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August 10, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Zoning change put on hold Zoning change put on hold (August 10, 2005)

Bid to subtract carports in homes' square footage stalled

by Bill D'Agostino

A recently approved zoning change that some residents fear will lead to more three-story homes in Palo Alto will be reconsidered by the City Council.

In April, the council approved a sweeping set of modifications for the zoning laws that guide most of Palo Alto's residential properties.

One of those approved changes stopped the city from considering carports in a property's allowable square footage, meaning that homeowners are now allowed to build larger houses if they have an open carport versus a closed garage.

That change did not garner much discussion at the time, because other modifications were considered more controversial. But since, residents have been bombarding the council with e-mails, worrying the change is a "loophole" that allows more third-story homes.

The council voted 6-3 on Monday night to reconsider the change, with Councilwomen Dena Mossar, LaDoris Cordell and Judy Kleinberg voting in opposition.

"This is an easy 'yes,'" Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said. "I always lean toward less and not more" when it comes to square footage allotments.

Despite residents' cries, the zoning law in question only has a tangential relationship to applications for new third floors.

The recently modified regulation would allow an expansion if a homeowner had not previously been able to build a third floor due to the square footage allotment used by a carport. The change would also allow more three-story homes if residents were willing to convert their garages to carports to gain the square footage needed for the extra story.

Even with the change, homes seeking a third floor would still need to comply with other zoning restrictions, including height restrictions, Planning Director Steve Emslie told the council.

Resident Nancy Alexander has led the charge against the controversial zoning change. She even papered the community with fliers warning: "The barn door is wide open." She took action after her next-door neighbor applied for a third-story addition.

Alexander, the wife of politically-active attorney Richard Alexander, spoke approvingly Monday night of the council's reconsideration. But she also asked for the council to place a moratorium on new three-story homes until the change was made. The council did not vote on that idea.

Vice Mayor Kleinberg voted against the reconsideration, saying she felt the public was confusing the zoning change with the city's regulations on three-story homes. The real problem, Kleinberg said, is homeowners who skirt the city's zoning rules to build larger homes.

The change is scheduled to first be reconsidered by the Planning and Transportation Commission, which already recommended it, on Aug. 31. It is scheduled to come back to the council on Sept. 26.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at [email protected]

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