Faircourt joins movement to ban new two-story homes

With support level for 'single-story overlay' right at threshold for zone change, planning commission defers action

As Palo Alto officials prepare to rule on a contentious proposal to ban new two-story homes and additions in the Eichler community of Royal Manor, a similar debate is starting to surface nearby, in a 50-home tract known as Faircourt.

Much like Royal Manor, which has 203 homes, Faircourt is dominated by single-story Eichlers and a resident majority that would like to keep it that way. Just like in Royal Manor, supporters of the ban have mustered just enough votes to bring the application to the city. And, in another striking similarity between the two applications, the level of support dropped just below the threshold between the time the application was filed and the time it came to the Planning and Transportation Commission for review.

Given the similar issues, the planning commission agreed on Wednesday not to move ahead with the proposed "single-story overlay" for Faircourt just yet but to defer the decision until May 11. Its discussion at that meeting is expected to be informed by what the City Council does on May 2, when it is expected to rule on the Royal Manor proposal.

In seeking the overlay, residents of Faircourt laid out an argument much like the one espoused by residents of Royal Manor, Greer Park North and Los Arboles in recent months (the latter two neighborhoods succeeded in getting their petitions for the overlay approved). The designs of Eichler homes, they say, emphasize the connection between indoors and outdoors, as evidenced by glass floor-to-ceiling doors and walls leading to backyards.

As Faircourt resident Jacqueline Angelo Geist told the commission Wednesday, the design was intended to invite residents to enjoy the California lifestyle without exposing themselves to neighbors next door. Geist said she supports the overlay "on the grounds of preserving our neighborhood as it was intended and keeping it aesthetically uniform."

The tract, which is just south of Royal Manor, includes segments of Ross Road and Louis Road, as well as the streets between the two roads: Talisman Drive, Evergreen Drive, Thornwood Drive, Arbutus Drive (between Thornwood and Talisman) and one property on Lupine Avenue.

Geist, an Evergreen resident, wrote in the application that Faircourt residents "share in the appreciation of our Eichler home(s) and a commitment to maintain our privacy and daylight as well as the unique design and character of our historical neighborhood."

Not everyone is thrilled about the plan. Mark Delman, who lives on Thornwood, told the commission Wednesday that the proposal is "draconian" and criticized the overlay plan for infringing on residents' property rights.

"A second story is not some kind of an unusual thing," Delman said. "It's a reasonable thing for a homeowner to want. And I want to preserve that right as a homeowner, as I had it before, and as a buyer from me at some point will want as well."

Because Faircourt already has deed restrictions that limit heights to a single story (these restrictions, while on the books, have not been enforced by the city), the application needed approval from only 60 percent of the property owners to be considered by the commission. Eichler neighborhoods without such restrictions, including Royal Manor, need 70 percent.

In Faircourt's case, the petition drive succeeded in getting exactly 60 percent, with 30 out of 50 property owners adding their signatures the overlay effort. But on Tuesday night, just a day before the commission's hearing, a property owner on Talisman emailed city staff to reverse his position, dropping the support level to 58 percent.

Technically, the petition could still proceed because the 60 percent threshold needs to met at the time of the application submittal (as opposed to the time of the review). The commission, however, agreed that a zone change this significant should not hinge on a technicality. Given that Royal Manor faced a similar issue (support level dropped below 70 percent after the application was submitted), commissioners agreed to resume its hearing on Faircourt after the council rules on the Royal Manor application.

Commissioner Eric Rosenblum noted the razor-thin margin of support for an action that he called "fairly dramatic."

"Coming in exactly at the threshold level, I think, is a cause for consternation. ... It has a fairly dramatic effect on your rights. This is serious. Let's take it seriously," Rosenblum said.

His colleagues agreed, with Commission Michael Alcheck arguing that the city should not ignore a "buzzer-beating email" retracting support and questioned whether the petition really meets the legal thresholds.

"If we want to ignore that on a technicality -- that seems to me an illegitimate reason," Alcheck said.

After a brief discussion, the commission voted 5-0, with Chair Adrian Fine and Commissioner Greg Tanaka absent, to move the discussion to May 11.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Unlike Royal Manor, I believe that many homes in this area are already two story. It would be interesting to know just how many homes are single story v two story rather than how many signatures. Can a 2 story homeowner still vote for this?

12 people like this
Posted by weirdly enough
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Weirdly enough, if you live in a 2 story home, you still get to vote for a single story overlay. Your property becomes "non-conforming" but so long as you don't plan to rebuild it doesn't affect you. Talk about "I got mine!"

11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Marie is a registered user.

If there are deed restrictions limiting houses to one story, I think the city should support the owners who are asking for an SSO. The fact that some people have already violated those restrictions, does not lift them for the remainder of the homes. This is just a matter of the city supporting legal agreements made when the homes were sold. It is unfair to have to bring a private expensive lawsuit to get a homeowner to abide by an agreement they signed.

It would help if title companies (and the associated escrow companies) would actually provide CC&R's during a closing. Often, their reaction is that it is the job of the prospective homeowner to go to the courthouse and investigate the CC&R's. What is the purpose of title companies if not to communicate any limitations on the property to the prospective owners?

2 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Here's a link to an interesting video of Manhattan over time. Like Palo Alto, Manhattan is a financial hub where the citizens underwent a lot of economic pressure toward development. These overlays seem to me a futile gesture that will only create problems for homeowners as the areas around them develop and progress. Web Link

17 people like this
Posted by Home Owner
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2016 at 10:40 pm

I got a copy of the CC&R's for my property built in the first half of the last century, the restrict me from selling my house to anyone who is black or Hispanic and I can not put a chicken coop on the property unless I have a house there and it is behind it. My point is that CC&R's from 60, 70 or 80 years ago are not really relevant today. Beck them families of 2 or 3 kids were being raised in 2 bedroom houses. Today we want more space and the ability to grow our houses with our families. Putting in building restrictions such as requiring frosted windows on the second floor sides, windows that only open from the top, etc. that help support privacy are fair compromises. Saying NO, you can't do it, is not fair and opens the process up to lawsuits, charges of discrimination, etc.

2 people like this
Posted by Legal
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 28, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Ccrs are relevant only that they enforceable
Legal documents. US law has invalidated portions of them dealing with race for example. But as with many contracts invalidating one section does not invalidate others. The section on chicken coops probably still stands. You can be sued for violating a single story CCR.

Like this comment
Posted by Boundary
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 10:43 am

Staff made it clear that one option for the commission was to modify the boundary. Making it smaller would even eliminate the need for more notification and waiting. In this case, the rescinding owner was part of a group which petitioned to secede. Unlike other proposed boundary changes in Eichler SSOs, this one makes sense as the 6 houses are across the street, and do not have glass walls facing the other Eichlers in the tract.

I wonder why the PTC did not consider this specific, reasonable request from the 6 seceding owners, which would have given "overwhelming support" to the new SSO. PTC could have passed this SSO without punting, and pleased most of the tract.

4 people like this
Posted by even more weirdly enough
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 11:17 am

The most vocal opponent of the SSO in Royal Manor owns an Eichler with a second-story addition.

Two-story Eichlers in Palo Alto, with the exception of some houses on Torreya Court, were originally built as single-story houses, and were modified at some point to become two-stories.

Owners of two-story Eichlers are counted in SSO applications like any other home owners within the boundary of the proposed SSO. The PTC tossed out the signatures of two-story owners in Greer Park, thus changing the counting rule of the SSO section of the municipal code. Council did not follow that lead.

Throwing out any arbitrarily chosen group of signatures on an application is like throwing out a selected group of votes in an election.

Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

There may be a few compromising measures, For example for a small lot reduce front setback to 10-15 feet while adding more to backyard second story setback. I always think the front setback requirements is too stringent for small lots. Another is to set second floor elevation to max of 9 feet above first floor, essentially eliminate high ceilings on first floor. Thirdly require builder to pay financial compensation, calculated per linear foot of backyard fence, to neighbors for planting mature screening trees on both sides of the fence.

Like this comment
Posted by Check your data
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

To the owner with a discriminatory CC&R - that would not be for an Eichler.

Joseph Eichler was pioneering in specifically welcoming people of all backgrounds. He offered homes for sale to people of all religions and races and, in fact, he resigned from the National Assn of Home Builders in 1958 because they would not support a non-discrimination policy.

Chickens did not make the cut.

Many CC&Rs for Eichlers are renewable every five years unless disbanded. The city does not honor CC&Rs, but they have held up in court.

23 people like this
Posted by No to SSO
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Bullying is obvious in the way that Royal Manor collected the signatures and we have the first-hand experience.

They will ask your neighbors who is supporting SSO to come and try to convince you to sign their application ( continuously over a period of time ). They are trying to use peer pressure to force you to sign. If one owner in the family does not want to sign and they asked to talk to the other owner. It is just ridiculous...

Percentage of supporters in Royal Manor is much much lower if a proper way of voting process is utilized.

There are already many 2-story homes in Royal Manor also.

Say no to SSO in Royal Manor.

12 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I smell massive property rights lawsuits

Like this comment
Posted by stoi
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Take away those houses on the other side of Talisman. Looking at the map it makes little sense geographically why they were included in the first place. Then looking at how low support is among them (2/6?) it makes no sense at all to include them. Without them you have >60%.

12 people like this
Posted by Mark Michael
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2016 at 7:47 am

As Council and the PTC consider single story overlay petitions, a legitimate inquiry might include due diligence and examining the process for gathering signatures of supporters. Among the consequences of downzoning may be a substantial adverse impact on property rights, just as expectations of privacy may be protected. Because there is so much at stake regarding enjoyment and utility of one's residence, there should be safeguards. For example, if a signature conveys support to subtract hundreds of thousands of dollars, or potentially much more, from the value of one's home (and estate), should the signature be witnessed by two other adults, like a Will? Or, perhaps should there be an affidavit or simple acknowledgement of having been fully informed of the potential pro's and con's of the SSO? "This is what you are getting ... this is what you may be giving up ... this is how the process works." Maybe the signatures should be notarized?

The ordinance requires a super majority of residents requesting the downzoning. Either >70% (or 60% when there are CCRs with a deed restriction). Should the ordinance be revised to allow a super minority of >30% (or 40%) to petition to restore the full property rights to the neighborhood? Or maybe, in the spirit of the Rule Against Perpetuities, the SSO should have a sunset period of either "no longer than a life in being" or a fixed period of time before the neighborhood reconsiders its optimal land uses and character.

If people truly know and understand what they are getting into, and the requisite level of agreement is reached, then the wheels of approval should turn in their direction. With proper safeguards, transparency and accountability.

4 people like this
Posted by Steve Ludington
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 1, 2016 at 8:05 am

This article shows pretty clearly that SSOs do NOT reduce sales prices. Quite the contrary. Opponents need to stop bringing up that false argument.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Royal Manor resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 2, 2016 at 11:45 pm

Steve - clearly you do not understand supply and demand. If the data you provide is correct than there is nothing to fear - no one can get higher home prices for double stories. As such no contractors or home owners will tear down their house to rebuild it or add a second story because it is money down the drain. Right? There are lot more data engineers and statisticians around here than the guy in your web story.

Like this comment
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2016 at 5:42 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

We all love late Joseph Eichler design so much for the architecture of his 1950 built homes in Palo Alto.

Let us honor him by building a museum in Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 3, 2016 at 9:41 am

Do the Faircourt CC&R's have restrictions against building above one story?

If so, the city regulations require only 60% of owners to agree to the overlay vs 70% if the original CC&R's did not have any upward building restrictions.

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

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