the council consider removing from the zoning district two peripheral areas in which support for the zone change was particularly low.

The neighborhood crusade against two-story homes began much like prior efforts of this sort: an Eichler home on Louis Road was demolished so that it could be replaced with a two-story home that many feared would be incompatible, intrusive and damaging to the mid-century modern aesthetic of the neighborhood.

In the application, resident Ben Lerner noted that Eichlers were designed to create "a neighborhood with community feeling and backyard privacy."

"We love the low-key, private, single-story character of our Eichler neighborhood and would like it to be preserved," Lerner wrote. "Through our front doors we have easy access to our neighbors, while our backyards are a private extension of our indoor living space. As a neighborhood, we stand together in a shared desire to preserve the privacy and livability of our single-family Eichler homes by restricting second-story construction in our district."

Richard Willits, a Royal Manor resident who represented the applicants' team Wednesday, said residents are particularly concerned about what he calls "two-story tear-downs" -- homes that replace demolished Eichlers and loom over neighboring properties. Eichler homes, he said, were designed to be uniform in style and to interact with each other, forming a real community.

"The reason we and our neighbors signed single-story-overlay applications is because none of us wanted a two-story tear-down next to our house, over the fence from us, or even several houses away," Willits said.

According to the application, a recent proposal to build a two-story home prompted conversations around Royal Manor and other Eichler neighborhoods about new single-story overlay districts. The council paved the way for the recent wave of overlays last year when it agreed to officially scrap the application fee that was previously on the books for the zone change. Within months of this change, Los Arboles and Greer Park North had the new restrictions in place.

In Royal Manor, the desire for the new restriction is far from unanimous. A dozen residents who oppose the change attended the Wednesday hearing and protested the restriction. Zoe Danielson, who lives on Thomas Drive in one of the district's few existing two-story homes, maintained that the change amounts to taking away people's property rights.

"Stealing other people's property rights is stealing. Stealing is not ethical," Danielson said. "It's not OK for a group of people to come together and agree that someone else is going to lose their property rights."

Several speakers testified that they bought their homes in recent years in hopes of raising families and expanding homes, plans that would have to be aborted if the single-story overlay district is installed.

Hobert Tze, who recently bought his home on Loma Verde Avenue, said he and his wife were planning to have children and to eventually build an add-on to meet the family's expanding needs.

"We are very disappointed that we could not plan for this," Tze said. "It kind of caught us by surprise."

Other opponents challenged staff to review the signatures and criticized the petition process. Marjan Aslaghmeyuni said some residents had told her that they signed the petition during a block party, when they were distracted by children. Others complained of pushy signature-gatherers and later admitted that they only signed the petition to avoid confrontation, she said.

After hearing the testimony, Commissioner Downing said she was troubled by the city's existing petition process. The restriction, she said, could in some cases mean "hundreds and thousands of dollars in home value in one way or another." A resident probably would not expect to give up this kind of value by signing a piece of paper presented by a random neighbor who knocks on his or her door.

"If you're going to be making serious decisions about the No. 1 asset that most people in America have, it needs to be on government paper," Downing said. "It needs to be on a letter and a form that the city government sends out."

The commission also proved sympathetic to residents who live on Stockton Place and Loma Verde and who claimed that their blocks aren't actually a part of Royal Manor. Three property owners ended up withdrawing their signatures from the petition, which resulted in only two of nine property owners supporting the overlay.

Siamack Sanaie, who lives on Stockton Place, said almost every house around his is a non-Eichler. He said his lot is smaller than many of the parcels in central Royal Manor. The restriction, he said, would be very costly for his family.

"We are not builders. We are not in the business of flipping houses. ... We came here to raise a family and we bought this place not on the basis of the houses there, but the land and the potential for building," he said, noting that his multi-generation family may require a second-story in the future.

While the commission didn't formally remove Stockton and Loma Verde from the district, it issued a recommendation that the City Council strongly consider doing so.

Fine, who proposed the district change, also included in the motion a recommendation that the petition process be "more efficient and effectively done" for future applications.

The commission also directed planning staff to consider new development standards or "mitigating factors" for homes at the district's boundary. These rules would ostensibly promote designs that ensure privacy for Eichler homes in Royal Manor.

Related content:

Palo Alto's Eichler uprising: City looks for ways to promote architectural — and neighborhood — harmony

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

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59 people like this
Posted by cheese guy
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 7:11 am

The headline "clash" is a bit over the top. The discussion was open, civil, and seemingly quite fair with a decision which tries to address the desires of both sides of the argument.
A few clarifications are needed. The process used of collecting petition signatures is the exact process mandated by the city, there are no other ways to do it (the commission did suggest looking into other ways, but for now this is all that exists). I was approached regarding the petition and the process was extremely clear with a full disclosure about the nature of the petition and absolutely no pressure placed to sign the petition.
This is clearly a bit of a tricky issue. The neighborhood is being asked to give up something (the right to build a second story) in order to gain something (the fact that the house one owns would never be subjected to a large two story house next door or looming over the back fence). It's a give and take and for an overwhelming majority of individuals it's a desired give and take. Given the open glass nature of these houses this is a bigger issue than in other parts of PA. Also, just drive around PA and you will find hundreds of examples of how the current individual review process does not work, -- huge two story houses looming over other houses, destroying privacy not to mention esthetics which happens to be an issue in this homogenous neighborhood of mid-century modern architecture (yes, I am sure there will be plenty of replies that these houses burn down quickly and are ugly, sorry, but lots of people love this design and there is a major movement related to preservation of this design, just go to Palm Springs if you want to witness this movement). The argument of the Stockton Place residents that "every house around his is a non-Eichler" doesn't quite hold up since the only non-Eichler's are fully across the street, not next door or directly behind them. A non-Eichler across the street has no impact on privacy issues since what really matters to most of these houses is what's next door or behind them (e.g., given the open glass design that typically looks out on the back or side yard). Regardless, if it takes the compromise of removing Stockton Place and Loma Verde to get this passed by the city counsel, my feeling is that it's better than nothing and I encourage the counsel to approve it.

15 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Feb 11, 2016 at 8:23 am

It's crazy that the process for a one-story overlay is easier than the process for an RPP, which in University South required years, petitions, and a city survey. The one-story overlay will cost anyone in the minority hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in property value. The RPP will maybe cost the owner of a multimillion-dollar house $100/year.

The City needs to make a clear, straightforward process for one-story overlays where neighbors can decide in the privacy of their homes, rather than having to confront other neighbors to do so. There's a reason that a petition usually leads to a vote of the people at the ballot box, rather than action by itself.

45 people like this
Posted by marjoon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:04 am

marjoon is a registered user.

Last Night City of Palo Alto planning commission wrongfully approved a single story overlay application ( banning two story houses ) for our neighborhood that took away 40% of the usable land in our lot and many other neighbor's lots. They only relied on signatures that were collected on a piece of paper by proponents of the application, to approve this. Here are a list of things that were wrong with what happened:
1- The required signatures are 70% of neighborhood, last night the number of signatures were less than 70% and they still approved it, saying that signature of people who have taken their signature back after signing, will still count. Because they were there at the time the application submitted.
3- When they came to our house to collect signatures they told us there will be a ballot later. Other neighbors were told as well. But in reality there was no ballot. So the proponents had simply lied. ( we did not sign anyway but many did thinking there will be a ballot anyway )
4- Many signed just to avoid confrontation with their neighbor thinking signatures collected by people don't
5- Many signed in a block party were they were not paying attention.
6- Many signed because the signature collectors were so pushy and kept showing up to force them sign.
7- Every time someone took back their signature by emailing City Staff, next day proponents of application would show up at that person's house. The city is supposed to be neutral. How were the proponents getting notified about this within a day?
8- The tone used in the report the City Staff had put together totally implied that City was supporting single story overlay. Even though they are supposed to be neutral. It was even mentioned by the chair of Planning Commission that the tone is not neutral.

1 person likes this
Posted by MoreInfoNeeded
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:04 am

to marjoon
Certainly some of the items on your list are concerning if true. But I have to say that I have little sympathy for #4 and #5, and partly #6.
If you don't read it, don't sign it.
If you do not understand it, don't sign it.
If you don't want to sign, say "No, thank you." and close the door or walk away.

As to there supposed to be a ballot, or being able to rescind one's vote, I cannot comment but will be interested in answers at the Council meeting.

14 people like this
Posted by Former Eichler owner
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

Business lawyer Commissioner Downing is very concerned with some property rights but unfamiliar with human rights. She considers a house in Palo Alto a potential way to make big bucks, but does not value privacy, neighborhood ambiance and other people's property rights.
That you can't raise a family in a traditional Eichler is the mentality of millionaires.It's nonsense.
Money interests vs. human interests.

6 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:29 am

It sounds like the City is propagating "Reverse Condemnation" to me.That is taking action to lower the property value of private property.

23 people like this
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:58 am

We like to think of Palo Alto as a community of above average intelligence and at times, pragmatism. As a resident of the Royal Manor Tract and a signer of the petition in support of SSO, I attended the PTC session last night. The neighborhood was designed so that small houses on very small lots could still have privacy. Allowing super mansions which tower over the backyards of the neighbors was not what the houses in this tract were designed for.

The neighbor who said it was "stealing" to take away the rights to build a MacMansion and double the square footage seemed to feel her rights superseded those of others. Two story houses on these overly small lots -- particularly over the back fence -- impact the privacy, sunlight and sky and the sense of security of the neighbors they loom out over.

[Portion removed.]

30 people like this
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2016 at 12:07 pm

It would seem as though people who want to build huge houses could easily sell their one-stories and buy where they are allowed to build something that doesn't fit into the neighborhood. It's not like it's a hardship to sell at the ridiculous prices that people are paying to live in Palo Alto.

Then, people who value the look of these 50's houses could buy in a protected area and treasure the houses. Everybody wins!

5 people like this
Posted by scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 11, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Win/Win....two story!

9 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Call me simple minded, but seems that the people who buy a $2 million property and replace it with a $4 million property are the ones most directly responsible for doubling the price of housing in Palo Alto.

4 people like this
Posted by Former Eichler owner
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 12:58 pm

[Post removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Frank Lloyd
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 11, 2016 at 3:03 pm

The main problem with Eichlers is that they look like mobile homes that have an enclosed side addition. Come take a look at Southgate for a truly diverse architectural palate.

7 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 11, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Frank Lloyd is Wright!

25 people like this
Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2016 at 5:22 pm

My old neighborhood went through the SSO process several years ago. [Portion removed.] It is disturbing to see that many longtime Palo Alto residents who hold their new neighbors in contempt for having more money than them, e.g., the above comment "That you can't raise a family in a traditional Eichler is the mentality of millionaires.It's nonsense. Money interests vs. human interests."

Please people be honest about your motivations, the vast majority of SSO proponents never plan to never sell their homes and don't need the space because their kids (and in-laws) are gone. More recent residents are not in that situation. Just look at the property taxes paid by the resident and look for the correlation be votes and taxation level (

Thanks for another reminder why I left Palo Alto.

6 people like this
Posted by marjoon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 6:59 pm

marjoon is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by marjoon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 7:04 pm

marjoon is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2016 at 7:08 pm

You're sailing upwind. Palo Alto Forward wants us to RAISE height limits, not lower them.

13 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:10 pm

On what legal ground does the city council have the right to come up with such a petition process? Is it constitutional? I highly doubt it.

Why 70%? Why not 80%, or 90%? Does a signature on a petition, on a whim in front of one's residence, gently and perhaps deceitfully forced upon by a neighbor, count as a LEGAL VOTE? I don't think so.

Maybe those who feel their rights being deceitfully taken away should contact Pacific Legal Foundation, as the Jisser family are doing now.

15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Thank goodness, as a resident of Royal Manor these awful tear downs of Eichlers for ugly two story additions ruin the vibe and fluidity of the neighborhood. They look completely out of place not to mention destroy the historical value of the area!

Sorry to say this, but your building rights don't triumph everyone else's demand for building codes and restrictions. You shouldn't get the decision to invade on homeowners privacy or anything at all. Period. Tough luck if you wanted a second story level, move out and find another property where your plans don't interfere with the layout design, selling as you all know shouldn't be an issue whatsoever. Or even better.. YOU SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT A PROPERTY THAT ALREADY HAD ONE IN THE FIRST PLACE! Not a difficult idea people.

It pisses me that new home owners move in with intents of wrecking down Eichlers have no regard for their neighbors. If anyone has the right to stop these types of changes it's those who have lived here far longer and understand the value of the neighborhood.

7 people like this
Posted by marjoon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 10:33 pm

marjoon is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:01 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Former Eichler owner
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:11 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by marjoon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:21 pm

marjoon is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[Portion removed.]

Anonymous is talking about the rights of your neighbors. Eichler homes were designed with private
glass filled back areas which allow nature and light into the home while maintaining privacy. Your neighbors,
many of which are young, appreciate modern design and happily live in their beautiful Eichlers with their children.

Sorry you did not appreciate the uniqueness of your house or neighborhood when you bought your house.
There are many beautiful, modern and spacious Eichler homes and a remodel is allot cheaper than a tear down.

25 people like this
Posted by logical
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2016 at 7:16 am

The commission passed the proposal with the "very strong" recommendation that Stockton Place and Loma Verde be excluded from the SSO. It would seem extremely unlikely that the council would pass the SSO without including the Stockton Place (the seeming location of major opposition to the proposal) removal. So, it would seem odd that residents of Stockton Place would do anything other than celebrate at this point. They would get the best of both worlds. They could scrape off their Eichler, build a huge two-story house, and have a legal assurance that a similar two-story house would never be build behind them. They could loom over the back neighbors but the back neighbors could do nothing about it. Do the Stockton residents really want to fully oppose this likely outcome???

4 people like this
Posted by surrealDude
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2016 at 4:58 pm

surrealDude is a registered user.

don't listen to logical dude,

read bellow and see what council did to us residents of Greer Park North. just so you know, one of the council members who made a comment pro single story overlay, has a 2 story house in midtown that he built and his nextdoor neighbor is an Eichler looking one story house.

Web Link

"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."

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