Los Altos Opinions Exchange
Design Guidelines Overview

ISSUES: DESIGN GUIDELINES/SINGLE STORY OVERLAY

Updated 11/5/00

Most of Los Altos was built as nice subdivisions on generous lots in the 1950ıs and 1960ıs. These homes varied from 1000 to 3000 square feet and most were single story. Today Los Altos remains a premiere area in which to raise a family. Our schools are the best in the state and our downtown and political/social structure is that of a traditional, even modest, small town. Yet this small town finds itself in the center of the worldıs best high tech economy.

Therefore, our older, smaller homes are being replaced by large homes many with basements and second stories to achieve 5000 square feet of living space. Our neighborhoods are evolving from look-alike subdivision houses into unique designs. We are evolving into what most older neighborhoods are like with diversity replacing cost-effective similarity. But many residents in predominant single story neighborhoods dislike the mass and impact on privacy of two story homes. So we have design wars similar to the range wars between the cattlemen and sheep herders.

At first I was not in favor of single story overlay zones that would make two story homes illegal in some areas. I disliked taking away existing rights of property owners to build two story homes that would meet our design guidelines. But the destructive neighborhood arguments prompted me to support the single story overlay ordinance. I influenced the new zoning ordinance to be limited in duration (seven years), requiring 70% or more YES votes by property owners in a secret ballot, and requiring the city council to decide on the boundaries of such a zone prior to voting. If the yes vote fails to achieve 70%, then the NO vote would also last for 7 years. The point of all this was to be fair to all property owners, have existing rights taken away only by a significant majority, and to end disputes among neighbors by holding one secret vote that determines the two story policy for 7 years. The zoning change applicants must pay the cityıs costs of processing the application.

I think we addressed this emotional issue in a serious and creative way after considerable public study. Some cities have similar zoning options, but none that I know of have established a policy like ours. We will see how well it works.


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