Eichler neighbors try to stop teardowns

The city of Palo Alto may have approved two recent teardowns of Eichler homes. But owners and fans of the homes aren’t giving up so easily.

“It’s an argument about stability versus greed,” says Frank Ingle, a 35-year resident of an Eichler on Richardson Court. The Eichler next door recently sold for $1.9 million and the new owner plans to tear it down to build something Ingle says is two and a half times the height of his home.

Despite neighborhood appeals, the City Council approved the project because it fit city zoning rules and design guidelines. “We completely lost,” Ingle says.

The streetscape would alter considerably once -- and if -- an Eichler is replaced with a larger home. Images from city of Palo Alto website


Neighbors, however, have not given up. Ingle has retrieved the long-forgotten CC&Rs that accompany the title to homes in the neighborhood. These covenants, conditions and restrictions “forbade second stories and a lot of other things,” he notes.

But to enforce them, the neighborhood needs an active architectural review committee, which must be approved by a vote of more than half the neighborhood. A group of neighbors are canvassing the neighborhood to build that support.

“It is very likely (the review committee) will be enabled again,” he said, noting that developer Joe Eichler established such CC&Rs for most if not all his neighborhoods. “Many Eichler neighborhoods in Palo Alto could do the same.”

The second, compromise version of 808 Richardson Court

The fight over the teardown on Richardson Court has attracted attention throughout town, with Eichler owners from several neighborhoods calling Ingle with concerns about the future of their own neighborhoods.

And it’s not just Eichlers that are being torn down for large, faux Mediterranean homes, Ingle says. It’s happening throughout what he calls the “poorer parts of Palo Alto, (with) only one million dollar houses.”

“Houses are torn down and false Mediterranean houses are built,” he says. “It seems like nobody likes that style except the people who build them.”

He expects the issue to be important during the next city election. “The so-called ‘residentialists’ are going to be activated,” Ingle says. “The people who control the city council are more aligned with the builders and the labor unions. It’s going to be a big issue in the campaign."

Approval of the Richardson Court teardown follows the city’s earlier approval of a plan to replace an Eichler on Louis Road, across from the Eichler Swim and Tennis Club, with another quasi-Mediterranean home. The affected homes are about a half mile apart.

The initial version for the new home at 808 Richardson

The endangered Eichler, at 808 Richardson Court, is still standing. Ingle says that, under the CC&Rs, any owner could bring a civil suit to compel adherence to the rules.

Sheila Himmel, who’s lived in an Eichler next door to Ingle and two doors from the proposed teardown since 1983, notes that “The house on the other side (of 808 Richardson) is not an Eichler. It’s the original Richardson farm house.”

That made it harder for neighbors to fight the teardown, she says. “The city approved it because that house was not an Eichler so it fit their neighborhood preservation plan.”

The new owner of 808 Richardson did make some concessions to Ingle and the neighbors, who dropped their appeal of the project when they noted the City Council had placed the item on the consent calendar – which meant it would not even be discussed at the meeting.

“Instead of stucco siding it will be horizontal siding,” Himmel says. “And they took the roof down a couple of feet. And they did make some concessions about privacy for the neighboring homes.”

Those concessions included opaque glass in upstairs window to block direct views of Ingle's bathroom and bedroom and backyard.

The teardown will have a noticeable impact on the look of the neighborhood, Himmel says. “It’s the house you see when you turn the corner (into Richardson Court). It’s, boom! -- what you see first thing.”

Richardson Court, which Eichler originally named the Faircourt Tract, is largely intact, Himmel says, though there are two relatively modest second-story additions among the 40 or so homes. When one went in, 30 years ago, Sheila and her husband Ned Himmel sued to block it and lost.

“What’s different now is, it’s like a gold rush here in real estate,” she says.

“The court is divided between people who bought (Eichlers) intentionally because they like them, and we like the community of Eichlers as well. But now there are neighbors on our street who are mostly concerned about property values and what they’ll be able to sell the house for," she says. "They feel any restrictions would diminish the property value. It’s kind of ridiculous, when you’re talking $1.9 million for a teardown.”

“It’s really two different cultures about what a house is about. We were fine raising two kids in an 1,800-square-foot house. But younger families, especially younger families with a lot of money, that would be out of the question.”

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