City Council

Los Altos Historic District for Eichlers Moves Forward

One of the Eichlers was remodeled to include a second story. But this is not recent. Usually an overlay proposal is triggered by a neighbor filing a remodel plan that upsets one or more neighbors.
One of the Clay Drive Eichlers was remodeled to include a second story. But this is not recent. Usually an overlay proposal is triggered by a neighbor filing a remodel plan that upsets one or more neighbors.
Written by lalahpolitico

UPDATE March 27, 2017. From The Los Altos City Manager’s weekly newsletter…Chris Jordan writes..

“Historic Designation of an Eichler Neighborhood has been tabled.
Staff has received written communication from the proponents of the formation
of a historic district of Eichler homes in the Fallen Leaf Park Neighborhood
that they do not intend to submit or pursue a historic designation 
application at this time. Staff continues to plan for an educational meeting
on the historic designation process and what such a designation means for
property owners. A date, time, and location for the meeting need to be
finalized. Citizens and those interested will be encouraged to attend the
future meeting.”

ORGINAL POST FOLLOWS

Two residents living on a strip of 37 Eichlers near Fallenleaf lane are preparing an Application for Historic District Designation of their strip.  As a first step, they requested before City Council at its January 13, 2016 meeting that the Planning Commission overlay fee of $4500 be excused.  The agendized action item was narrow – it was to approve or disapprove a waiver of a $4500 application fee, not to approve the District.  Council chose to waive the $4500 overlay application fee 5-0.

Take Inventory to Determine Architectural Integrity 

Now the two key applicants will work with an architectural historian — who they will choose and pay — and the Historical Commission to inventory every house in the group of 37 for its “historical/architectural integrity.” Based on Lalahpolitico’s cursory drive by, all the homes seem to be “intact” except for the one that added a second story; but perhaps the historian will find that the one with ornate black iron security bars installed over the front windows is also “non-contributing.”

This house in the proposed Historic District used to be an Eichler, but has been heavily remodeled. Eichler did not build 2 stories except on difficult hillside lots. It looks more like a ranch than an Eichler now. Perhaps it could be restored someday.

Another view of the 2-story house which used to be an Eichler but has been heavily remodeled. It is located in the middle of the proposed Historic District . Eichler did not build 2 stories except on difficult hillside lots. It now looks more like a ranch than an Eichler now. Perhaps it could be restored someday.

 

Then Write Your Own Design Guidelines

After the inventory, the consulting historian and applicants will draft a custom “Design Guidelines” document for this proposed district.  The Historical and Planning Commissions will review the proposed district’s  Design Guidelines.

One may think of the final Design Guidelines for the Fallenleaf Eichler Preservation District as like a private a Home Owners Agreement (HOA), but one that is enforced by City government instead of privately enforced. To her credit, Council member Megan Satterlee expressed concern over potential costs to the City of Staff having to administer custom design guidelines; one can hope staff will analyze that issue and start to define robust policies and procedures for Historic Districts. This one will be the first one after the 9 month process of “publicly noticed meetings before the Historical and Planning Commissions and finally City Council again.

This house has added black iron security bars, some of which are ornate. The garage door does not seem EIchler in spirit.

This Eichler in the district has added black iron security bars, some of which are ornate. The garage door does not seem Eichler in spirit.

Who are Passionate Owners who appeared at Council? Newcomers.

Garry Hedden and Jon Baer, non-owners, speaking for themselves, but who are members of the Environmental Commission and the Planning Commission, spoke in favor of the the $4500 fee waiver and of the formation of the preservation district. Besides the two applicants, three more owners living in the Eichler strip spoke in support of the district formation.  It emerged that 4 of the 5 owners who spoke, including the 2 applicants, had bought into the Eichler neighborhood only in the last five years.

Historical Fact – Eichler Built 2-Stories only on “Difficult” Lots

One district proponent who spoke believed that having  this Eichler historic district would prevent teardowns and two story additions like were going on OUTSIDE the proposed district. A bit later in the meeting Megan Satterlee asked staff if the underlying R-1 zoning, which does not ban two stories, would apply. Staff said Yes.  Lalahpolitico: It seems unlikely that the custom design guidelines will allow two stories.  If the historian is doing his job, he will know that Eichler ALWAYS built one stories, except apparently when there was a “difficult” lot like a hillside.  It’s cheaper…. So it would not be authentic to put two-story Eichlers on these level lots.  In other words, the Design Guidelines for this District should mandate one story for the proposed Historic District, should they not?  See this article on eichlernetwork.com.

Mid-Century is hot – Where is the economic incentive to tear down an Eichler now?

The supporters seem to fear that the many original owners who bought in 1968, now  80-year-olds still living in the neighborhood would soon die and that the heirs would sell to someone who wanted to do a teardown!!! Actually the applicants themselves pointed out  at great length that Eichler homes and mid-century furnishings are quite fashionable again and in demand by the young family demographic.  People who buy a used Eichler these days WANT A GENUINE EICHLER, not just a lot.

Here is one boundary of the proposed district. An Eichler has a ranch type two story next door

Here is one boundary of the proposed Los Altos Historic District. This Eichler,  which is inside the district, has a ranch type two story next door to it. The two story is of course not in district. Did it used to be an Eichler?  If so please tell us.

Is Forcing People into “Preservation” Ethical?

Lalahpolitico: A home buyer voluntarily enters into an HOA by buying into an HOA.  An overlay district is applied to the whole district, even to the property owners who don’t want it.  These are not the last Eichlers on earth. Not even the last in a contiguous strip. Plus the risk of teardown for them is extremely low because of the hot, hot, hot market for Eichlers. The applicants have never alleged that an Eichler had been torn down in the surrounding area to build a conventional home.

To his credit, Council member Jean Mordo looked shocked when he learned there would be no vote of the 37 property owners as would be required if this were a  Single Story Overlay process.  75 percent of the 37 Eichler owners have signed a petition supporting the creation of the district. [Do they understand what the district may entail? How could they? We’ll only know after the Design Guidelines are create.] 10% said no.  15% “could not be reached.

I believe it was Mordo who asked the applicant to describe why the 10% nays said they were opposed. [ The Yes side was allowed to speak for the absent No people. ] The applicant politely (?) characterized the naysayers as people “who don’t like government in their life” as a matter principle. [Must be Republicans, eh?] The applicant seemed to think he was further softening that characterization when he quickly added that one of the No’s said she “definitely wanted to be involved” with crafting the Design Guidelines. Hmmm? So she actually likes the idea of having Design Guidelines?  More likely… if you find out there is going to be a special zoning code applied to you by some neighbors you don’t socialize/agree with, you sure as heck want to get involved and try to keep watch on the process and if possible “shape the conversation” about the design guidelines.

Los Altos Historic District should have an informational sign. A long Fallenleaf Lane at this district boundary seems idea. Nice looking newish two-story next door in a "traditional" style

Should this Los Altos Historic District have an informational sign? Along Fallenleaf Lane at this proposed district boundary seems ideal. A nice-looking, newish two-story next door in a “traditional” style on the right. If it is recent, the owner had to post a sign on the property informing the neighbors of the remodel. Did this 2-story used to be an Eichler? If so, please tell us.  A genuine Eichler on the left.

Lawn sign for the 15% of Owners who “could not be reached”

So there was Council inquisitiveness about the 10% of owners who said NO to joining the historic district application effort.  But no one asked about the 15% of owners “who could not be reached.”  What about them? Even if the Town Crier runs an article, they might first hear about the proposed  Historic District only when they get a letter from the city that a “publicly noticed” meeting at the Historical Commission is scheduled.  Or maybe they will first become aware of the process when the historian asks to “inventory” their house?  At least to walk around the outside?

If two-story home remodels in Los Altos now have an on lot sign requirement when they first propose their plan, I don’t see why the proposed District does not have a sign requirement.  One of the supporting Eichlers along Fallenleaf would be a great location.

 

 

 

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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