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Can anyone explain the Zoning definitions?

Original post made by pares, Barron Park, on Apr 17, 2013

What are the definitions of RM-15 and R-2 Zones?

This is from an announcement about a development near Barron Park:

"Palo Alto Housing Corporation (PAHC), a nonprofit affordable housing developer, proposes to build a rental apartment building with approximately 60 apartments affordable to extremely-low to low income senior households and 15 for sale, market rate single family homes. The project site is comprised of two parcels at the corner of Maybell and Clemo Avenues totaling 2.46 acres. The larger parcel (93,654 sq. ft.) is zoned RM-15 and the smaller parcel (13,768 sq. ft.) is zoned R2."

Comments (11)

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Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

RM-15 (Residential Multiple) means that apartment buildings are allowed, with a density up to 15 dwelling units per acre. R-2 permits duplexes.

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Posted by look up the codes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Dear definitions,
You should read about the zoning in the city's general plan, the municipal code, and the state website about zoning. The state gives the city the power to zone, but there are restrictions to what cities can do, particularly to rezone areas to be very different from surrounding areas.:

Web Link

Web Link

An RM-15 zoning doesn't automatically mean anyone can put even 15 dwellings per acres there, the application is supposed to be specific to the location, so for example, if the RM-15 area is surrounded by R-1, the number of units per acre should be closer to the low end of 8 units per acre. (that came from one of the documents above I think)

Look at the zoning map of that area
Web Link

The Tan/Arastradero apartments and that RM-15/R-2 area are an island in a see of R-1 residential zoning. R-2/RM-15 are official designated low density and were probably intended to make a gradual transition to the R-1 neighborhood after the apartments were built. They were built when the area was county and grandfathered in.

I would note that there are (I think) 61 units at the Arastradero apartments, i.e., the new development the PAHC wants to put in will be massive on that order, plus the stacked chimney houses it wants to put on Maybell.

It's clear from the zoning map that the Maybell project is part of the neighborhood, and the city is trying to spot zone that area to get away with spot zoning that area, using the Tan Apartment as an excuse. Spot zoning is actually illegal, and neighbors would have a good case to fight that high-density rezoning IF they complain. But density hawks are trying to make it seem like no one is complaining (which isn't true).

They are cynically using the excuse of senior housing to try to put high density in the middle of that neighborhood, even though there are no walkable services, no walkable groceries, medical, shopping, classes, enrichment, AT ALL for seniors there. They could have designated the Mayfield project for seniors -- a location right at Stanford and walkable to all the things seniors need -- but they didn't because then they would have no pretense for the spot zoning at Maybell/Clemo.

There does seem to be an effort on the part of the developers to make it seem like that Maybell location is just part of the density along the El Camino corridor, and have even put up a web page on some El Camino corridor site saying it is. For people who don't live in the neighborhood and just see that massive Tan apartment, they can be convinced. Neighbors should fight this not only because of the safety and traffic issues high density at that exact location pose, but also because if that island gets spot zoned to high density, it will be easier for density hawks and developers to turn other parts of Arastradero between El Camino and Foothill into high density in the next few years. This is an assault on the intent on the character of the neighborhood, quality of life, safety, and of zoning.

Send your letters of opposition to the Maybell project to

as well as to the head of planning and every city council member. Unless you make your voice heard very loudly, you will not be able to make the case against the project in court. Spot zoning is illegal -- I hear a rumor that neighbors are thinking of hiring a lawyer. I hope they do.

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Posted by look up the codes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Oops, I meant there are 61 units in the Tan apartments -- the high-density high-rise the PAHC wants to put at Maybell and Clemo across from the park and school are going to be 60 units, and 9 tall skinny houses on Maybell where there currently are 4 single story, and 6 on Clemo where there currently are none.

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Posted by pares
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2013 at 8:37 am

Thank you for you comments. Very helpful info. Good suggestions. Maybe surrounding neighborhoods should also be contacted.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

Putting high density housing next to current high density housing (the Tan apartments) makes perfect sense. This area is very close to both El Camino and Arastardero, both streets already have high density housing, so 'm unclear about the concern that "it will be easier for density hawks and developers to turn other parts of Arastradero between El Camino and Foothill into high density in the next few years" because high density housing already exists there.

Senior housing developments typically provide some transportation to the grocery store, Target, etc. Seniors are not expected to walk to do their errands. There is senior housing on El Camino Way, just a few blocks from there and they are expanding also. This location is not "across from a school" , Briones is down the street. There is a park across the way, nice for both seniors and kids.

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Posted by look up the codes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

@palo alto parent who lives by Duveneck,
Spot zoning that area for high density from the current low density only makes sense to people who don't live here.

The Tan Apartments were allowed when this area was still county. It's such an overwhelming visual part of the landscape, I'm sure to people who don't live here and just view it from El Camino, it's easy to just dismiss the whole residential neighborhood. We don't need another equally massive development now, especially since there is not zoning for it now!

The apartments are a grandfathered-in ISLAND in the middle of an R-1 residential REGION, and a cohesive neighborhood. The current LOW DENSITY zoning of the property in question was supposed to be a buffer zone to the surrounding residential area. Zoning it to high density makes it spot zoning.
Web Link

That development will only be apartments designated by PAHC for seniors, it will not be a senior community with transportation. There are serious ingress/egress issues right at that area of the neighborhood posing safety concerns for the elementary school and neighborhood, not to mention making an already awful traffic situation worse. It is an inappropriate place to put density.

That development is catty corner to Juana Briones school on the Maybell side, and in line of sight from the entrance on Maybell, not vaguely "down the street". The part of the school on the Maybell side is used by the county for rehabilitation of seriously disabled students, but there are some traditional classrooms on that side as well.

It's very easy for you from the North to push density on us here on the other side of town, isn't it?

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Posted by look up the codes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Oops, my above statement wasn't clear:

The apartments are a grandfathered-in ISLAND in the middle of an R-1 residential REGION. This R-1 area and neighborhood are cohesive and should not be carved out for high density just because of that grandfathered-in patch. The current low density zoning of the patch in question was supposed to transition from the apartments to the surround neighborhood which is ALL R-1. This R-1 Residential neighborhood may be less visually obtrusive, but it is what this whole area is zoned at and it is NOT appropriate to rezone it to high density, particularly by those who don't live here.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Looking at the Zoning Map, the area is primarly R-1 (residential single family) but next to the proposed lot are Planned Communities. I'm assuming/hoping that the single family homes would go along Maybell and the Apartments would be accessible from Clemo. A very easy traffic solution would be moving the barriers on Clemo so that the new apartments used Clemo and not Maybell.

I'm not interested in pushing density in South Palo Alto, there is low income dense housing being built on Alma and some that will be built on El Camino at California and the previously built dense housing where PAMF used to be near downtown, are all in North Palo Alto. With the ABAG requirements for housing being pushed on the City, I can't imagine a viable housing site across from an existing park would be turned into another park or playing field, as lovely as that might be.

BTW - my dad lives in a retirement apartment which is not a "senior community" but one of their amenities is van to take them to the grocery store, Walgreens, etc. once a week and it makes the rounds to local churches on Sundays.

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Posted by look up the codes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2013 at 9:02 pm

You are really digging in on your opinion, considering that it's clear you don't live in the neighborhood or anywhere near it, you don't seem to know anything about the project, the neighborhood, or what the developer has proposed, and you seem to be answering as persuasively as you can without having read anything I said.

So, on the off chance that you are just someone who likes to express strong opinions about issues that have a big impact on OTHER people's quality of life, without your knowing very much or listening to the other side, I will reiterate some of what I wrote, and explain why you are being insensitive at best.

First of all, the Tan/Arastradero apartments we have been speaking about above ARE the "planned communities". They were built when that area was part of the county and there were no zoning restrictions as there are today, and grandfathered in. The RM-15 and R-2 are clearly "low-density" transition zones to the R-1 residential neighborhood. The apartments/planned community block and the RM-15/R-2 low density existing zoning next to it, are SURROUNDED BY A REGION OF R-1 RESIDENTIAL SINGLE-FAMILY ZONING.

REZONING that spot now to high density from the low-density it is currently zoned is what's called "spot zoning" which is illegal.

Secondly, your "easy" traffic solution is only easy for someone who doesn't live here and has no idea what the traffic is like here.

Both Maybell between Juana Briones School and El Camino, as well as Arastradero between Foothill and El Camino, especially between Terman and El Camino, have become seriously more congested at intervals during the day in the last few years, in a way that has had a significant negative impact on residents in the area already.

That development sits at the focus between both of those bottlenecks, which also happen to be the only routes of ingress/egress to the Greenacres I and Greenacres II neighborhoods. There is no egrees/ingress to Greenacres II to the south or west AT ALL. Greenacres I only outlets onto Arastradero, not to their east, south, or north. Some parts of the R-1 neighborhoods nearer to El Camino are already difficult to even turn right onto Arastradero from, even when Arastradero isn't packed.

This is a safety issue for existing residents and to the schools, when there is poor egress/ingress for residents to get out and emergency vehicles to get in. You don't add density right at the only points of egress/ingress to an already bottlenecked situation.

I've seen emergency vehicles drive on sidewalks on nearby East Meadow to reach the railroad tracks during morning traffic, because the street was gridlock. No such opportunity exists on Maybell, there isn't a clear shot. Maybell isn't even fully two-lanes wide. It's a safe route to school, yet on one side, there's mostly no sidewalk and no bike lane, and on the other, the sidewalk is oft interrupted and narrow. Parked cars force kids to weave in and out of traffic, where they compete with gridlock of people going to work and the several schools in the area at intervals during the day. On the other side, Arastradero between Clemo and El Camino is just as packed during the same times of day.

Adding density -- including 15 tall skinny homes along Maybell and Clemo with tiny lots, hardly any setback, which they couldn't build under the existing zoning -- where currently there are 4 (can you say "Miki's Market"?) will also add to the traffic on Maybell. Maybell is R-1 to either side. Would you want that done across the street from you and to your neighborhood/property values?

I think your dad's retirement apartment sounds lovely, but false promises and people's unrealistic acceptance of them is why we ended up with the Miki's situation (and high speed rail). The PAHC isn't building a retirement apartment, a senior community, and there will be no vans provided. Why isolate seniors anyway?

The obvious solution is for the PAHC to designate the MayFIELD project, which is near Stanford and has 10 more units than they are proposing at MayBELL, as low-income senior housing. The seniors will be near medical at PAMF and Stanford, near Avenidas, near Trader Joe's and other grocery, near restaurants, classes at the Palo Alto Adult School, etc. Where they WILL have to either drive or be driven from MayBELL, they can EASILY walk in many cases (which is better for their health) or easily drive to the services and amenities they need at MayFIELD.

PAHC should instead just live within the existing zoning. If they renovate the 4 houses on Maybell and add a little square footage so that easy home is 2,000 sq ft, market rates will make those over $2 million homes. Their outlay will be less to get them ready for market than the 15 town homes they were planning if they rezoned, and they could get almost as much for them.

I think they should then add 16-20 duplex homes that the existing zoning would allow (low density in that context is supposed to be on the low end of allowable, not the high end), and let low income families live there so they can send their kids to the local schools and live in dignity and not segregated from the rest of the community. Under existing rules, those multi-room homes would have to go to families anyway, and there isn't enough of the large housing stock in PAHC anyway.

Far more preferable would be for that to be an extension of the park, and playing fields for the kids. The city is talking about spending $8 million to renovate the baylands so the kids can drive way out there for after school sports. Why not just build some homes, consistent with the neighborhood, on the north side of the property, the sale of which will finance the park, and then make the rest into a real playing field, which we desperately need on this side of town? The site is certainly large enough to do that.

The neighborhood appears to be rallying to fight the illegal spot zoning anyway. PAHC will make a lot of enemies, and inadvertently turn the neighborhood against the existing apartment residents, if they try to turn that whole neighborhood into a high density region against existing zoning.

By the way, California Ave is sort of Greenacres backyard, not Duveneck. Which street a few houses up from you would you be willing to take a giant high density development as massive as the Tan apartments at? You haven't said.

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Posted by Develop wiser
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 3, 2013 at 7:29 am

It is alarming that our city council and development department has NOT acted with due diligence in performing impact evaluation of high density housing in this area.

The commissioned traffic impact study either intentionally or unintentionally ignored impact of school traffic. Keep in mind that there are 4 schools that use Maybell and Arastradero with staggered start/stop times. Already, the streets are full of children during rush hour and commuters are speeding through residential streets to bypass them.

Notification of the intent to spot re-zone was and has not been publicized to the appropriate stake holders. Reportedly, City Planner, Tim Wong: "notices have been sent out to residents within 600 ft. of the project site"-- that is less than 1/8 mile for a project that will impact the entire Arastradero corridor from El Camino to Foothill expressway, Briones Elementary, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School, Bowman International School, and all the residents of Barron Park, Green Acres I and Green Acres II.

We are concerned that there will be similar poorly announced, poorly evaluated, incongruently planned, and rushed developments in our neighborhood. This is a dangerous proposition to insert a high-rise in this neighborhood designed with poor egress and predominantly single family homes.

Every neighborhood should protest this spot re-zoning attempt as it sets a dangerous precedent of either misuse of authority or careless use of authority or both. The city should not be able to change our neighborhood at will.

Develop wiser

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm

If you actually live in this neighborhood, you know that Maybell is a small residential street - and that's the street they're proposing to build on. Yes, the back side of the property may be close to Arastradero, but make no mistake - the major impact of this development will hit Maybell Avenue. Maybell is one of the only ingress/egress streets into this neighborhood, and it is already congested - I literally witness near-misses every day with cars crammed onto the road alongside young children walking and biking to school. It's a disgrace - we urge people to send neighborhood children to school by foot or by bike for environmental reasons, and then make the roads so unsafe, those children could be killed or seriously injured. I see children as young as 6 or 7 weave between parked cars just to get out of the way of traffic on that road. There are no bike paths, there are no sidewalks, they have to share the road with motor traffic without any visual or physical boundaries to protect them. Adding another 75 housing units on this small street is unreasonable and irresponsible. Many residents in the Barron Park/Green Acres neighborhood are putting their foot down. If you care, PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION: Web Link - and stop unreasonable rezoning!!!

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