Menlo Park council says no to driveway
Louise Street resident Michael Schwarz said his neighbors were determined to stop developer Sam Sinnott from building a driveway on their street, and they did.
The Menlo Park City Council voted 3-1 on March 5 to revoke Mr. Sinnott's permit, which city staff had previously granted. He purchased a home at 1825 Santa Cruz Ave. last year with the intent of demolishing it to make way for a new single-family house he would then sell. The rear of the lot faces Louise Street — an appealing location to build a driveway, given Santa Cruz Avenue's traffic. The proposed exit would have partially paved over a bit of land and some greenery in the public right-of-way.
The neighbors, some of whom have lived on Louise Street for decades, support the new home — as long as it doesn't include a driveway on their street. Instead, they chipped in $10,000 to file an "abandonment application" asking Menlo Park to grant the public right-of-way to the adjoining homeowners.
"It's very rare that we revoke an encroachment permit," City Attorney Bill McClure noted during a discussion that stretched over about four hours.
Building the driveway would have bolstered Mr. Sinnott's desire to change the address of the home from Santa Cruz Avenue to Louise Street, which the neighbors oppose. Although city staff said no when he asked twice during the past 12 months if they'd support changing the address, the property was advertised as a Louise Street home on Craigslist and other online outlets.
With members Cat Carlton dissenting — "I just don't see that much of an impact" to Louise Street — and Ray Mueller recused, the council sided with the Louise Street residents.
Saying he understood why Mr. Sinnott wanted the house to have an exit on Louise Street instead of Santa Cruz Avenue, Councilman Rich Cline commented, "I would be in agreement if it wasn't for the unified response of a community at the end of the street who are worried about the conditions of the street."
Mr. Sinnott later told the Almanac that he is researching a legal challenge to the decision and requesting a rehearing.
"I believe the large numbers of people swayed the council. Simple numbers complaining about conditions that weren't accurate. Even though their complaints were addressed in my presentation," he said. "Most of the speakers complained about loss of green space. I proved no green space was lost with actual to-scale drawings and photo perspectives; the parking was being traded for the driveway, all other landscape saved."
He also said that the city attorney incorrectly told the council that building a guest house on the Santa Cruz Avenue side of the property would require Planning Commission approval, when it actually does not, according to city staff.
After revoking the driveway permit, the council voted 4-0 to pursue the abandonment while keeping two 5-foot easements designed for pedestrian access between Santa Cruz Avenue and Louise Street near Mr. Sinnott's property.
The neighbors told the Almanac they are taking steps to ensure that abandonment will be done in a way that ensures the green space will remain protected, no matter who owns the adjacent properties.