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Debunking the Myth of Spot Re-zoning

Original post made by Charlie Parker, Atherton: West Atherton, on May 1, 2010

There has been a call to lessen the draconian restrictions on size and setbacks for lots 10,000 square feet and under in Atherton.

At least one poster has described this initiative as "spot re-zoning".

I have news for my fellow denziens. There is no such thing as spot rezoning.

The closest thing I can think of is a request for a variance. Many variances have been given over the years. However this practice fell out of fashion about 14 years ago with the arrival of a building official who either didn't care about the Town's zoning ordinance or who was willing to look the other way [portion removed].

Now that greater attention is being paid to the rules, there should also be greater attention as to whether these rules make sense.

In the case of small lots, the answer is a definite no. For the small lot neighborhoods, it should be recognized that ordinary folk are willing to put up with less elbow room for more living room.

I say give the poor folks a break who didn't have the money or the contacts to get an official or unofficial variance. Let them build the castle they want on their very tiny kingdom. Let them live in peace in their close knit community.

Comments (14)

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Posted by Kathy Christ
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Charlie Parker said it better than I could. I share his sentiment. I second that emotion, I agree.

One of the reasons it was so easy for people to bend the rules and to get away with it was that the zoning ordinance was so poorly written that bless his heart, [portion removed] the former building official could read anything into the rules that he wanted to.

Now with the whole town looking over his shoulder, and a more carefully written zoning ordinance in place, the current building official does have the luxury to give a friend in need a favor.

Now that we have entered an era in which people actually respect the rules, let's make the rules more respectable.


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Posted by Nope
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm

You guys can pretend you can separate the Parker issue from Lewis' illegal house all you want. It's not going to fly. People are waking up and people are angry.


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Posted by neighborly advice
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Colleen get away from lewis and her very big mess quickly, and then ask for a variance on your own issue's merit--you don't need her anyway.


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Posted by likes setbacks
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm

One reason to live in Atherton is that there are larger spaces between houses than in other towns, like Menlo Park. Please don't change that after the fact. People who bought lots should know the rules. They can at least see the difference between Atherton and others places where they could live instead, with bigger house and smaller outdoor area.


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Posted by city dweller
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 1, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Hey likes setbacks

If you want open space, move to the country. If you want grass go to Hollbrook Palmer Park. There are about ten acres worth.


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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm

excellent point!
This used to be the country
Now,trying to keep it even semi rural is what exactly zoning is for and about.
Other wise, we will end up as city dwellers
No thanks
The park used to be a house.


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Posted by Here's what's fair
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm

The comment about going to Holbrook Park is totally uncalled for.

Many residents in Atherton paid for their large plots of land because they want privacy and open space. You can't break the rules like Elizabeth Lewis did and just tell them to go to the park if they want to get that back. It's that type of comment that might cause people to say "screw you" on the Parker rezoning. It's uncalled for.

On the other hand, I believe the solution for Parker is to allow residents to add on to the front of their homes. Thus, the setback won't impact the one acre neighbors in the back of their homes. I have seen the street, and there really is no valid reason that their houses have to be that far from the street.

This issue must apply to Parker only. It must not be used to retroactively make Elizabeth Lewis' house legal. She cannot be allowed to vote on any rezoning issue until there are hearings on her house and it is brought into compliance.


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Posted by part time realtor
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 1, 2010 at 9:32 pm

There is a place where people can go if they want all house and no lot. It's called a condominium complex. There is one just south of Town right on the El Camino, it is called Atherton Park Forest.



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Posted by colleen Anderson
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm

The house in the big lot behind me is building a big guest house 10 feet from the property line. They can we can't. Again not fair. All we want is what other people have on our street. We would just like to change the rules that used to be in place so we may have it as well. The big lots are building BIG guest houses 10 feet from us. they are not allowed to have people live in them, but for awhile they had there son live in one of there guest houses. Who is in town enforcing that. All we want is what's fair, and to change the rules to build legally. A number of people have built illegally. There are a number of us that what to change the rules NOT break them.


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Posted by Here's what's fair
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm

But that is fair, Colleen (a guest house having a less stringent setback rule than a primary residence) because of that very rule: the guest house cannot permanently house anyone (I believe the limit is one month). If your neighbor has people living in their guest house for more than 30 days, by all means, the town should enforce the rules and put a stop to that. Again, I am in favor of you being able to expand your home like the others you say are on the street, but in the front, not the back. This is what Charles Marsala advocated at the prior council meeting and it is a reasonable compromise.


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Posted by colleen Anderson
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 1, 2010 at 11:40 pm

I agree. We should either be R1B straight up, or have smaller setbacks in the front (for garages) with full 2nd stories. i am open to both ideas. In a perfect world I would like to keep my backyard as is and build a garage out front with a 2nd story.


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Posted by style still matters
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 2, 2010 at 9:57 am

The proposal to let homes extend to the front with two stories is a lousy one. They call this kind of hideous creatures a HOG (House over Garage).

Atherton has no architectural review board it should. The proposal in the most recent post is a powerful argument for establishing one.

People buy property in Atherton for a good reason. Our town has a distinctive and elegant style. Lets keep it that way!!!!!!


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Posted by KINGPIN
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 2, 2010 at 10:26 am

Here is an idea, we can call what is being propsed here the Elizabeth Lewis amendment to the Atherton Zoning Ordinance.

This proposal would make a good part of the town look exactly like what she built: a MONSTER of a house, totally out of character with the lot and with her neighborhood.

Lewis is behind this change in the zoning ordinance because she doesn't want her house to stick out like a SORE THUMB!


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Posted by Size Matters
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Dear Kingpin:
Now hat you mention it--I believe the subject of built square footage per acre ratios (or whatever F.A.R. stands for) in this Kingdom also comes into play with properties in excess of one acre as exemplified in the case of the King's property which was featured prominently in the Audit of the Building Department. I believe that they actually tried to buy up surrounding property as a means to make their house fit the size requirement for it's lot. None of the neighbors wanted to sell. Would you?
Any way-- the boundaries of the zoning ordinance are not unique to small lots only--people will take whatever they can get away with, no matter the circumstance, or how much they start out with.


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