Neighbors in Palo Alto's Embarcadero Oaks are protesting a proposal to build an 11-bedroom, 14-bath residence with a one-car garage, which they fear could be used as an Airbnb rental or for another commercial enterprise.
The proposed 4,529-square-foot, two-story home at 1710 Newell Road, on the corner of Newell and Embarcadero roads, would replace an 1,878-square-foot, single-story residence. The home would also feature a 2,861-square-foot basement, according to plans submitted to the city's planning department.
At least nine neighbors on Newell and Guinda Street have sent letters to the city project planner stating their belief that is unlikely the home will be used as a single-family residence given the large number of bedrooms and baths. Most surrounding homes have three or four bedrooms.
"This appears out of balance for a single-family residence in an R1 zoning area," they stated in a form letter.
The 14 bathrooms, including two powder rooms, give the house the character of a hotel or another commercial enterprise, they wrote.
"There are a total of three stairways and an elevator. Between the bathrooms, the bedrooms, the elevators and the stairways, we are concerned that this house is not configured as a single-family dwelling, but rather a place for some kind of business. It could be a school, assisted-care facility, an Airbnb hotel or some other business use," the letter states.
The proposal includes a one-car garage with uncovered space for two or three additional vehicles in the driveway. Residents said they are concerned that cars will spill out onto the street for parking.
Father Bishoy William, a minister at the Archangel Michael and Saint Mercurius Coptic Orthodox Church in Redwood City, is listed as one of three owners on the grant deed. In a recent phone interview, he denied that the home would be used for any other purpose except as a single-family residence for himself, his wife and two children. The other bedrooms are for visiting relatives. Some of the bedrooms will be used as study rooms or offices for family members, he said. William said he was an oncology surgeon who is now involved in research. He was ordained as a priest in 2001.
"It is not a community house. We have a big church in Redwood City, and if we do need community rooms, we have more than 25 rooms we can use," he said.
The proposed home would include a game room, an office and a large community room in addition to kitchen, living and dining rooms.
One resident expressed concerns in a letter that noise in the backyard could be an ongoing nuisance. Others feared that the size of the home and its basement would compromise the root systems of the heritage oak trees, which could then fall and significantly damage adjacent homes.
Jodie Gerhardt, the city's manager of current planning, said in an email that Palo Alto's Single Family Individual Review process goals are to preserve "the unique character of Palo Alto neighborhoods" and "promote construction that is compatible with existing residential neighborhoods."
The city has no limitations on the number of bedrooms for a home in an R-1 zone, nor are there restrictions on the number of unrelated persons who can share a house, Gerhardt said.
The largest home in the neighborhood has six bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths, according to the real-estate websites Zillow and Trulia. A half-dozen other homes have four or five bedroom. The majority of homes on the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Newell are single-story and have three bedrooms and two baths.
Group homes are allowed in the city's R-1 zones.
An "adult day care home" is a dwelling or part of a dwelling used for daytime care and supervision of 12 or fewer persons above age 18 and licensed by the state or county. A "large adult day care home," which is defined as daytime care of seven or more adults, would require a Conditional Use Permit application, Gerhardt said.
A single-family home must be "occupied ... on a non-transient basis" and not have more than one kitchen, according to city code.
Residents living within 150 feet of 1710 Newell received notices of the proposed project on July 6. A formal comment period ended about 21 days later, but Gerhardt said the city will accept comments at any time while the application is pending. Once a notice of a written decision by the planning director is mailed, only the applicant, owner or occupier of an adjacent property will be allowed within 14 days to file a request for a director's hearing. The city's municipal code does not limit the reasons to request the hearing. The director could deny a project if it is found to violate some portion of the city's municipal code, she said.