News

Faircourt's bid to ban two-story homes rejected

Palo Alto's planning commission turns down 'single-story overlay' application because of eroding support

An effort to ban new two-story homes in the Eichler enclave of Faircourt faltered Wednesday night after a series of last-minute detraction dragged the petition just below the needed signature threshold.

With the level of support dipping just under 60 percent, the Planning and Transportation Commission agreed on Wednesday to reject Faircourt's application for a "single-story overlay," a zone change that prohibits two-story homes and second-story additions.

By a 3-0 vote, with Vice Chair Przemek Gardias abstaining and Commissioners Kate Downing, Adrian Fine and Eric Rosenblum absent, the planning commission also favored new design guidelines for Eichler neighborhoods, one that would ensure that new two-story homes do not interfere with neighbors' sunlight and privacy.

Proposals to ban two-story homes in Eichler neighborhoods have become popular lately, with four different neighborhoods pursuing single-story overlays since last year. Two of them, Los Arboles and Greer Park North, succeeded in getting the designation. Another, Royal Manor, failed in its bid earlier this month after numerous residents retracted their signatures, dropping the support level just below the needed 70 percent threshold.

Faircourt Tracts No. 3 and No. 4 -- which includes Talisman Drive, Arbutus Drive (between Talisman and Thornwood Drive), Thornwood Drive, 3500 to 3580 Louis Road, 3479 to 3519 Ross Road and 3505 to 3579 Evergreen Drive -- suffered a similar fate. Because two-story homes here are already restricted by covenant, the threshold was 60 percent. And when applicants agreed to cut out a block of Talisman, where support level was low, from the initial 50-property boundary, the petition appeared to have enough signatures to advance. Of the 44 homes in the new overlay district, 28 percent said they support the restrictions (63.6 percent).

But earlier this week, two residents submitted emails saying they no longer support the effort, reducing the majority to 59 percent.

Both sides of the debate were well represented at Wednesday's meeting, with supporters arguing that the overlay would protect them from two-story "monstrosities" going up next door and opponents saying that the overlay is an excessive and unnecessary measure.

Faircourt resident Alison Cormack said she loves her one-story Eichler and has no plans to add a second story, but she opposes the overlay proposal. Regrettably, she said, this has become "a pretty divisive topic, in the neighborhood and also in the city."

"Retroactively changing the rules about how other homeowners use their properties does not seem appropriate to me," Cormack said.

She said she supports less restrictive ways to make sure second-story additions respect neighboring properties. It is certainly possible, she said, to have a second-story without disturbing neighbors.

Adrienne Duncan, one of the original Eichler owners, recalled her experience decades ago when she bought her five-bedroom home from builder Joseph Eichler. But unlike Cormack, she supports the overlay.

"It's a beautiful house, a lovely setting, and I wouldn't want anybody putting up some great monstrosity next to me," Duncan said.

With support under 60 percent, the planning commission turned down the request and criticized the process for relying so heavily on neighborhood-driven signature drives.

Commissioner Michael Alcheck said compelling neighbors to collect signatures in person from each other is a process that the city shouldn't encourage.

"It's an uncomfortable and potentially antagonizing process," he said.

Commissioner Asher Waldfogel and Gardias both said they would have been much more comfortable leaving decisions about new homes to a homeowners association or a design review board, which historically had the authority to enforce the covenant. In most cases, including Faircourt, neighborhoods have allowed these boards to lapse.

Gardias went so far as to propose that the city not accept any new applications for two-story homes until a homeowners association is reactivated, though that proposal fizzled with no support.

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Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2016 at 9:10 am

"It's a beautiful house, a lovely setting, and I wouldn't want anybody putting up some great monstrosity next to me," Duncan said."

If you don't like having a big monstrosity next to your house, you have the legal right to buy it and preserve it. Oh wait, prices are too high to buy because residentialists are constricting development.

Oh the tangled web we weave sometimes.


33 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 26, 2016 at 11:12 am

"Retroactively changing the rules about how other homeowners use their properties does not seem appropriate to me," Cormack said.

Well said, Cormack!!!


14 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Sheri is a registered user.

It doesn't quite seems right that 3 out of 7 commissioners can make such decisions. For the Midtown Connector project, only 4 commissioners were present. What kind of fair hearing is that?


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Resident is a registered user.

According to the article, the commissioners present favor "new design guidelines for Eichler neighborhoods, ones that would ensure that new two-story homes do not interfere with neighbors' sunlight and privacy."

As has been pointed out in previous discussions, a 2-story home inevitably interferes with neighbors' sunlight and privacy. Only in the absence of neighbors would there be no interference.

I agree that this decision is too important to be left to the three out of 7 commissioners voting on it.


10 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Two of the three missing commissioners have major connections to Palantir. Maybe it is accidental, maybe not. They are both fierce advocates for housing.

Commissioner Alcheck said that as a real estate lawyer, it would be good if people signing petitions had to have their signatures notarized.

Watching the PTC has become entertaining.





5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Both sides of this argument make a lot of sense.

We have to get a halfway solution rather than an either or situation.

Allowing a second story which is only a certain percentage of the building footprint makes sense. In some of the two story homes around town, there are overhangs and other things which in fact makes the second story larger than the first floor footprint. This has to be wrong and should be prevented.

Allowing balconies only on homes that overlook a park, a street, or greenspace would make sense. Also making all side windows on the second story frosted glass rather than plain glass helps. In fact, making all bathroom windows on all remodels or window replacements a standard code would be a good idea.

Sensible code alterations would help a great deal in making a new second story home less invasive to the neighborhood.


16 people like this
Posted by CM
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Anyone, like "Me" the first poster, who claims that restricting development is what is driving up home prices just doesn't understand what is going on in Palo Alto. What is driving home prices up is just the opposite - Massive development! If past city councils had not allowed the massive business development and if surrounding communities had followed suit there would be no problem. You can't build your way out of this problem, it will only get worse. Manhattan and Tokyo are massive and crowded and very expensive. What the people who push for more development are doing at this point will never lower housing prices, it will only further destroy the quality of life for the people who live here. There is such a thing as sustainable growth for a community. Residents quality of life diminishes with more crowded streets, schools, and fewer city amenities. The environment and the world as a whole suffers from too many people. Palo Alto should stop growth, live sustainably and offer a good quality of life to residents while being respectful to the environment we live in. Maybe one day the rest of the state and world will catch on and set limits to growth and population so that we don't all destroy the planet. It can start here.


18 people like this
Posted by Monstrosities?
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm

[Portion removed.] The houses people are build all over town are not monstrosities, they are just 2 story houses that would be considered entirely normal for an affluent suburban area anywhere else in the US except Palo Alto.


19 people like this
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm

The issue I see in this is we are attempting to preserve the low key and mid century modern look of our neighborhoods. There are several issues here: For one our lots are not big, which means a second story has a great impact on being able to look out at sky and trees-instead of a building. Many of us have substandard side yards. If a second story is built we have lost any view out of the windows on that side.
Another issue is the design of the new building. I believe it is a reasonable request that the design on the OUTSIDE, is in keeping with the neighborhood. It also makes good neighbors. Our neighborhoods are already considered historic, why buy into the area if you aren't interested in preserving this? And if you do purchase a home, why not check with your neighbors first?
The third issue and in a way the biggest, The are people who figure out how to "cheat" the planning process, they do the remodel spanning several permits so it doesn't trigger a design review. This may be legal but the intent isn't and then we end up with a home not in keeping with the neighborhood. That person has basically cheated on the planning process, would you like that person to be your neighbor?


6 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm

@Monstrosities? wrote:

"The houses people are build all over town are not monstrosities, they are just 2 story houses that would be considered entirely normal for an affluent suburban area anywhere else in the US except Palo Alto."

That depends on which houses you are talking about. Some are typical houses that fit in well with the neighborhood, others are tacky, tasteless, butt ugly McMansions that look like they belong in a San Jose tract development. Nothing says "no class" and "this neighborhood is cheesy" like a McMansion.


10 people like this
Posted by So sad
a resident of Mountain View
on May 26, 2016 at 5:31 pm

I don't live in PA, would love to but can't afford it. One of the most appealing aspects is the quaintness of the neighborhoods. It is absolutely reprehensible that "commissioners" be allowed to make decisions that alter these neighborhoods, rather than the people who actually live there. These commissioners should be ashamed. Quite the addition on their resume "destroyers of quaint neighborhoods". Complete and total lack of class and sensibilities.


9 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2016 at 10:56 am

"Anyone, like "Me" the first poster, who claims that restricting development is what is driving up home prices just doesn't understand what is going on in Palo Alto. What is driving home prices up is just the opposite - Massive development!”

This is classic. I’m crying because it’s hilarious and frankly sad. This person is pretending that there is a hard border around Palo Alto. You’re telling me that development within Palo Alto is causing housing prices to jump more than, say, Facebook in Menlo Park or Google in Mountain View? Or Apple in Cupertino?

Really? Seriously?

And guess what - these Palo Alto residents that work at these successful drivers of our economy have to *DRIVE* to those campuses. That’s why your streets are so crowded.

Or are you advoating a Trump-ian wall around Palo Alto?

Wake up.


12 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2016 at 11:04 am

"Our neighborhoods are already considered historic, why buy into the area if you aren't interested in preserving this? “

The Coliseum in Rome is historic. The pyramids in Egypt is historic. The Forbidden City in Beijing is historic.

Houses built on the culture of exploding dinosaur car-centric suburban sprawl fleeing “urban” centers (you know what I mean)?

Hardly think that compares.


10 people like this
Posted by Time to stir the pot
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 27, 2016 at 11:30 am

Either owner believes that some neighborhoods here are historic. That is a laugh. You must be listening to Holmans rhetoric. There is little to nothing that is historic in Palo Alto. It may disappoint many residents in Palo Alto, but our city is ordinary, with ordinary homes. The fact many people consider the junk that joe " overrated" eichler designed is historic does not know the definition of "historic"


10 people like this
Posted by Lynn Ware
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 28, 2016 at 3:35 pm

I am right next door to these tracks and I believe homeowners should have the right to do what they want with their properties as long as the current zoning laws are followed and neighbors privacy concerns are considered. Though I am in a single story home and have no plans to add, with housing prices what they are, more and more families have multi-generations living together at times (helping their children to save money for a housing down payment, etc.). I agree with Cormack who said: "Retroactively changing the rules about how other homeowners use their properties does not seem appropriate to me." In addition, getting remodeling plans approved in Palo Alto is already a highly reviewed process, so neighbors can already have their say about design without the single story overlay ordinance in place. Also, there are some beautiful two story homes that are not "monstrosities" that have been put up in South Palo Alto that modernize the neighborhood.


3 people like this
Posted by Just chill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I hope we just saw the last vote on this topic. It really didn't matter if all commissioners were present for this vote, the petition fell below 60% required signature threshold, so there was no way this could get approved.

If you really want to see if this has affected proeprties value in the areas that the law has passed. Anyone has any new data to add? I specially am looking for the sale record of one story smaller ones that have to calim the yard in order to add living space.


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

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