Eichler enclave wins ban on two-story homes | News | Palo Alto Online |


Eichler enclave wins ban on two-story homes

Los Arboles secures unanimous City Council support for 'single-story overlay'

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Los Arboles residents take pride in their neighborhood's diversity, with children, seniors, long-time denizens and new arrivals happily mingling earlier this year at a block party that featured a bounce house for the children, a car show for adults and a pot luck for all.

But when it comes to home heights, variety is not something that the Eichler-style neighborhood prizes. Earlier this year, 80 percent of the property owners in this Midtown tract signed a petition to ban new two-story homes through the creation of a "single-story overlay" zone. On Monday night, they got their wish when the City Council swiftly and unanimously approved the zone change.

With the council's vote, Los Arboles became the first in what promises to be a wave of Palo Alto neighborhoods seeking single-story overlays – a tool that was common in the early 1990s but has remained dormant for the past decade. Several other Eichler tracts in the Midtown area – including Greer Park North and Royal Manor – have also recently applied for the zone change and are set to go to the council in the coming months.

Rebecca Thompson, a Los Arboles resident who led the effort, called the neighborhood quest for the restriction a "long and worthwhile journey" involving hundreds of hours of volunteer time.

Ultimately, support for the zone change in the 83-home community easily cleared the 70 percent threshold that the city's zoning code lays out for such overlays. The council's decision in June to abolish the fee of about $8,000 that officially accompanied these requests (albeit, fees that the city hadn't collected in the past), smoothed the way for the neighborhood's request.

Like residents in other Eichler tracts, Thompson and her neighbors framed the issue as one of protecting their area's distinct Eichler identity – one that facilitates a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor space by encouraging low buildings with glass doors leading to the backyard.

"We've been united in our efforts – house by house, street by street, young and old, long-time residents and new residents alike," Thompson said. "We are united in our desire to hold on to the privacy, sunlight and use of nature enjoyed from within these homes."

To prove her point, Thompson showed the council photos of the neighborhood's recent block party, which she said attracted a small fleet of hot rods and more than 100 residents of all ages. She also read statements from several residents, including Tiffany and Howard Chang, who recently moved into Los Arboles, a neighborhood that includes Holly Oak Drive, Cork Oak Way and several lots on Ames Avenue and Middlefield Road.

"A neighborhood of Eichlers' custodians is rare and important in preserving a piece of history," the Changs wrote. "And also, because the Eichlers, like the Golden State Warriors, have strengths in numbers."

The council was just as united as the neighbors in approving the single-story overlay. Councilman Tom DuBois cited the high level of support (no one spoke in opposition to the zone change) and said he hopes to see other neighborhoods come forward with their own requests for single-story overlays soon. He noted, however, that while the zoning designation prohibits two-story homes, it does not mandate that new homes follow the Eichler style.

"Tonight's action is about privacy," DuBois said. "It doesn't mandate design in any way."

Other council members quickly added their own voices of support, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss calling the decision a "no-brainer" and Vice Mayor Greg Schmid characterizing the new overlay as a great mechanism for supporting the scientists, engineers, economists and other professionals who choose to raise their families in Palo Alto.

"This is the perfect ingredient for a community of an ever renewing Silicon Valley – a workforce that's extremely talented, very mobile and wants to live here," he said.

In addition to supporting the new overlay, some council members suggested that staff explore a new zoning mechanism that would focus on designs of new homes.

Mayor Karen Holman noted that some cities have "conservation" or "preservation" overlays that require new homes to be built in a similar style to existing ones. Cupertino, for instance, has a special Eichler Single Family Residential District with specific design guidelines to facilitate construction of Eichler-style homes in a small portion of the city where such homes are prevalent.

Councilman Pat Burt said the creation of design-oriented overlay district is a topic that could be discussed as part of the city's ongoing effort to update its land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan.

Holman said the idea of a design-specific overlay is a topic that some Palo Alto residents have expressed interest in.

"I know there's been a conversation about that," she said. "I'd certainly support them coming forward with that kind of an effort."

Related content:

Palo Alto residents seek to keep their Eichler neighborhoods from growing — upward

Planned home brings angst to Eichler block in Palo Alto

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


49 people like this
Posted by Cliff Huxtable
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:31 am

These folks are in a state of denial. Eichlers are awful looking, track housing. They don't age well. All this overlay will do is cement this mediocrity in our city forever. They should welcome the idea that people would scrape these ugly homes and replace them with elegant, modern homes that meet fire codes. If the city is going to approve an overlay, it should insist that the Eichler homeowners maintain their residences and paint them regularly.

12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:09 am

These single story zoning changes are just like rent control. Neighborhood preservation maybe but at what cost.

8 people like this
Posted by Eichler dweller
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:15 am

Very mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand I fully understand that nobody wants a huge house next door, but to some extent will the powers that be let a brand new single story home remain at the same height.

A few years ago we were remodeling our Eichler and wanted to put on a new master suite and office area at the side of our house where we have some space to do so. Because we live in the flood zone, anything over a certain size would mean that we would have to put the new space 6' higher than the rest of the house. We could not get a permit to extend the house the amount we wanted even though we have the space as we live on a corner lot unless we had two levels. This was not something we felt we would like to live with so we were forced to change our plans dramatically.

I think that although another single story home could be built on these lots, they may have to be built much higher than ground level.

Be careful what you wish for because the reality of it may be a lot worse than you think.

Like this comment
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2015 at 9:42 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

27 people like this
Posted by Single level is good
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:00 am

Eichlers may have a lot of problems, but I think keeping the houses there to one level should have some good effects. It would help keep out people who want to move in, tear down the house, and build a huge mansion. Lot of extremely wealthy foreign buyers with that in mind. Part of the reason Palo Alto real estate is so expensive is because of that.

32 people like this
Posted by Winston
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:21 am

Hey Tom DuBois... privacy: If you're going to walk around the house naked, put in a tall hedge or close the drapes. Typical Palo Alto. Outsourcing personal responsibility at the expense of others.

I have to agree with Cliff Huxtable: Eichlers are fetishized tract homes that were mass produced for returning GIs. Hey guys, I have news for you. You can't keep your city frozen in 1956 forever.

37 people like this
Posted by Single level is good
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:33 am

Well, privacy is very important, especially within the home. Especially with smartphones and youtube, these days. One of the major features of eichlers are the huge windows that go from floor to ceiling. A whole neighborhood of eichlers can have this, and still have privacy, as long as there are fences. One giant mansion in the middle of the neighborhood, and there is no longer any privacy. When you buy a house, you become part of a neighborhood. A house and its occupants are not an island. It's part of a community. If someone doesn't want to be in a community where people want to be able to walk around their house naked and carefree, then maybe it is not the right fit for them. There are plenty of other communities in Palo Alto dominated by mansions and security gates, where neighbors never meet or speak with each other.

Like this comment
Posted by Stucco Palaces
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:35 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:44 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Amusing
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:07 pm

To know that 70% of a community can totally override the property rights of the other 30% under Palo Alto's law. On the other hand, if you can't develop your lot with a two story house, it just adds to the value of those of us who already have two story houses-- so I guess this act of stupidity works out OK for me, at least. Frankly, with vacant lots running $2 Million plus in this town it amazes me that every new house isn't 4500-5500 Square feet (taking into account the ability to build a basement that doesn't count against your square footage allowance. )

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

11 people like this
Posted by Single level is good
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 10, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Palo Alto is a very dynamic place. You can leave for a couple years, and when you come back to visit, it looks totally different. So many more buildings...the local hangout has been converted into a yogurt shop, etc. I guess you could say that it is a sign of progress and growth. Perhaps it's inevitable. But sometimes, you just want a place you can go, which doesn't change...which looks just the same as it did decades ago, before you left home and went to college...just the same as it did in those faded pictures, where your mom has the 70s hairstyle and your dad has those retro-looking glasses. As Joni Mitchell said, "...you don't know what you got 'til it's gone."

8 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm

"Eichlers are fetishized tract homes that were mass produced for returning GIs."

What's your issue with GIs?

3 people like this
Posted by S
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2015 at 4:46 pm

[Post removed.]

58 people like this
Posted by Hate 'Em
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm

I personally hate Eichlers and think they look cheap, dated, and ugly. They WERE built with cheap materials at the time, but now most, if not virtually all, houses are built with even cheaper materials.

That being said, my family is close friends with one of Joe Eichler's former students, who now lives in the Grass Valley area.

Many years ago he told us he would never buy an Eichler even when they were new: they were built as "disposable housing", meaning, as soon as the original owner could afford better, it had been assumed they would be bulldozed and bigger, better houses built in their place. However, our friend told us, there is this thing in real estate called, "The Greater Fool Theory". It's premise is that if you can find someone who is a bigger fool than you were to buy the house you no longer want, and for way more money, you stand to come out way ahead.

That is what most of the original Eichler owners did: sold them as entry level starter homes for the next wave of first-time buyers
Who didn't know any better.

Some people added real heating, insulation, remodeled, etc, and then sold them as " Palo Alto entry level homes". And people took the bait.

I can understand not wanting two and three storey homes next door, but what about new single level homes? The Eichler neighborhoods, with a few exceptions, look run down and dirty. Why not convert to new, single level homes that
are up to code, one house at a time?

The remaining Eichlers, regardless of where they are located, were never meant to still be on existence; they were cheap, temporary housing, intended to be tear downs replaced by superior houses.

3 people like this
Posted by Ghost Investors
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:07 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2015 at 7:45 pm

I wonder how many people from this neighborhood post hotly worded comments about how the market should rule everything - except for in their neighborhood?

I can understand why people do not want houses that are high enough to look down into their yards and homes, but that is an issue for them to solve with landscaping and interior design.

I also wonder why comments that merely insult the looks of or the people who own Eichlers are able to stand? Who cares what people think of another person's house, this subject has nothing to do with that.

I just don't think there is a compelling priority here to over-ride people's ownershop and property values. I think this ought to be challenged in court or reconsidered.

27 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Chip is a registered user.

The standing joke in the '60s was that it takes only 7 minutes for an Eichler to burn to the ground. Let's substitute the word "inexpensive" for cheap, as in building materials. A little plywood, Philipine mahogany paneling, non-safety glass, and asphalt tile on concrete slab, tar & gravel roof- not very expensive to build or buy. That was what was needed at the time.

Lockheed, Raytheon, Philco, etc- all that ColdWar engineering centered here brought lots of E.E.s, freshly graduated, courtesy of the GI Bill & we needed houses. Memorializing them now is like saving your old skates that you had to lock on with a key. I do think that PA should seriously consider establishing height limits by neghborhood, whether ist's Eichler, bungalow, cottage, or whatever. People in small single story homes shouldn't lose privacy or adequate sunlight for gardens just because some developer or realtor wants to profit by increasing density. Set aside 'hoods & establish minimum lot sizes for second stories, whether add-ups or new construction.

New 2 story houses in place of previous 1 story houses bring more residents, who use more vehicles, cleaners, gardeners,etc, thus taking up more street space for parking, pushing cyclists into narrower roadways & triggering the frustrations that we read about here every day.

17 people like this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I am quite happy that my tiny lot for my 4 bedroom Eichler may still have light -- and privacy -- in the backyard! No overbearing two story houses on my street. Hooray! And those who want to live in two story houses, can go somewhere else.

23 people like this
Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Another way to prevent a neighbor from putting on a second story or building a new 2-story home is to put some solar panels where a second story would block the rays of the sun falling on your panels, as per solar access laws. A good place to start researching the laws are: Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Donald Trump
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2015 at 6:40 am

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by need broader response
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 8:14 am

It's too bad the Council doesn't generalize and project the values expressed
so strongly by the residents in this neighborhood in terms of neighborhood character,streetscapes,privacy,light,quality of life to the whole City in a broad policy response for all the neighborhoods in terms of what this City
is doing and not doing. The IR guidelines and criteria are 90% ignored,setbacks far too narrow,FARs too high,dewatering for basements allowed,permanent storage lockers on driveways and garbage bins all over the place,sign clutter,speeding cars. Did I mention ongoing parking issues?
We need much more from this Council than what we are getting.

6 people like this
Posted by MacMansion
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:57 am

I love my Eichler, and love that my neighbors and I have some visual privacy from one another. I'm not sure the current mass produced spanish-colonial stucco is anything to write home about, but I suppose if you feel you need 1200sft per person, and don't care to go outside, they're functional. I'm watching my old neighborhood on Waverley sprout up like ivy, and each house looks like the next one, which doesn't make it any more unique than a neighborhood of Eichlers.

6 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 11, 2015 at 12:38 pm

I love Eichlers and am glad we are preserving the Eichler neighborhoods. Thank you to everyone on the council that approved this.

35 people like this
Posted by RE Pro
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 11, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Eichlers hold their value ONLY because of the lot they are standing on. Two-thirds of the value of a property is the land the house sits on. Eichlers have fairly large lots by today's standards. Many new homes are being built three stories high on a 2300 square foot lot-- that means nothing more than a little strip of land on three sides of your house.

When most buyers buy an Eichlet, they either intend to tear it down and start over, OR extensively remodel the inside and outside of the house.

3 people like this
Posted by Eichler neighbor
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 11, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Live and let live !!. Let the person who can afford a big home build it. By not allowing an Eichler neighborhood, to grow I agree to comments listed that it looks grey and needs some color. If you are worried about privacy, place huge drapes and grow taller trees. I hope the city looks into all this and does not approve such weird rules in other Eichler neighborhoods. The volunteers who went around obtaining signatures; their goals are just not right and they need to wake up. Hopefully we have some one sane in the City looking into this next time and not approve any other neighborhoods.

9 people like this
Posted by LC
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Thanks to the volunteers in Los Arboles who achieved this, it's a great milestone. I love our neighborhood of quirky single-story houses, and I'm glad that people more passionate and thoughtful than I am, are thinking about ways to maintain the neigborhood feel in tracts like this. I think we have a pretty good ratio of kids playing in the street per square foot of house.

May those who abhor Eichlers never have to live in one, I'm lucky to live among neighbors who find them amazingly beautiful and bright antidotes to the plywood box.

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