Neighborhood proposes design review plan

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 10, 1998

BARRON PARK: Neighborhood proposes design review plan

Proposal aims to give residents power to preserve neighborhoods

The Barron Park Association has asked the Palo Alto City Council to consider creating a process for neighborhood approval of new home designs.

The neighborhood group first approached the city in October 1996, as more and more oversized homes were being built on small lots in the neighborhood.

"The new houses being built did not fit," said association president Will Beckett. The newer homes had different materials and smaller setbacks and were taller, and "it looked terribly out of place," he said.

Last week, the Barron Park Association wrote a letter to the City Council outlining its concerns.

"We are now concerned that the issue of neighborhood compatibility is being regarded as a subsidiary part of historic preservation," Beckett said in the letter.

The neighborhood, Beckett said, wants to make sure that the issue of residential design review is not lost in the conversation about preserving historic homes.

The group says that using historic preservation as a "substitute" for neighborhood compatibility will fail because it won't address protection for neighborhoods with homes of little historic merit.

For the past 18 months, the city has been grappling with creating a historic preservation ordinance, which would restrict demolition and renovation of historically significant homes. The city has just completed an extensive survey of homes to create an inventory of historic houses that would be subject to the rules.

The impetus for the proposed historic ordinance came in the fall of 1996, after several historic homes in other parts of the city were razed to make way for new, larger homes, often built to the edges of their lots.

The City Council imposed an emergency ordinance prohibiting demolition of all homes built before 1940 and last fall passed an interim ordinance governing most new construction. Before a home built before 1940 can be altered in any way, it must now go through extensive historic review.

Caught up in these issues is a backlash against homes that people consider to have distasteful designs or a size out of scale with the modest homes around them.

A December survey of Barron Park residents found that a majority supported some sort of neighborhood approval process for new homes.

"What really ought to happen is the people within a two- to four-block area need to define what is special for their area," Beckett said.

Then, when a homeowner approaches the city with a prospective project, the city can determine if the project complies with the area guidelines developed by residents.

But, Beckett said, the choice by each neighborhood whether to develop guidelines should be voluntary and "totally put on residents."1 n

--Elizabeth Lorenz 

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