The question has been before the City Council and Planning Commission numerous times since 2008, but may finally be near resolution with a compromise proposal unanimously embraced by the council at its Sept. 15 meeting.
Ironically, the compromise is nearly identical to a proposal crafted in March 2009 by Councilman Charles Marsala, supported by Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, but killed by a 3-2 vote of the council.
Parker Avenue lots are less than 10,000 square feet, making them atypical of most Atherton lots, which are about one acre. However, Parker Avenue's zoning is R1-A, which allows much bigger houses on lots larger than 10,000 square feet than it does on smaller lots.
About half of Parker Avenue residents say they want more flexibility to build additions and garages, and have urged the town to either change the R1-A zoning rules that now apply to their street, or to change their street's zoning to R1-B, which is a zoning applied to a small number of Atherton streets, mostly surrounding Town Hall, that have lots smaller than one acre.
The other residents argue that allowing larger houses on the small lots would adversely alter the neighborhood's ambience and lead to houses that are too large for the cul-de-sac of small lots.
A number of residents of surrounding streets have also opposed changing the rules, saying that homeowners would be likely to extend their homes to the rear and infringe on the privacy and tranquility of their backyard neighbors.
The Planning Commission, which has reviewed the proposed changes several times, has recommended against their approval twice in recent months. The council, however, wavered in its position when the matter was before it.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, the council endorsed a compromise plan, put forward by Mayor Kathy McKeithen but reflecting solutions proposed by Councilman Marsala last year, that would change the front setback requirements of the current zoning, allowing residents to extend their houses frontward. The setback would change from 39 feet to 23.25 feet.
The compromise plan would not change the rear setbacks, addressing the concerns of residents on surrounding streets who feared houses would be extended out closer to the rear property lines, diminishing their privacy.
The plan would also slightly reduce the allowable building space on a second-floor addition, but would, overall, give homeowners an additional 547 square feet of floor space.
The compromise plan will now go before the Planning Commission. Mayor McKeithen pushed for a commission review and recommendation in time for the council to take final action by November, before a new council is seated. The plan would involve approval of a zoning code amendment creating a new overlay zone specifically for Parker Avenue.
The commission will also be asked to review the public right-of-way requirements on the street. Most Atherton streets have rights-of-way, or easements, of 40 to 60 feet, but Parker Avenue's easement is 70 feet. That means that residents can't build fences as close to the roadway as they could if the easement were smaller, and therefore have less space for garages and front yards.