Almanac

News - January 22, 2014

Menlo Park commission: Home doesn't fit in with neighborhood

by Barbara Wood

The architect of a two-story 3,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home on Middle Avenue was sent back to the drawing board by Menlo Park's Planning Commission on Jan. 13, despite the fact that the proposed stucco and tile-roofed home did not violate any city rules and no one had complained about it.

Commissioners said the house would just not fit in with its neighbors, one-story bungalows.

The home planned for 865 Middle Ave. would be the first two-story home in the immediate area. The owner, Shahrokh Satvatmanesh, said he does not plan to live there. The house had to undergo the commissioners' scrutiny because the lot is only 50 feet wide in a zone that requires 65 feet. The existing one-story home would be demolished.

"It's a real change in the neighborhood," said Commissioner Henry Riggs.

"It just looks odd next to the houses around it," said Commission Chair John Kadvany. "There's no complaints, but that's a pretty low bar."

After failing to get more than two votes approving the design, those of commissioners Katherine Strehl and Katie Ferrick, the seven commissioners voted unanimously to continue consideration of the home to a future meeting to give the architect, Farhad Ashrafi, time to modify the plans.

Commissioners expressed frustration at the city's lack of design guidelines that might help avoid similar situations.

"Regardless of the neighborhood, regardless of the context, we seem to get the same architecture" submitted for approval, said Commissioner John Onken. "Context is very important to this," he said. "Context is important enough to deny this."

But Commissioner Ferrick said that because the city has no architectural control guidelines, "I just don't think there's a basis to deny this." Commissioner Ferrick said she also felt the fact that the home was going to be sold seemed to have swayed the commissioners. "I do feel like the conversation shifted dramatically when the question was asked whether or not he was going to live in it," she said.

But Commissioner Ben Eiref, who had said the proposed home "is going to stick out like a sore thumb," insisted the commission was just doing its job.

"I'm really siding with the people of Menlo Park and the neighborhood," he said.

Immediately after sending the proposal back, the commissioners unanimously approved a different, but similar, home designed by the same architect at 1015 Atkinson Lane, citing the presence of other similar two-story homes nearby.

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