Palo Alto prepares to ban two-story homes in Greer Park North | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto prepares to ban two-story homes in Greer Park North

Residents in Eichler tract request 'single-story overlay'

Weeks after the Palo Alto approved a request from Los Arboles residents to ban new two-story homes in their Eichler neighborhood, officials will consider a similar proposal from Greer Park North.

Like Los Arboles, Greer Park North is dominated by one-story homes developed mid-century by Joseph Eichler. And much like in Los Arboles, residents in this Midtown enclave are concerned that taller homes will affect their privacy and damage the neighborhood's Eichler character. To prevent new two-story homes from entering the area, residents have petitioned for a "single-story overlay," a zoning designation that prohibits two-story homes.

"As a neighborhood, we stand together in a shared desire to preserve the privacy and livability of our single-family Eichler homes by restricting second-story construction," Greer Park North resident David Hammond wrote in the application. "The residents of Greer Park North are comprised of several generations, vary in their years of home ownership, and come from a wide array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We all share in the appreciation of our Eichler homes and in a commitment to maintaining our privacy as well as the unique design and character of our historical neighborhood."

Normally, a zone change of this sort requires signatures from at least 70 percent of the property owners of the tract. But because the Greer Park North tract includes covenants restricting new homes to a single story, it is subject to the lower threshold of 60 percent. The application from Hammond includes verified signatures from 52 of the tract's 72 homes, a 72 percent rate that exceeds both thresholds.

Despite the high level of support, the project ran into a stumbling block at last month's review in front of the Planning and Transportation Commission. Though the commission voted on Oct. 14 to support the application, it decided to redraw the boundaries where the restriction would apply. Under the commission's recommendation, the overlay would be limited to Moffett and Metro circles, while homes with frontage on Greer Road and Amarillo Avenue would be excluded. This would reduce the number of properties in the new zone from 72 to 47.

In reviewing the request, Commissioner Chair Greg Tanaka argued that the level of support for the zone change on Greer and Amarillo is lower than in the two circles and contended that these properties tend to be smaller, and thus would be more affected by a prohibition on two-story homes.

According to the analysis of the votes, the percentage of property owners favoring the restriction was 74 percent and 75 percent on Metro and Moffett circles, respectively. On Amarillo, which includes 10 homes, seven property owners indicated support (a 70 percent rate), while on Greer, which has 15 homes, the level of support was 66 percent.

"It does seem clear that they're two cohorts, one that is on smaller lots in the periphery, one that are on larger lots in the interior and that they seem to vote differently with respect to this," Commissioner Eric Rosenblum said at the hearing.

Not every Greer Park resident is excited about the change. Metro Circle resident Andrew Vainshtein submitted a letter protesting the process and calling for the council to reject the petition. He said he knows several residents who, like him, "believe that rezoning is unnecessary and restrictive, and will have negative effect on their lives."

"It is a concern of many people that rezoning will unfairly and disproportionally depress the real estate value of our aging houses, especially those properties that are sitting on smaller lots," Vainshtein wrote.

He also argued that the signatures were gathered with the understanding that the new overlay district would cover all 72 properties, not just the 47 in the circles. His house, for examples, faces two neighbors on Metro Circle and has three neighbors in the back who live on Amarillo. Other residents in the two circles have similar situations.

"Rightly or wrongly, the residents of the two circles voted on the original petition to have all their neighbors to share the same house height restrictions," he wrote. "The same people would have voted differently if they knew that their back side neighbor can one day build a two-story house."

On Nov. 30, the council will consider whether to accept the recommendation from the commission to include just the 47 homes in the circles or the full 72. Planning staff are recommending that the zone change cover the entire tract, as requested by residents.

The recent push for single-story overlay districts in Eichler neighbors was spurred by anxieties about Eichlers getting torn down and replaced with two-story buildings. The council's recent decision to waive the roughly $8,000 fee previously associated with the application (though never collected) made it easier for neighborhoods to gather signatures and submit applications.

In addition to Los Arboles and Greer Park North, the residents of the Royal Manor tract have also submitted an application for a single-story overlay, though their request has yet to be reviewed by the planning commission and the council.

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5 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Nov 28, 2015 at 9:16 am

If they want to see historic Eichlers preserved, why not pass a historic preservation district? Eichler himself built two-story houses that preserved neighborhood privacy. With an SSO, Eichlers can be torn down and replaced with non-Eichlers.

2 people like this
Posted by @Mystified
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2015 at 9:19 am

Excellent idea!

15 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Yes, it is always assumed that tear-downs will have owners that respect the neighborhood and will build an Eichler-style house. But with all the selfish behavior moving to town, this isn't a guarantee. A "historic preservation district" is a great idea!

22 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Nov 29, 2015 at 8:59 am

@Palo Altan - I wouldn't assume the selfish behavior is just "moving into town". Some of the most selfish people in town have been here for a long, long time. The newcomers and the oldtimers are mostly just selfish about different things.

22 people like this
Posted by Overkill
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 29, 2015 at 7:05 pm

While I understand why you may not want a two storeyed home coming up next to your single storeyed one, these kinds of ordinances are overkill and short sighted in my opinion. Between ipos, the so-called chinese buyers and now these 'exclusive' neighborhoods, Palo Alto is becoming more unaffordable to entry level buyers who incidentally bring vibrancy to a community. Restricting two storeys may actually hurt these neighborhoods. Some of the Eichlers are so run down and poorly designed, a new buyer knowing that he is restricted in what he can and cannot do, will not want to buy there. Those in these neighborhoods who oppose this move or who are too old or financially unable to keep up with the eichlerness are screwed. A very short sighted approach to an already prohibitively expensive and increasingly exclusionary real estate market.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I agree that there is no reason to establish this as a zoning ordinance. The problem as I see it is that if a single story house in the flood is torn down, the replacement, even if it is still single story, will have to be raised 6' above ground level to be present code and permit. In fact, if a home builds an extra room or bathroom, if it gets beyond a certain percentage of the square footage, then the add on will also have to be higher than the rest of the house. This definitely will prevent someone from wanting to buy a home to tear down. However, Eichlers and similar homes were not intended to last forever and to imagine that they are going to still be something people will want as family homes in even 30 years' time is not realistic.

Neighborhoods evolve. They don't remain the same. 50s and 60s style streets are not going to remain looking the same for much longer, even if they still do. I have visited my childhood homes in other areas. They are nothing like my memories. Everywhere changes. Expecting some of these neighborhoods to remain in the mid 20th century as we approach the mid 21st century is holding back natural progression. We don't wear poodle skirts and bobby sox anymore, or scream at conventions by growing hair long and wearing tie dye t shirts either.

9 people like this
Posted by The PTC misunderstood
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2015 at 10:58 am

I hope the City Council does the right thing and approves the recommendation from the planning department and the original application as it was intended. When arbitrarily shrinking the affected area, the PTC made up their own rules which harm those who signed on to this in it's intended area which includes the circles AND Greer and Amarillo.

All of these houses have a One-story CC&R so this is not changing rules on owners. If a house was left to age, that was the owners choice. Many Eichlers have been well maintained by owners who care.

IF Palo Alto had Eichler protections or IF Palo Alto did a better job of using the two-story guidelines to protect the privacy and property values of neighbors and IF Palo Alto were to respect the existing CC&Rs of this neighborhood, there would be other choices than the zone change. Until those other protections are in place (and there is no current plans for them), the zone change is the only thing residents have.

5 people like this
Posted by XY
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2015 at 12:20 pm

I feel like these zoning designation should have a time limit. Over time residents change, neighborhood characters change, and new people may or may not want the same overlay. A built-in time limit will offer people a chance to vote again on the same matter.

Also should be considered is if the overlay will reduce density, in a city that already is facing critical housing shortages. I feel any such rules must be "density neutral" and not reduce the number of bedrooms that can possibly be built onto the lot. We are rapidly becoming a city that can't attract younger new residents due to costs. I sure hope PA don't become a "retirement community".

6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 30, 2015 at 1:33 pm

re: time limit. I don't think you need to worry about that. I would assume that a 70% vote in favor of going back to a 2-story allowance would be accepted just as the 1-story overlay has been implemented. Though that is a question worth asking the city...

4 people like this
Posted by The PTC misunderstood
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2015 at 1:46 pm


Crescent Park Dad is correct. 70% can re-zone back to two-story. It is only 60% in neighborhoods like Greer Park North that already have a one-story CC&R.

re: density-neutral. Although the change may reduce the scale of a future single family house, this is currently and will remain a single family residential zone. These Eichler neighborhoods are not in multi-family zoned areas.

4 people like this
Posted by The PTC misunderstood
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

@ Overkill.

It pains me to say that Palo Alto is already out of the range of affordability for families wishing to buy unless they have benefited from great stock options or family wealth. In recent years, many run down single story homes have sold for well over $2mill for the land value and then torn down and replaced. Prop 13 keeps many residents in their homes longer than they wish. All of this happened before these neighborhoods started asking for protection from tear downs so they are not creating the lack of economic diversity.

11 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

The reason to apply for an SSO rather than an historic preservation district is that an SSO is faster and easier to obtain. With an SSO in place 2 story homes cannot be built and then a neighborhood could decide whether there is enough support to go even further than an SSO and try to determine consistent design controls. The fact that in these neighborhoods a clear majority of the homeowners, and above a % of homeowners that the city requires in order to apply, want to maintain the overall mid century look of their neighborhood should be enough to allow them to do so. This seems like an ideal grass roots campaign, neighbors protecting their neighborhoods, and protecting an aspect of Palo Alto's legacy.

2 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:38 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"protecting an aspect of Palo Alto's legacy"

What legacy are they protecting? Palo Alto used to be affordable. Now, with protectionist and conservative mindsets, it isn't.

Maybe the legacy you speak of is the legacy of exclusion?

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:09 pm

@ The PTC misunderstood: "Prop 13 keeps many residents in their homes longer than they wish."

I disagree with this opinion. Prop 13 allows senior residents to remain in their homes since their property taxes aren't skyrocketing like they were in the 1970's. Imagine now how it would be...1970's real estate escalation is nothing like what we've seen in the last 20 years.

I can tell you that there's no way that my widowed Mom (83yo) would be able to stay in her home if we didn't have Prop 13 in place. If not for Prop 13, her property taxes would be more than 50% of what she receives in annual gross retirement income.

Like this comment
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto had low property taxes prior to the passing of Prop 13 thanks to the industries in SIP (Stanford Industrial Park). It was San Mateo County's property taxes that were growing rapidly prior to Prop 13.

Like this comment
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto had low property taxes prior to the passing of Prop 13 thanks to the industries in SIP (Stanford Industrial Park). It was San Mateo County's property taxes that were growing rapidly prior to Prop 13.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:04 am

The City should ban all new 2-story homes in R1 neighborhoods that were single story originally.
The new ones going up in Barron Park are blocking the sun from my garden and what once were sunny areas.
They are also blocking the view of the sunset.
Perhaps the City could consider a moratorium on all lot splits, teardown and rebuild as 2 story, and all sales to people who do not intend to live there. The unoccupied places drag down a neighborhood and make it look abandoned.

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