Faircourt Will Continue to Seek Protection

Nice house
Faircourt retains a great deal of architectural integrity, as seen in this view of a typical, well-preserved home. That's one reason proponents of a single-story zone who want to protect against monster homes hope they succeed despite an initial setback. Photos by Dave Weinstein

In late May, Palo Alto planners ruled against banning second-story additions and two-story homes in the Eichler neighborhood of Faircourt. But some residents there are not giving up.

In Palo Alto, in neighborhoods that have CC&Rs that deal with second-stories, 60 percent of residents must approve the requested zoning change, which is called a single-story overlay.

The folks in Faircourt went into the Planning and Transportation Commission meeting believing they had more than 60 percent support – but then some supporters switched their votes by withdrawing support. So the commission voted no.

But – the matter will still come before the City Council, which makes the final decision, says Roland Finston, one of the pro-overlay leaders.

“We’re looking forward to have one or two more people sign on, and ideally we’ll have the required 60 percent by the time it is forwarded onto the City Council,” he says. “We were one short. We had 59 percent.”

Another attractive Eichler in the subdivision.

Finston says the matter may come before the council in August. “We hope we pick up one more endorsement and win.”

Over the past few months, as Eichlers and other smaller homes in the city have fallen to make way for monster homes, or been remodeled out of existence, two Eichler neighborhoods, Los Arboles and Greer Park, won single-story overlay protection.

Another, Royal Manor, was turned down, also because initial support for the move declined as former supporters became opponents.

In a way, the Faircourt neighborhood (technically, the area is called Faircourt 3 and 4; Finston says he doesn’t know where 1 and 2 are) is ground zero for the Palo Alto-wide effort, indeed the Silicon Valley-wide effort, to preserve Eichlers from two-story homes.

One teardown that drew much attention occurred in Faircourt last year. It was an Eichler in a prominent spot on Louis Road, right across from the Eichler Swim and tennis Club, that was torn down and replaced.

“What really started us was that scrape-off on Louis Road,” Finston says.

Finston has lived in the small Eichler tract for 49 years – since 1967. He and his wife raised two boys there. They enjoyed the stability of the neighborhood, the many neighborhood gatherings in the earlier years, and the many neighbors who have been there from the start, or near the start.

The neighborhood already has several existing two-story homes. Many of them came in decades ago, Roland Finston says.

The man who got the Faircourt single-story overlay going, in fact, was an original resident, Jack Hoover. But as Jack’s health declined, Finston says “Jackie [Geist] and I picked up the ball.”

They’ve been assisted by “a good group willing to work to achieve” the goal of preserving the tract’s character and the privacy of homeowners, he says, about eight people who have canvassed the neighborhood to drum up the required support.

“It’s not easy. It’s a small tract,” he says.

The tract has about 50 homes, but the proposed overlay would only cover 44. That’s because six homes on Talisman Drive adjoin non-Eichler homes, and three of them already have second stories. They were excluded from the proposed overlay zone.

“We need 27 of the 44,” Finston says. “Right now we have 26.”

To win one more supporter in the neighborhood means the proponents will focus on the owners of two homes who have yet to weigh in, “basically two houses where there have been deaths,” Finston says. One house has been unoccupied for some time. In another, the death is recent.

Palo Alto insists that areas getting overlay zones have natural boundaries. The map shows that the two Faircourt tracts make up a compact area. From the city's staff report

He says canvassers will also talk to neighbors they have spoken to in the past, in hopes of swaying them to the single-story overlay.

Finston says that all of the owners on Louis Road oppose the overlay. “They feel very devalued by what happened there. For the most part they feel they don’t want to tell somebody who might buy their homes you can’t put a second story in,” for fear that would reduce the selling price of their homes.

When the City Council rejected the Royal Manor proposal, the council asked staff to develop citywide guidelines for remodels and new homes in Eichler neighborhoods. That process is underway. But the council did not put consideration of single-story overlays on hold during that development.

Finston, meanwhile, has suggested that city planners revise how they handle aspects of the single-story overlay process. He thinks that could happen as they develop the Eichler guidelines.

“One of the difficulties of the single-story overlay setup is that there is no formal deadline to count the pros and cons, the numbers of applicants and non-applicants, up until the hearing itself,” Finston says.

Proponents of the overlay went into the first meeting of the planning commission, and then a second one, convinced they had the support in hand – only to discover that supporters had changed their minds.

“That puts us at a disadvantage. It doesn’t give us any time to try and replace them. There should be a cutoff time for adding or taking away support, maybe five days in advance, or three days.”

Here's what many residents of Faircourt hope never to see again -- a ripped-down Eichler being replaced by the sort of generic two-story house that can be seen in generic suburbs everywhere. This is the home on Louis Road, which is part of Faircourt, while it was still under construction.

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