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Stanford 'ghost' houses to get new life

University to replace nine homes that currently sit empty

2040 Columbia St., right and 2070 Columbia St., left, are two houses in College Terrace owned by Stanford University, which plans to renovate them to provide housing for faculty. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Several homes owned by Stanford University in the College Terrace neighborhood that have been sitting empty for a year or more will be demolished and rebuilt in the next year, university staff told neighborhood leaders on May 16.

The seven older homes and two vacant lots are part of the university's estimated 23 properties in the College Terrace neighborhood. They will become housing for faculty, said David Kirk, project manager for redevelopment properties.

Contractors have already begun working on the first home, at 2070 Columbia St. Construction of all of the homes is expected to finish by October 2019. Faculty will be able to obtain ground leases for the homes, in which Stanford retains ownership of the land.

College Terrace residents say they have long desired the houses to be repaired or rented. They said the empty residences, colloquially called "ghost" houses, erode the quality of their neighborhood, although the university has kept up the yards.

City planning documents show the university has applied to replace single-story homes with two-story residences. The properties are at 2040 and 2070 Columbia St.; 2255 and 2035 Oberlin St.; 2320 Princeton St.; 2100 Cornell St.; 1015 Stanford Ave.; 739 and 757 College Ave. (See all nine properties up close with this map.) The existing original homes range from about 809 square feet to 1,452 square feet; the new ones will range from 2,249 square feet to 2,623 square feet. Each will have a detached garage.

Some residents expressed dismay that a few of the better-kept older houses won't be renovated, including the one at 1015 Stanford Ave. That house is particularly lovely inside and has a great front door, they said. The residents asked university officials to consider salvaging the clear-grain redwood and other features from some of the homes.

Kirk said demolition of the houses proved more cost-effective than renovating them. Many of the homes are small and are therefore undesirable for faculty.

The residents, concerned the university is trying to buy up the neighborhood, questioned Stanford staff about the university's long-term plans to acquire properties. College Terrace is adjacent to Stanford and sandwiched between the new 180-unit University Terrace faculty housing development on California Avenue and Escondido Village on Stanford Avenue. Both locations have a multiple types of housing, including single-family homes. It is also bordered by housing in the Peter Coutts development.

Stanford spokeswoman Jean McCown said the university has no long-term goal for buying up College Terrace, though it strives to provide a variety of housing to faculty.

But she reiterated what she said a year ago when the same question arose during a May 31 College Terrace Residents Association meeting: "Single-family homes in neighborhoods is what a lot of faculty want."

Stanford owns about 30 single-family homes throughout Palo Alto. About 120 homes in Menlo Park owned by Stanford are sold on ground leases, with most in the Stanford Hills and Stanford Creek areas, according to McCown.

Stanford does rent out some of its neighborhood housing and offers ground leases for its other College Terrace properties, she said.

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Comments

42 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2018 at 12:17 pm

The city of Stanford is allowed to buy and hold properties in Palo Alto but Palo Alto is not allowed to buy property in the city of Stanford.

By buying and holding properties in College Terrace, Stanford is pricing its own faculty out of College Terrace and depriving its own faculty of the full benefits of property ownership.

In a previous post to Palo Alto Online an anonymous faculty member said he/she had made four attempts to buy property in college Terrace but each time was outbid by Stanford.

I guess this is the new real-estate business model. The "home owner" gets the portion of the property that depreciates and the property owner gets the portion of the property that appreciates.


20 people like this
Posted by Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

"But she reiterated what she said a year ago when the same question arose during a May 31 College Terrace Residents Association meeting: "Single-family homes in neighborhoods is what a lot of faculty want." "

Single-family homes in neighborhoods is what a lot of millenials want, too. It's why Los Altos real estate has appreciated so much more than Palo Alto's in the last 20-30 years. Yet when there is an opportunity to build single-family homes, it is treated by the City as some kind of dirt on the bottom of their shoes.

Hey Stanford, the Maybell houses haven't been built yet. They will be right across from a park and walking distance to all the schools, plus easily accessible by bike and foot to Stanford via the bike path in the neighborhood that picks up at Georgia, and by car via El Camino and Foothill Expwy. Please buy up the whole lot of them, the builder doesn't seem capable of completing the project, which has a permit out to build them. It's probably your last chance to get land at a reasonable price and avoid the cost of buying something new such as at the Colonnade in Los Altos.

I am sorry to hear people are getting outbid by Stanford in CT, but if it's not Stanford, it's someone else. I do not begrudge people who can get Stanford housing their lower-priced homes. I think that's a better model than the people trying to make a quick buck by creating unsustainable density to provide transient entry-level-workforce housing for companies like Palantir that really should be moving elsewhere to expand. Stanford is a better neighbor, and the employees who live in those more affordable houses are an important long-term part of our community.


14 people like this
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2018 at 11:20 am

[Portion removed due to inaccurate information. College Terrace is not Stanford-owned land and it is part of the City of Palo Alto.]

When I arrived for Stanford grad school, the 1971-72 year, one of my office mates was renting in College Terrace, which was still being managed by Stanford.

In 2001, I was one of the early occupants at Stanford West Apts on Sand Hill Rd., which sits on Stanford land along San Francisquito Creek, across Sand Hill from Stanford Medical Center; it's now serviced by Palo Alto and now has a Palo Alto address, but is still Stanford land.

Stanford land overlaps into San Mateo County, west of Junipero Serra Blvd. SLAC, Stanford Hills, Stanford Weekend Acres, and 1/3 of Stanford Golf Course are Stanford land in San Mateo Co. Residences in this SMCo. area have Menlo Park addresses. College Terrace residents, who are aware of the realities of Stanford land, will be more concerned about Stanford leverage.

However, Stanford has its development constrained by the Santa Clara County's supervising governance of unincorporated land. Together with surrounding cities, SCCo. has been continually restricting Stanford's expansion phases. Stanford has to operate with tradeoffs in mind.

A partial result of such constraints is Stanford's new North Campus in Redwood City because its space needs are greater than what's allowed under SCCo. governance. While 60% of Stanford's contiguous 8,180 acres are in SCCo., the remaining 40% is in SMCo. Stanford land overlaps into Woodside, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Palo Alto is simply a neighboring municipality.


23 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 28, 2018 at 11:41 am

Annette is a registered user.

@Thoughts: you wrote "Yet when there is an opportunity to build single-family homes, it is treated by the City as some kind of dirt on the bottom of their shoes."

Amen. You and everyone you know who agrees with you should write the PACC (particularly Fine and Wolbach) and State Senator Scott Weiner and Governor Brown and tell them exactly that. As is, there's way too much assuming going on, with planners and developer-backed politicians thinking they know best what everyone wants. Write!


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Hear, hear, Annette!

Do Stanford-held (or newly purchased) properties in College Terrace (and elsewhere off campus) get the same property tax exemptions as properties on Stanford campus? If so, tell the PACC that it's high time for Stanford to stop shifting its financial burdens to the residents.


8 people like this
Posted by katie
a resident of Stanford
on May 28, 2018 at 12:31 pm

re: "...the same property tax exemptions as properties on Stanford campus?" Um, I live on Stanford campus in faculty housing and unless I am missing something, there are not tax exemptions.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 28, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Fascinating - the Weekly's sister publication has run a series of articles criticizing the MPFPD for acquiring a total of FIVE homes in order to expand its existing fire stations to meet the demand of a growing resident and daytime populations. No where in those articles does the Almanac even acknowledge that Stanford owns ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY homes in Menlo Park alone. And the Weekly and Almanac staff work in the same building!!


17 people like this
Posted by Kieran McCarty
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2018 at 12:55 pm

I’m wondering why 1015 Stanford Ave, which the Zillow listing for a sale in 2016 (at $2.488 million) says is 1692 square feet — larger than the 1452sf top end of the claimed range of home sizes — with 4 bedrooms and 2 baths, needs to be replaced. Families lived in these houses for years before quite comfortably, I remember visiting a high school classmate at 2040 Columbia many years ago and they didn’t seem overcrowded (my family, on the other hand, with 11 children in 1714 sf with only 2 bathrooms and 3 nominal bedrooms — one of which was a suite the size of 2.5 ordinary bedrooms — certainly was, yet even we managed, and I would consider that house *large* for a couple with two children, which is more typical nowadays). Families have, since the 70’s and 80’s, not gotten larger; if anything, they are smaller than they were then. And yet, everyone now needs 2250-2700 square feet? Does every member of the household need their own bathroom? Do they include a ballroom or servants’ quarters? Given the availability of the Faculty Club and other facilities at Stanford for very large gatherings, numerous restaurants downtown, etc, how much room do you really need for entertaining (and isn’t entertaining outdoors in a large patio/yard area one of the *perks* of living in an area with mild weather like Palo Alto)?
It’s thinking like this that has everyone commuting one-to-a-car in Range Rovers and Hummers. Palo Alto has some mansions. College Terrace is not the neighborhood for them.


18 people like this
Posted by Kieran McCarty
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Part of Palo Alto’s charm, to me, is a lack of ostentation relative to places like Atherton. And more modest-sized homes is part of that.


33 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on May 28, 2018 at 1:43 pm

"College Terrace, the Industrial Park, Stanford Shopping Center, properties along Sand Hill Rd., Paly and Gunn High Schools are on dedicated Stanford land."

College Terrace was never part of Stanford lands. Stanford has and does own properties in College Terrace, but the land was part of the town of Mayfield, which was incorporated into Palo Alto in the mid 1920's.


24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Katie. Stanford "homeowners" only own their homes but not the land on which their homes sit because Stanford owns the land and that is tax exempt. In Palo Alto and environs, the land usually has a higher tax assessment than the structures.


11 people like this
Posted by katie
a resident of Stanford
on May 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm

@Online Name -- thanks for the reminder. Correct, we don't pay tax on the land but we do pay hefty monthly 'ground rent' to the university. Honestly, I don't know how that amount would compare to the amount relative to taxes on the land part of tax for PA homeowners, but I do know how privileged to be able to own a home not just here on campus but anywhere in the Bay Area (or anywhere, for that matter).


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Katie, thanks. So my question remains whether Stanford is collecting both a "hefty ground rent" from homeowners like you as well as a big property tax exemption on these College Terrace homes that taxpayers like the rest of us are subsidizing. Does its land get reassessed whenever these properties sell for a higher price or does its tax exemption stay the same forever while it continues to raise the ground rent for each owner?


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 29, 2018 at 7:52 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From the Stanford Housing web site:

"Is the lessee responsible for any portion of the property taxes?
Yes. Lessee is responsible for 100% of all property taxes. The County Assessor determines the value on which the taxes, fees and assessments are charged. Current information is that the fair market value (not the purchase price) will be the basis for property taxes"


13 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2018 at 11:10 am

"Kirk said demolition of the houses proved more cost-effective than renovating them". But will they "deconstruct" them? No, according to one of the agents I spoke to. "Too expensive" he said. I'd love to know the differential cost of deconstructing vs demolishing these houses for which Stanford is perfectly able to pay over $2 million. How much more expensive would it be to do the ecologically right thing?


10 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2018 at 12:38 pm

@ Online Name: As stated previously, College Terrace has never been part of Stanford...it is private property in Palo Alto. Stanford does not get a property tax exemption for the land in CT.


12 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2018 at 1:14 pm

How will the construction of these single family houses in College Terrace affect the property values of the other non-Stanford-owned houses in CT? The fact that these properties are forever "taken off the market" (because Stanford never sells).... does that mean that prices will go up due to less supply?

What does everyone think?


19 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2018 at 5:43 pm

'From the Stanford Housing web site:

"Is the lessee responsible for any portion of the property taxes?
Yes. Lessee is responsible for 100% of all property taxes. The County Assessor determines the value on which the taxes, fees and assessments are charged. Current information is that the fair market value (not the purchase price) will be the basis for property taxes"'

Thanks Peter. Here's the link, by the way: Web Link

By the way, I can't imagine that the property taxes are much, though. Yes, in the case where a home on the Stanford land in question was sold, the house ("improvement") gets reassessed. However, since the land never changes ownership, the land itself can't be reassessed.

So even if the homeowners (that lease Stanford land) are paying all property taxes (land plus improvements), the amount has to be lower than a comparable home in a similar area, simply because the land itself is effectively never reassessed.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think ALL entities should pay property taxes: schools (public and private), town/city governments, county goverments, special districts, nonprofits, churches, businesses, homeowners, etc. Doing so would resolve much of this abusive behavior you see from entities like Stanford. They can still write off the taxes as a business expense, but the pass-through of those dollars would be beneficial to the communities they belong in.


4 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on May 30, 2018 at 10:40 am

@ Online Name et al:

The annual payment for ground-land leases on Stanford's residential properties was fixed when the 49 or 99 year leases were written. There's no increase in the annual amount paid for the ground lease when homes sell. That's what a lease is. New owner takes title subject to the underlying lease terms & conditions.
Only when those leases come up for renewal can there be an annual "rent" increase.


2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2018 at 11:03 am

Sorry. "Peninsula Resident" is wrong about property taxes paid by Stanford leaseholders. This can be independently checked by doing the following
(1) Look up recent sales on the Faculty Staff Housing website - Web Link - this is necessary to find houses that have been sold and thus re-assessed recently.
(2) Take the address from step 1 and look up the property tax assessment on the Santa Clara County Assessor's website - Web Link. There is a lag between sales and tax assessments so the most recent sales may still show their earlier assessment.
For example, I looked up one house sold in the summer of 2016 - its 2017 assessment was exactly the sales price and the land value accounted for approximately 80% of the price, as would likely be the case for many houses in Palo Alto. This assessment changed when the house was sold, as the earlier land value was less. One house I found this way saw a factor of 6 increase in the assessed value of the land when sold, likely one that had a long-time owner prior to the last sale.


2 people like this
Posted by Heritage
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2018 at 6:52 pm

Kieran McCarty, Some interesting/good points there. Just FYI: 1015 Stanford still visible on Zillow. Says "SOLD: $2,488,000 Sold on 05/16/16". Also now says $3,347,991 !


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