Neighbors Seek Solution in Remodeling Dispute

Susan Kolb, Avril Couris and Judy Barr look over plans for a major remodel on their street. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Strawberry Point in Marin County is one of the most unique of all Eichler neighborhoods, just over a dozen waterfront homes from the mid 1960s, most with spectacular views of the Bay, and some with views of San Francisco.

Several are original Eichler two-story homes.

Now some neighbors are concerned because one of the homes is slated to be expanded. They are worried about loss of views, slope stability, and loss of neighborhood character. But unlike some such disputes elsewhere in the Bay Area – Silicon Valley, to be precise – this is one argument that seems likely to end with both sides happy.

Could the Strawberry experience serve as an example for harmonious relations elsewhere? Time will tell.

The story began this October, when word leaked out on Starboard Court that the owner of one of the homes, a longtime rental, proposed to add 1,335 square feet of space to the home, an original Eichler two-story. The final home would have a total building area of 5,015 feet, according to a county planning document.

7 Starboard
The house at 7 Starboard has undergone several unfortunate remodels over the years, neighbors say. Its current owner wants to enlarge and improve it, returning it to Eichler style.

The job would also include building new decks in the rear – facing the Bay, and new landscaping throughout.

Although some of the homes on Starboard Court have been altered, neighbors who grew worried about the proposed remodel say the neighborhood still maintains its original look. There are several other Eichler homes on an adjoining street, Great Circle Drive.

Neighbors are very concerned about preserving their privacy, and there was concern the addition could block views. Concerns about slope stability arose because over the years, during major storms, backyards have slid away into the Bay.

Views are regulated in the neighborhood by covenants that come with home titles. The rules affect 99 lots, all of which Eichler originally planned to build upon. Financial problems that affected Eichler Homes at that time caused him to pull out, however, and other developers stepped in.

“This is a fragile little spit we’re on,” says Judy Barr, an original owner who has lived there since 1968.

This drawing shows the first version of the remodel, as planned by owner Peter Marks. He has since agreed to make changes to accommodate neighbor concerns.

Avril Couris, who lives in a high-peaked, single-tory Eichler alongside the proposed remodel, expressed concern that she could lose privacy in her yard due to windows that would look into it. Susan Kolb, whose home also borders the remodel, was concerned she might lose privacy in her pool.

There are still five original owners among the houses on Starboard, and the neighborhood has recently attracted several young couples with children, adding much to a neighborly mix.

“We’re crazy about them,” Judy says. “They’re just wonderful families and they have remodeled and done a wonderful job of remodeling.”

“In our neighborhood we truly care for each other,” she says. “We are there for each other. We really care about the new people on the block. We are a special block and we don’t want that to change.”

The applicant, Peter Mark, a homebuilder by profession, told neighbors he planned to produce a dream house for his family.

Homes on Starboard range from single-story Eichlers to unusual two-story models. It's a well maintained, pleasant place.

“It is not being increased in size dramatically,” Mark said in an interview “We are adding 1,500 square feet and it’s all in the back where nobody will see it. It is not imposing on anyone’s views.”

“We will work with our neighbors so we won’t interfere with their primary or secondary views. We’ll maintain our privacy and their privacy.”

And he met with several neighbors in one of their homes to try to work things out. The meeting went well. Mark agreed to change his plan for windows to maintain privacy for his neighbors. “I understand their perspective and I understand their concerns,” Mark said.

The remodel, he said, will largely return the house, which has suffered several incompatible remodels over the years, to its original look.

“Our whole goal is to design the renovation in keeping with the original Eichler design. We have the original Eichler design and this is a move back to it. The front of the house is going back as much as possible to the Eichler design.”

“It’s a house in dire need of renovation,” Mark said.

The view from Avril Couris's home takes in Sausalito and San Francisco. Homes along the water reach down to the Bay.

About the worries of some neighbors that construction would disrupt their lives and that construction trucks could endanger neighborhood children, Mark said he is a professional builder. “It is something I do well. Our folks are very respectful.”

The home needs to win approval of its design from a local Strawberry design review committee and then from county officials. To make it clear what the home will look like when it is done, “story poles” – wooden stakes -- showing its mass will be installed soon.

“We don’t know (how the house will affect neighbors), until we see the volume of what’s coming,” Susan Kolb says. “We’re waiting to see the story poles.”

She added: "We're all committed to making it work for everybody."

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