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.