College Terrace neighbors living near two Stanford University-owned properties slated for new homes have raised concerns about the adjoining properties at 739 and 757 College Ave., which have building permits dating to last September from the city of Palo Alto to build two new homes. But, according to neighbors, since the demolition of the properties' two structures months ago, instead of new-home construction taking place, the site is being used for the storage of equipment and building materials for other Stanford construction projects.
"The fences went up a number of months ago, and they posted renderings of the houses," said James Cook, who lives across the street from the site. "But since then, nothing has happened."
Cook said the neighborhood has noticed workers occasionally parking their personal cars on the street or bringing work vehicles to and from the site.
On Feb. 8, Cook said he saw a number of cars parked in the area. Wherever they were working, it was clearly somewhere else. At the end of the day, he saw the workers return in trucks, which they then parked on the properties, and leave in their own cars.
"It is just used solely as a storage area," Cook said, who along with other neighbors, believes the site is violating city ordinances that restrict the storage of unused building materials on outdoor sites to 30 days, or 90 days for which a valid permit is in effect and where the construction is "diligently" being worked on toward completion.
Brian Reynolds, city code enforcement officer, said that Stanford should not be storing equipment or materials from another site at the property or where there is no active construction taking place. He noted that the two sections of nuisance law referenced by residents do apply and are the ones his department uses regarding code violations at building sites.
University spokeswoman Jean McCown acknowledged that materials are being stored there but did not address the potential violation issue. Often, it's hard to prove a violation if there's an open permit, she said.
"Stanford is currently constructing five homes in College Terrace. While all of the permits were issued by the city around the same time last fall, they are starting in sequence with the crew working on these homes through staggered construction phases. These two adjoining vacant lots have been used to store and stage some materials as construction on the other homes have started. The homes on these sites are scheduled for ground breaking at the end of this month," she said in an email.
The university also obtained a building permit for a temporary power pole at the site on Aug. 17, 2018, according to city building records. One neighbor told the Weekly she's concerned that curious children might enter the site and be electrocuted by outdoor extension cords that are submerged in pools of rainwater this week.
"In terms of safety concerns identified by neighbors, these properties are fenced with locked gates and we would expect unauthorized visitors would respect those restrictions and not intrude on the sites, as should be the case with all construction sites," McCown said in the email.
Ann Rosendale, project coordinator for the city who approved the building permits last September, said in an email that the permits will expire on April 30 rather than at the end of March, after the usual 180 days. That's because the project had an approved preconstruction inspection on Oct. 30, 2018.
"For every approved building inspection, the permit is extended for another six months; additionally the contractor/owner can request to extend or reactivate the permit with the building official," she said.
Stanford's looming presence in College Terrace, which is situated between the University-owned land from Stanford Avenue on the north to the Research Park at California Avenue on the south, has long irked some residents who say its construction activity and traffic have been disturbing their peace. Residents have repeatedly complained to the city and the university about large construction-related vehicles idling or using their streets as the University Terrace residential development was built in the research park.
The university owns at least 30 properties in the neighborhood, some of which have remained vacant for years. Residents say these "ghost houses" have degraded their sense of community because they have been unoccupied for so long.
But the university has been slowly renovating or razing and building new homes on their properties. Staff has previously said Stanford plans to offer the homes to professors on a ground lease.
Each of the two properties on College Avenue is slated for a one-story, 1,545-square-foot residence with a 223-square-foot detached garage. They will replace two dilapidated structures.