Eichler owners to city: One size doesn't fit all | News | Palo Alto Online |


Eichler owners to city: One size doesn't fit all

Residents pack community meeting to debate potential construction guidelines, code changes in Eichler neighborhoods

A crowd of Eichler-loving residents overflowed the Mitchell Park Library conference room in Palo Alto Tuesday night to offer the city their ideas for guidelines to preserve their neighborhoods' character. But despite their united interest in the thorny subject, they also stressed that one size does not fit all.

City officials held the workshop to explore creating design guidelines for neighborhoods developed mostly in the 1950s and 1960s by Joseph Eichler, whose architects favored a clean, Midcentury Modern aesthetic of open floor plans, post-and-beam construction and floor-to-ceiling windows.

In Palo Alto, there are more than 30 Eichler developments, according to Jonathan Rush, the city's consultant from the historic architecture firm Page & Turnbull. He called the concentration "really astounding."

The City Council approved hiring consultants to create potential guidelines after a number of neighborhoods petitioned for single-story overlay zoning, which would prevent the addition of second floors to homes. Given Eichler homes' large windows, residents of one-story homes have expressed concerns that people living in adjacent two-story homes could invade their privacy.

The council approved two single-story-overlay zones in 2015 (Los Arboles and Greer Park North) and rejected two applications in 2016 for Royal Manor and Faircourt #3 and #4 -- the latter in part based on the lack of homeowners' support and the confusing process that accompanied the bids.

Home owners have also, over the years, fought over the design of houses added to their architecturally distinct neighborhoods.

In light of the ongoing challenges, the council directed staff in last May to evaluate developing design guidelines and to explore whether the city should also review and amend its codes and regulations regarding Eichler neighborhoods.

Rather than favoring hard-and-fast rules, residents Tuesday had several different suggestions for how people could expand their homes.

One option would be to allow construction of a basement, some residents said. Others suggested a second story could be made less potentially invasive if homeowners add windows to the front of the building rather than the back.

Still others recommended that remodels could add space to the front of the house -- pushing out into the front yard by 6 feet or converting the garage, if the city were to ease requirements on the use of garages for vehicles. Residents said it's no secret that most people park in their driveway or on the street rather than using their garages, so the space might be used as an addition.

Some meeting attendees favored allowing second stories, but only if they are small and discreet.

But whatever regulations are in place, the participants urged some flexibility. One resident noted that the roof lines of some original Eichlers are "ugly forms" and said homeowners should be allowed to swap shapes with a better-looking Eichler roof design.

As for the method that the city takes to govern the process, participants were not cohesive in their opinions about whether the council should revise its codes and regulations.

Code changes could improve the process by which neighborhoods apply for single-story overlay zones. City codes could also establish a specific "Eichler Overlay" combining district that would allow for compatible second-story additions and create criteria for compatibility, according to a staff report.

The city might also modify its Individual Review guidelines to require review of house projects with specific guidelines for second-floor additions and new two-story homes in Eichler neighborhoods. The Individual Review would consider privacy and compatibility with nearby homes.

The city could also add a review process for one-story homes in Eichler tracts.

Some participants on Tuesday favored guidelines but not codified regulations.

"Regulations should not be so stringent to make it difficult to buy and repair the home," one resident wrote on a Post-it, which was affixed to a wall poster as part of an exercise at the meeting.

Others stressed that whatever policy is adopted, it needs to have "teeth" lest it be unenforceable.

In addition to discussing the potential guidelines, the crowd Tuesday chastised city officials for not giving adequate notice of the meeting and for holding it during Passover, when many people could not attend.

Citing Eichler neighborhoods' past and fractious bids for single-story overlays and other restrictions, residents asked that city planners and consultants make a more concerted effort to involve the neighborhoods in this process.

Consultants and the city plan to work on the guidelines and potential code changes and share a draft with the public in August. They will hold a second community workshop on the draft in September, to be followed by an information hearing before the Historic Resources Board that month.

A hearing with comments and adopted recommendations by the Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled for October. The council would then hear and consider the design guidelines and zoning changes in December with final adopted guidelines to be published in January.


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27 people like this
Posted by translation
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:19 am

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by post
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 3:48 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Eichler Owner
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 4:39 pm

I'm glad the city is setting some guidelines on this. Eichlers have lots of character, and it is sad to see them being replaced by uninteresting boxes, not to mention the very real privacy issues involved!

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2017 at 5:38 pm

I repeat my post from the other thread. I think it is worth considering a compromise. A nearby home in one neighborhood has most of its windows on the side, huge walls of windows. This is most definitely not neighborly even if it was code.

I don't believe we should prevent Eichler or any other style of home from building a second story, but we should most definitely make some rules that would be considered common sense. I have mentioned this before and have ideas that I would consider common sense.

The second story should be only a certain percentage of the home footprint, say 60%. The second story should have no overhangs of the first story. The second story should only have windows at the back and front of the story, not allowed at the sides. No balconies, decks, etc. should be allowed on second stories. All windows on the second story should have a depth limit but not necessarily a width limit, in other words not floor to ceiling and not below an average waist height. All bathrooms for new and remodel windows should have mandatory frosted windows as opposed to clear windows.

To me these sort of common sense restrictions would allow a family to expand their living space without causing too much concern to immediate neighbors.

Allowing carte blanche second stories make no sense. A little give and take on both sides makes a lot of sense.

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 12, 2017 at 6:56 pm

The Eichler neighborhoods are a Planned Community. My street has every type person on it - no lack of diversity. The title of this stream is suggestive and inaccurate. Our neighborhood has set up a set of guidelines that are approved by the city and stipulates any building changes and the requirement for approval. That is why it is called a planned community. The Eichler communities through the bay area and Palm Springs are noted as to location and history. We have a magazine that lists the communities and historic value.

6 people like this
Posted by let me be blunt
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 7:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by New Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 7:21 pm

[Portion removed.]
They are stereotyping by ethnicity.

"The traditional definition of race and ethnicity is related to biological and sociological factors respectively. Race refers to a person's physical characteristics, such as bone structure and skin, hair, or eye color. Ethnicity, however, refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language.
An example of race is brown, white, or black skin (all from various parts of the world), while an example of ethnicity is German or Spanish ancestry (regardless of race) or Han Chinese. Your race is determined by how you look while your ethnicity is determined based on the social and cultural groups you belong to. You can have more than one ethnicities but you are said to have one race, even if it's "mixed race". "

3 people like this
Posted by Functional guidelines
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Functional guidelines is a registered user.

Huh? "Resident" proposed that second stories be allowed to have windows on their backs but not their sides. Why is that? You prefer your back neighbors looking into your house but not your side neighbors? That seems odd to me because the back of my Eichler is solid glass, while the dining room side has a window but doesn't need a lot of privacy and the bedroom side barely has windows.

I suggest that the guidelines have more to do with the privacy needs of the actual neighbors than blanket rules about sides and backs that might be totally inappropriate for a specific situation.

5 people like this
Posted by let me be blunt
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 7:56 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:01 pm

I attended the meeting and would like to clarify the tangent being discussed above.

Most people there were supportive of the project, yet they were also thoughtful enough to highlight for the consultants that they were NOT fully representative of all Palo Alto Eichler owners. Lots of white hair. No attendees with small children. The meeting was from 6:30-8:30 on a Tuesday night during Passover. That was mentioned as was ensuring the involvement of the broad community of Eichler homeowners as this project moves forward.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Can't the residents come up with some sort of covenants or create a homeowners association? Why is this something the city is involved in?

Like this comment
Posted by post
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:28 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:47 pm

Why are you all going on about "race"? How did you get off on that tangent? And why is the title of this stream so incendiary? We are talking about a planned community that has recreational facilities in each cluster. The Eichler homes are famous - there are clusters all over - Palm Springs, Marin County, and the design is copied by other architects. We established guidelines/restrictions way back when concerning the adding of second stories - this is not a start from scratch situation or a do-over. Again - I have all types of people on my street s get off that topic - inappropriate.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2017 at 10:20 pm

The reason I suggest windows at the back and not the side is because generally that means there is a great distance between properties and property lines. With the prospect of trees or high shrubbery, privacy concerns are not the same as being able to see or be seen from the adjacent property at the side rather than the property at the end of the backyard.

4 people like this
Posted by EPA Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2017 at 10:19 am

@resident, people are talking about race and lack of diversity because historically race(i.e. redlining) played a part in who could originally purchase eichlers and other homes in Palo Alto.

Web Link

Quote from link:
"Today middle and upper class black residents are scattered throughout largely white and Asian neighborhoods in the city. And although recent newspaper reports paint a picture of openness in Palo Alto toward black residents, the legacy of years of housing discrimination is still with us. Despite the massive migration of blacks to the Peninsula in the postwar years, Palo Alto’s African-American population still stands at just 2%, as it has since the Great Depression. And if Palo Alto’s population does not entirely look like America today, it is clearly because the city shut its doors to some Americans in the past."

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

I am so happy that we all are now consumed by political nonsense. The Eichler homes were built at a time when Lockheed and Ford Aerospace were the largest employers in the area for a for-profit tax producing business. If you have not noticed all government contract companies have a equal opportunity requirement for doing business with the Government. They get graded on that in competitive bidding wars. So you can have a number of high school graduates working in the non-technical areas and the companies at that time paid for college costs if applicable to the job requirements. So there was opportunity for everyone. Due to the high CA state tax rate applied to for-profit companies they are moving to lower tax burden states.
So why is this a topic for this stream? Another developer in the area is the Kaufman/Broad homes in the same area. It was just a matter of when you arrived and what was available. We do have neighborhood associations with elected leaders. I thought I was in one neighborhood until I joined and found out I was in a different neighborhood. If anyone is going to change up the design features then a notification needs to be sent out by the city so people can comment if the design is incompatible with the neighborhood. We are not in the wild west here. As to EPA comments - back in that time you were a farm country and all of those homes were built over time.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2017 at 11:49 am

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 13, 2017 at 2:40 pm

I wish you folks in the Eichler neighborhoods the best of luck with this effort, but I'm not optimistic. The same consultant was responsible for developing the Professorville design guidelines. Those replaced the simpler guidelines developed by the residents' committee with more than a hundred pages of conditions, and did a questionable job of acknowledging both the development history of the neighborhood and the styles of architecture present here. (Coincidentally, Professorville has a couple of two-story Eichlers). My neighbors across the street have been stuck for months trying to get a modest project approved, despite the fact that the guidelines are supposed to be voluntary. They've even had to ask this same consultant to interpret the guidelines for them. I wonder if they had to pay the consultant for that.

3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm

IS this another spendathon for PA? We don't need a consultant for the Eichler Community. We have a whole volume of Eichler expert construction companies who are very aware of the Eichler requirements. There is a whole Eichler Network for this purpose.

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