Two days after California's new split-lot law took effect, Palo Alto received its first application: a proposal to build four homes on a single-family lot on Matadero Avenue.
Architect Randy Popp filed the application for the subdivision at 940 Matadero Ave. with the city on Jan. 3. The project is relying on Senate Bill 9, a law passed by state legislators last year that allows homeowners to split single-family lots to create up to four residential units.
According to a description that Popp provided to the city, the 1-acre Barron Park property will be split into two lots, with one fronting the street and the other one at the rear of the property. The proposed configuration will include access from the front of the property to the flag lot in the back.
The two existing structures on the property — a 2,411-square-foot single-family residence and a storage unit — would both be demolished to make way for a two-story home and an accessory dwelling unit on the front parcel and two single-story homes of roughly equal size on the rear lot, according to Popp's letter.
Jodie Gerhardt, the city's manager for current planning, confirmed that the Matadero proposal is the first SB 9 application that the city has received. The city's process for SB 9 proposals calls for a preliminary meeting with staff from the Department of Planning and Development Services, after which time an applicant can file for a formal building permit, Gerhardt said in an email.
For Palo Alto, the Matadero project could serve as an important litmus test in applying the new law. The city has vehemently opposed SB 9, which was authored by state Sen. Toni Atkins and is widely seen as the most ambitious and controversial housing bill of the dozens passed in Sacramento last year. Palo Alto was among the cities that opposed SB9, arguing in its letter of opposition that the by-right approval process that it sets up "fail(s) to recognize the extensive public engagement associated with developing and adopting zoning ordinances and housing elements."
Since the law's passage in late August, Palo Alto and other cities have been trying to reassert their power over new housing projects by revising their design standards and adding new "objective criteria" that SB 9 projects will have to meet to qualify for approval. In Palo Alto, the City Council adopted an urgency ordinance on Dec. 6 that establishes a host of new rules for single-family homes and replaces what were once subjective criteria for neighborhood compatibility with quantifiable — or objective — standards.
Palo Alto's new rules cover everything from roof heights and building forms to window locations and porch requirements. One new standard requires each street-facing building elevation to have a "significant visual focal point" such as a large window with at least 50 square feet of glazing or a porch that is either roofed or trellised.
Another new law states that on blocks where at least 50% of homes have porches, the proposed house must include a street-facing porch that is no less than 6 feet deep and 8 feet wide.
The city also plans to pass a permanent ordinance in response to SB 9 later this year, after reviews by the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission. That ordinance is expected to include additional requirements and restrictions, with some council members favoring requiring at least one of the new residences to be designated at below market rate.
Popp, a former chair of the city's Architectural Review Board, could not be immediately reached for comment.