First, it was a corner house that sold and got a total style makeover. The home was quickly sold again and the new construction completely gutted and expanded with little leftover land on its smallish lot. We watched, wondered, then shrugged and mostly approved. Upgrades and young families are good for home prices and great for school taxes.
Soon after, however, an ominous looking fence went up three houses down from mine — that tall, green mesh surround that screams "major construction." After a few days' sightings of an emptying garage each time I went by, a driveway storage pod joined the fence and silently announced a proposed large add-on.
"Seven hundred feet, but only in front, according to Zillow," my daughter reported. "I'm not sure about the back."
In my neck of the "woods" (plus stucco), residents of these aging Eichler spin-offs (originally slapped up for returning World War II vets) have created the legend over the last 50 years that our one-story, flat-roofed, window-walled, Frank Lloyd Wright wannabe's constitute "history" and are worthy of preservation akin to the Old North Church or Monticello.
And as "Our Town" now debates backyard granny units and sky-rise apartment complexes, I sadly recall the crafty activist who lived a block away 40 years ago and initiated the grassroots putsch that ultimately squashed any unsuspecting, upwardly mobile homeowner in the area. Although over so much time, a few ersatz villas and hodge-podge fixes have personalized my street, to date, I enjoy the only second-story on the block.
Yes, at this point I must confess that I am the small-potatoes traitor who inspired the current avidly pro or rabidly anti "neighborhood overlay," the injunction against building up. Whether a few houses or a few streets, these no-second-story groups have sunk into vocal villains or soared to "save our neighborhood" status. They champion the low-rise character and tract-home aesthetic, and they adamantly resist the maxi-mansion mania of the new Silicon Valley.
In the late '70s, our own no-big-deal aim was to move our two sons from their closet-sized bedroom with its locker-room miasma to an upstairs space.
"Not a master suite?" queried our more modern friends.
"We were actually thinking about bricking the kids in if we could," we shot back, "but that's probably against the law, so a mini-attic's the best we could do."
We planned a partial second floor with minimal square footage that neither impacted the next door neighbors nor restricted their views. At the mandated planning commission hearing, several nearby homeowners attended and agreed that our add-up was welcome, unobtrusive and wouldn't block anyone's panorama of power poles. They also decided it was definitely a plus for property values.
The proposed three-month building timeline stretched out to a year as the soon-to-be-parodied Palo Alto Process kicked in. Outdated but entrenched rules killed our pleasing upper-level plan for wood beams designed to match the existing architecture. The city inspector straightened the lovely spiral staircase, suggested a flight ending in the middle of the dining room table and lowered the landings so much that to this day I crouch like Quasimodo every time I do the laundry.
Daily, it seems, our endearing but endangered Crackerbox Corners slides from that 1970s semi-remodel into super-restructuring. Another small property nearby sports our street's very first depth-defying basement. We all marveled that the huge, lethal-looking shovel somehow managed to fit on the lot.
Yes, most of us did think things would stay pretty much the same forever. We were once the young newlyweds on the street, embarking on careers and families in a university-oriented area. We could have it all, two or three kids and an easily affordable mortgage. Add block parties and walking-distance schools. The Middle Class American Dream lived — right on my block.
Whatever happens next, turrets or tents, better get used to it. With a burgeoning population and growing gridlock, we'll happily opt to stay home more. And as the entire area moves from family affordable to financially stratospheric, the cost of a single-family home may prove to be the only thing upwardly mobile, especially if neighborhood bans on full second stories hold fast for a long, long time to come.
This story contains 780 words.
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