After hearing the wrath of Atherton neighbors who live along a corridor of El Camino Real whose properties could be rezoned for multifamily housing, the town Planning Commission is proposing to ditch its rezoning plans and instead create a larger "overlay." It's the latest switch up in plan that's soon due to the state.
The City Council has scrambled in the last two weeks to find multifamily units it could add to its housing plan, which is due to the state Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) on Tuesday, Jan. 31, and requires the town to plan for 348 additional units over the next eight years.
On Jan. 11, the council proposed upzoning 17 lots along El Camino Real for multifamily housing after hearing from staffers, housing advocates and others that its state-mandated housing plan would be rejected without some multifamily housing included. The town received extensive feedback from the state on its initial draft in October, which focused on building accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
The upzoning decision drew a crowd of angry homeowners at the council's Jan. 18 meeting, some of whom said the town is targeting the so-called "poverty pocket" of Atherton, but the majority of the council held its ground. The next night, on Thursday, Jan. 19, the commission proposed creating a zoning overlay allowing 20 units per acre acre on both sides of El Camino Real — one lot deep — from the town border in Menlo Park to the town border in Redwood City.
The commission, which had three of its five members present for the meeting, also voted 3-0 to add all properties along Valparaiso Avenue from El Camino Real to the town's western border — one lot deep — to be included as part of an overlay of 10 units per acre.
The council's Jan. 18 plan created the following breakdown of housing units, including 19 through the El Camino corridor:
"The idea of multifamily along El Camino is a good idea," said Planning Commission Chair Eric Lane. "I think this method is not (the El Camino rezoning), and it's a tough thing to expect to be approved by the state. ... The Planning Commission didn't know about this plan until you did as well."
Some of the owners of the 17 lots along El Camino came to the Jan. 18 and Jan. 19 meetings in red shirts that read "#Not Going Anywhere," and expressed frustration with the council's decision and threatened legal action. They presented a petition to the Planning Commission on Jan. 19 with signatures from neighbors opposing the upzoning.
One resident asked the Planning Commission why their lots would be included in the plan if none of her neighbors plan to sell their properties or develop higher-density housing on their lots.
"I can't even begin to describe the emotional turmoil you put us all through this last week," said homeowner Stan Hsu.
Resident Loren Gruner suggested the town create an overlay throughout town so that certain residents don't feel targeted.
The council also upzoned 23 Oakwood Blvd. at 10 units per acre during its Jan. 11 meeting. The homeowner has a plan to develop townhouses at the site. Several neighbors, or their representatives, have spoken out during a series of meetings about the development there. The Planning Commission opted not to touch the Oakwood rezoning.
What is a housing overlay? What does it mean to rezone?
There has been some confusion over what the differences are between rezoning (or upzoning) properties and creating a housing overlay. In practice, rezoning places more restrictions on the homeowner and ultimately means the owner can't tear down their home and build another single-family home.
Upzoning occurs when the town rezones parcels to allow a higher density than already exists on the parcel. When a parcel is upzoned, the existing use is allowed to continue, but if a homeowner abandons their home or demolishes it for new construction it must be redeveloped for multifamily housing. Renovations would generally be allowed under this method. The town is looking at upzoning to 20 units per acre.
The upzoning would occur over the next 36 months. The town would need to create development standards to address height, setbacks, lot coverage, parking, fence heights, screening, etc. along with minimum and maximum density requirements, according to City Manager George Rodericks.
A zoning overlay would allow a different density or use than already exists on the parcel. When a parcel is part of an overlay, the existing use is allowed to continue and the property owner can choose to demolish and rebuild for the new use and keep the existing zoning.
The Planning Commissions' option allows for parcels being considered for an overlay zone at a higher density to allow multifamily. The development requirements for multifamily are not yet developed and the overlay zone itself would occur over the next 36 months, Rodericks said in a Jan. 21 blog post.
Decision up to the council
It's ultimately up to the council to decide if it wants to make changes to the plan it proposed during a Jan. 18 meeting.
The council will meet on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 2 p.m. to review the changes and submit the housing element to the state.
Watch a video of the Jan. 18 City Council meeting here: