Letter: Neighbors oppose big house on Olive Street | October 24, 2007 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - October 24, 2007

Letter: Neighbors oppose big house on Olive Street

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Menlo Park City Council will hear the appeal of a use permit for a 5,400 square foot spec house on a 70-foot wide tree-covered substandard lot at 578 Olive St. The appeal was filed by the adjoining neighbors, the Crowley family at 592 Olive and the Harris family at 560 Olive.

The use permit was granted Aug. 13, by a minority of the seven-member Planning Commission (Harry Bims, Lou Deziel, Henry Riggs) in a 3-1 vote, with Vince Bressler dissenting and three members (Kirsten Keith, John O'Malley, Melody Pagee) absent. Acting Chair Lou Deziel declared in the hearing that it is "open season" for development on substandard lots.

The appeal concerns 578 Olive, but the community issue is site-appropriate development on substandard lots throughout Menlo Park. The neighbors believe the Planning Commission is abdicating its responsibility under the zoning ordinance provision for substandard lots, which requires an affirmative finding that the proposed use would not be detrimental to the neighborhood.

The lot in question has three heritage redwoods in its backyard, and three on its border with the Harris' home, next door. The adjoining neighbors both have much smaller homes — a 2,237 square foot on one side and 1,415 square foot on the other. Each has a detached two-car garage and no basement.

The developer, Mandana Jamishnejad, of J5 Development Co. and Coldwell Banker, has requested a permit for a 5,400 square foot house on this substandard lot three times before the Planning Commission. Three times, up to 18 immediate neighbors have unanimously opposed the proposal, believing that the house would cause significant detriment to their heritage redwoods, sunlight, and privacy. Specifically, the neighbors say:

• The autocourt/parking lot will cover much of both the front yard and the root structure of two of the Harris' redwood trees. The neighbors request the autocourt/parking lot be eliminated.

•The 1,939 square foot basement will require digging into the root structure of several heritage redwoods. The neighbors request that additional precautions be followed when building the basement so as to protect the redwoods, and ask for a bond to assure these precautions are followed.

• The first floor is 2,367 square feet, and the second floor 961 square feet. The neighbors do not oppose the size of the second floor, but want it to be re-massed toward the front of the house so it will not harm their sunlight and privacy.

It will now be up to the City Council to decide whether to continue the open season for the development of substandard lots in Menlo Park.

Nancy Cox and Kevin Harris

560 Olive St. and

Lee and Jim Crowley

592 Olive St., Menlo Park


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Posted by Watching
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 24, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Let's see if the mayor remembers her commitment to fighting monster house plague, or if she's too distracted by things like the crazy idea of "saving" a decrepit, nonhistoric former movie house to focus on this critical matter. I'm certainly hoping she and the rest of the council end "open season." I'm sure I'm not the only one watching.

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Posted by to be fair
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 24, 2007 at 10:11 pm

One man's monster house is another man's dream home for his growing family. We all have our needs and preferences and it's not fair to have the city favor one view over another. The fact remains, if the people at 578 Olive had submitted the same design from a different, luckier location, they would be on their way to a getting their new house. It all depends on your neighbor and it SHOULDN'T. If there were one objective standard, it would be fair, but limiting to both creativity and to style. Some might suggest that the people at 578 Olive move into a two story home somewhere else. Might i suggest that the neighbors should live in a neighborhood with a one-story restriction. they exist.

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Posted by Lets get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2007 at 10:21 pm

I happen to be somewhat familiar with this project, as I watched part of the planning commission meeting on line when this project was approved. Lou Deziel did NOT declare any such thing as "open season". That is just one of several inaccuracies in this one-sided letter, written by the neighbors who are appealing.

In my opinion, this appeal by the neighbors is ridiculous and a total waste of city resources. They already had several opportunities to provide input and caused this developer to redesign the house at least twice, as I recall. The house was approved by the planning commission precisely because the new design reflected the input the neighbors had previously provided. Apparently they are still not happy and want another re-design. Easy to say if you are not paying the $30,000+ it would cost. I think they played that card twice already.

This is a major abuse of the use-permit process and hurts everyone who owns a sub-standard lot.

961 sq feet on the second story - give me a break. This is far from a monster home, and much smaller than most new homes. The neighbors should be thanking the developer for trying to improve their neighborhood. I hope the City Council dismisses this appeal in short order, as it rightfully should.

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Posted by were you there
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm

I was at the Planning Commission meeting where Diezel and Bressler (dissent) had a lively exchange about whether this should be "open season" on substandard lots. All the neighbors seem to want is to protect their trees and their sunlight -- they seem to think 961 SF second floor is totally fine, just in the wrong place, and the parking lot too. The real abuse is the developer not considering the site where she's building.

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Posted by sunlight
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm

a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, i bought and lived in a highrise condo with a very nice view, but with the full knowledge that that view was NOT on the deed to my property. i could enjoy it, but i could NEVER own it. so it may happen here, in Menlo where i live, that a house might go up or more likely, a tree will get big, and i will lose a little sun on one side. That's life.

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Posted by just wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 25, 2007 at 9:28 pm

When you lived in that condo, that was before you made your millions doing spec developments?

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Posted by Neutral Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 5:27 pm

To my understanding, the owner/applicant for this project is not a huge developer making millions doing spec developments. And in fact, due to the constant changes she has spent money making throughout the past year for her neighbors, she will be lucky to make any money when this house is finally (if ever) built and sold.

And, if its that easy to make millions doing spec developments then everybody would be doing it including yourself - wouldnt they???

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Posted by Tree Lover
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 26, 2007 at 5:31 pm

I would like to comment solely on the issue of requiring a bond for the redwood trees. I am a huge lover of these beauties all throughout our city, however if we ask this owner to put a bond up for the trees, then all future applicants will have to do the same. Most homeowners doing a small remodel/addition to their homes cannot afford such a high cost and it is unfair to start such a precedent that will affect everyone. Especially seeing that these trees are hardly ever harmed short of being chopped down (which should never be allowed in my little opinion).

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Posted by bystander
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 5:43 pm

The owner probably could have saved a lot of time and money if there had been early discussions with neighbors. It's discouraging that so many who will not have to live with the consequences of the design are disparaging those adjacent neighbors who will.
What's even more discouraging is that many of us never have a chance to voice such concerns as privacy and light and effect on trees we live beside, because we live near standard lots.

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Posted by just wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 26, 2007 at 6:06 pm

No, I wouldn't be doing spec developments of this type for any kind of money. It's disgusting to see people try to cram as much house as possible onto a lot designed for a much smaller home, with their sole goal being the maximization of their profit. I wouldn't foul my own city, or anyone else's city, this way.

Whenever you see an abomination like this one (parking lot on the front lawn! please!) it's almost always a spec developer. Someone who is going to live in the house and deal with the neighbors every day is not going to inflict that kind of eyesore on everyone.

There should be different rules for spec developers and owner-occupants, though I suppose the spec developers would just have to add "liar" to their list of sins.

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Posted by Tree Lover II
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 6:36 pm

Dear Tree Lover,

You make an "open the floodgates" argument that everyone will have to do heritage tree bonds if one is done. That is not the case.

Heritage tree bonds have been done a few times in Menlo Park, and should be when the circumstances require. On 578 Olive, the developer wants to do demolition and construction and excavation within the tree protection zones of the heritage trees. That is why a bond is needed for that project. It does not mean that bonds should be required for all projects.

If you are really a Tree Lover, why don't you sign the neighbors' petition for a heritage tree bond?

Tree Lover II

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Posted by Neutral Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 8:31 pm

You people are absolutely ridiculous. For what you are demanding, you need to move to Atherton and buy yourself an acre and not have any neighbors you can see from your home.

And Tree Lover II - you are simply wrong -- if the council requires this owner to place bonds on the trees, it will set a precedent. You should check your facts and law before making false statements. There have only been 2 projects that have required tree bonds due to unique cirmcumstances. There are NO unique circumstances in the 578 Project with the acception of how much these people have done to try and satisfy their neighbors who obviously will never be satisfied.

I wouldn't be surprised if all the negative comments above are from the appellants themselves - you seem to be exactly that crazy!

Get a life...

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Posted by Tree Lover II
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 10:33 pm

Dear "Neutral" Neighbor,

There are unique circumstances at 578 Olive, have you ever seen the tree covered lot or are you just reading the developer's propaganda?

There are 6 large heritage redwood trees, some 100 ft +, and proposed construction of the front yard "parking lot" is within 3 feet of the neighbor's tree, as well as a big basement 10 feet from 2 other heritage trees.

Why should an out of town developer and overseas owner trash these trees without any financial accountability? The case for a bond!

Tree Lover II

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Posted by sunlight
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 11:44 pm

It's a fools errand to engage your neighbors in an early discussion of your plans. first of all, it's design by committee with neighbors fighting over your plans. second, they have nothing at stake and therefore, there are no restraints. they will dig in their heels. third, it's fundamentally unjust for people who have no property right to your land to dictate to you what you're already allowed to do per city regulations.

Not sure what 'justwondering' means by parking lot on the front lawn. is it a driveway in front where people can park? that's pretty much what most of my neighbors do, park on their driveway right in front of the garage because their garage is completely full of stuff they can't or won't throw away. i do that too. in other words, 578 is trying to do what everybody else already does? how evil!

Oh the horror of it all, spec builders are building abominations! we should force them to turn their lots into pocket parks. we should string up all the evil families that buy these abominations! What poor taste they have! They are so so stupid to pay 2, 3, or 4 million for these monstrosities!

By the way, when i am ready move away, to take the equity out of my home to move somewhere else and live out a comfortable retirement in the low cost boonies, i want all these regulations against new homes removed, to bring back the spec's so that i can sell out to them for good $$.

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Posted by just
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 27, 2007 at 12:12 am

If you buy a house in a neighborhood, theoretically it's because you like the look and feel of the neighborhood. Why, then, would you want to build a monstrosity that clashes with the prevailing character of your neighborhood? You wouldn't--unless you were planning to raze the house and replace it with a steroid version that you could sell for as much money as possible, neighborhood be damned.

A driveway, which most of us have, is not at all the same as a parking lot. Sunlight, are you defending the plan without having seen it? Amusing.

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Posted by sunlight
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 27, 2007 at 8:21 am

white man see beautiful land, but land already has teepees. white wants. white man drive out indian, white man build log cabin. more white men come, see good place for railroad, buy out, drive out, or steal land around log cabin, build railroad stop, then town. white man town good for tradepost, more people come, more people change land. town become city. city grow, city get fiber optic and wireless and many dotcom people. city not any longer native land, but white people still happy with changes. Great Spirit! oh though has forsaken this land and permitted three hundred years of change. please deliver us from change with a good zoning ordinance and save us!

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Posted by stop scare mongering
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 27, 2007 at 10:55 am

In my experience, with several nearby projects undergoing the planning board review in recent years, it was highly unusual for neighbors to protest anything about a project. Most of us really want to get along with our neighbors and we respect their desire to create their own project. It is only when there are features of major concern that neighbors speak up; some regret that they didn't when they see the final result and can't change it. Concern about the health of one's heritage tree or of one's privacy seem quite legitimate to me.

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Posted by Kevin & Nancy
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 28, 2007 at 10:29 pm

October 27, 2007

Dear Menlo Park Neighbors,

Mandana Nejad (or Mandana Jamshinejad), the developer of 578 Olive Street, has widely circulated a misleading letter about the issues with the project. You may have been led to believe she wants to build a home for her family; actually, it is a spec development for resale.

We do not have the developer’s resources to send mass mailings through the Coldwell Banker distribution list (she is also a Coldwell Banker realtor), so we can only respond with this letter to set the record straight. If the facts really were as she suggests, we would agree with her. But the facts are as follows:

(1) There are Heritage Redwood Trees at stake, and we want construction in their tree protection zones avoided.

The reason the Harris family is appealing is the effect this project will have on six beautiful redwoods, three on the Harris family border with 578 Olive and three in its own backyard. The developer does not even mention these trees in her letter. Nor does she mention that the enormous front yard “auto court” (parking lot) would encroach within the tree protection zones of both the Harris’ front yard trees, which would involve cutting roots to within 3 feet of the root flare of the Harris’ weakest tree. Our arborists believe this auto court / parking lot should be moved away from our trees’ protection zones to avoid detriment, and we fear for our trees.

If the entrance of the new garage faced front toward Olive Street, rather than to the side facing the Harris’ trees, the developer would not need to build an auto court. This solution involves changing the location of the garage door, and would be simple if the developer cared about the trees. The developer also wants to build a 1900+ SF basement in the tree protection zones of several heritage trees, to within 10 feet of two heritage trees, and 20 feet from a Harris tree whose tree protection zone is 23 feet. We have asked that extra precautions be required in constructing this large basement, and for a bond to assure that these precautions are followed.

(2) We agree to the size of the second floor; we just want it reoriented forward on the house (more toward Olive Street) so it won’t block the westerly neighbor’s morning sunlight.

We accept the 961 SF second floor proposed as a reasonable size. But we object to the placement of this second floor, as it blocks the Crowleys’ morning sun from their one-floor home next door. We ask that the developer adjust the second floor, not reduce its size, to reorient it more considerately.

(3) The owner of the 578 Olive Street property (which the developer misleadingly refers to as “ our home”) is an investor in London. The actual owner of 578 Olive has never met, spoken or otherwise communicated with the neighbors.

The developer does not live here either – she is only on Olive Street to make a profit. Olive Street has been our home for many years, and will be for years to come. We love our neighborhood and our heritage redwoods, and want them to survive this project. By contrast, this out-of-town developer is building a spec house for the profit of the overseas owner. The developer has not done many projects in Menlo Park, and will likely move on after she sells this project. But we will be left with the consequences -- of how she treats our heritage redwoods and where she places her second floor -- for years.

(4) Mandana presents a long list of the supposed concessions she has made to satisfy neighbor concerns, but most of these were cosmetic changes that did not address the neighbors’ key concerns, and the changes to address key concerns are vindictive.

In reality, most of the items on this list were changes the developer made at the request of the Planning Commission or on her own initiative. For example, her interior designer, suggested the design change from Tudor to Craftsman, not us. The Planning Commission told her she couldn’t have balconies overlooking the Harris’ backyard swimming pool. The key concerns we have raised throughout, that is, impact on the heritage redwood trees and access to morning sunlight, have never been adequately addressed.

After months of developer indifference to the dangers posed by construction of the garage over the roots of the Harris’ trees, the Crowleys suggested to the City Planner that Mandana move her garage over to their side of the property, where there are no heritage trees to be jeopardized. But instead making the garage front-loading, like nearly every other house on Olive Street, Mandana’s garage door is on the side facing the Harris’ trees. She then designed an enormous front yard “auto court” parking lot that extends all the way from the garage to within 3 feet of the root flare of the Harris’ tree (closer to the tree than ever.) Why won’t Mandana front-load her garage so as not to harm the heritage trees that beautify the perimeter of her lot? This is not how real neighbors treat each other.

(5) Mandana states that “if the opposing neighbors are successful in prohibiting us from building our home, it may limit what you can do with your own property and/or reduce the value of your property.”

This claim represents the worst type of developer scare tactics. Property values will not be reduced if spec developers are required to place their projects considerately on the lots they buy, so as to minimize harm to their neighbors.

We are not anti-development, anti-second floor, or anti-property rights, as Mandana suggests. We support responsible development by responsible developers. We have appeared before or written to the Planning Commission in support of other two-story projects on Olive Street. As Menlo Park residents, property owners, voters and taxpayers, we have legitimate concerns about our property rights and property values, which we believe will be best served by the denial of this project in its current form.

(6) Mandana will not mediate with the neighbors without her litigation attorney. We are extremely frustrated by the planning process. It would take very little for the developer to place this same size house on the lot considerately, so it doesn’t hurt the neighbors or their trees. If she, or the owner of 578 Olive, would have really consulted with us and re-massed this house just a little, it would be built by now. But Mandana will not be considerate of her Menlo Park neighbors, or meaningfully discuss the issues with them. Twice she proceeded with plans directly to the Planning Commission without even first showing them to the neighbors. The third time she showed them to us, but never discussed with us how her plans might be improved so she could get what she wants without hurting the neighborhood where she bought the lot. Kelly Fergusson, the Mayor of Menlo Park, suggested that we go to mediation, an idea that we embraced. But Mandana refused to attend without her litigation attorney. We don’t want to litigate, we want to mediate; and, we don’t want the quality of our life diminished for her profit.

Ways you can communicate your views and get involved

If you are concerned about any of these issues and the future of our neighborhood, now is the time to express your views before the City Council. We welcome and greatly appreciate your support through any of the following ways:

1. Attend the October 30th City Council meeting, which is held at 7 pm at the Council offices at 701 Laurel St.

2. Send written comments by email to the entire City Council at city.council@menlopark.org and/or to individual City Council members:

Kelly Fergusson kjfergusson@menlopark.org
John Boyle jcboyle@menlopark.org
Heyward Robinson hgrobinson@menlopark.org
Andrew Cohen amcohen@menlopark.org
Richard Cline racline@menlopark.org

3. Sign our petition requesting a bond to protect Heritage Redwood Trees. Please contact Kevin Harris at 650 853 3040 or kevinharris1@gmail.com if you will sign the petition; nearly 50 of our neighbors have signed so far.

4. Please feel free to contact any of us with your comments or suggestions and to share this
letter with your friends and neighbors.

Thank you.


Jim Crowley and Lee Crowley Nancy Cox and Kevin Harris
592 Olive Street 560 Olive Street
lcrowley@tdl.com ncoxharris@yahoo.com

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Posted by cant we all just get along?
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 29, 2007 at 11:56 am

"without even first showing them to the neighbors."
Wait, are you stating, that all plans should be checked for the neighbors OK, BEFORE presentation to the elected government? I am not aware that this was a requirement.

"without her litigation attorney"
I heard that YOU, the opposing neighbors are attorneys, fully capable of representing yourselves and knowledegable in the ways of the law. Is it not fair that the owner of 578 be able to receive advice? Was it fair for YOU to set pre-conditions before mediation? Mediation is not a court of law and requires an assumption of good will and fair effort to be be successful. It sure does not help for either side to refuse to sit down until pre-conditions are met.

"we want construction in their tree protection zones avoided"
The city has elaborate tree protection ordinances. Moreover, there will be dueling tree expert opinions on either side, the owners, the neighbors, and the city itself has a tree expert. You have made much of the tree as the wedge issue to gather support for your side. If the tree experts assert that the trees will come out fine, will you live by that, or will you fight on?

"developer", "realtor", "out of town"
are we to assume that the use of these words are to meant to put emphasis the fact that the owner of 578 stands to make a possibly indecent profit? Another possible viewpoint is that he/she makes a LIVING for his/her family building houses other good and decent folks want to buy. Here's the silver lining for you, had he/she meant to live there, you would be living next to a hostile neighbor for years to come. As it stands, you have a very good chance that the family that moves in after sale will be really nice people who will have no reason to bear a grudge against you.

To the person who claims that these contentious remodels/new homes do not happen very often, they happen often enough be a huge waste of council time. And it always leaves in its wake very bad feelings for everybody, winner and loser alike. It does not matter whether the issues neighbors fight over are substantive or not, a remodel plan or a barking dog, they always become a clash of egos. A preceived slight here, a rude word here, a neglected courtesy, and we proceed down the path to war. It has happened to me, it has happened to my friends. I do not in the least believe that my lengthy missive here will move the neighbors or the owner to move a shadow of fraction of an inch. Their emotional stake in this fight is way too high, but I do hope if anybody does think to join the fray, that they reconsider. We all have our own lenses thru which we judge the situation of others, until that point in which we need view and and judge ourselves.

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Posted by curious neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2007 at 10:18 am

Can anyone report how this turned out?

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Posted by Rory Brown
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 31, 2007 at 11:59 am

Rory Brown is a registered user.

The council voted 3-2 to deny the appeal and approve a use permit for the construction of the house, with a lengthy set of conditions. Council members Kelly Fergusson, John Boyle and Richard Cline voted in favor of granting the use permit.

The list of conditions included in the approval of the use permit includes efforts by the counicl to protect the redwood trees and limit construction impacts and privacy issues for neighbors.
A more detailed story will follow.

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Posted by curious neighboor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 6:55 am

I suppose this is old news now and we won't be seeing the "more detailed story" that was promised to follow?

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Posted by Another Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 26, 2011 at 6:43 am

Years later, you can google the address and see the house that was finally built and sold. Not the horrible monster the neighbors wanted everyone to think it was but I have to agree that the driveway does look more like a parking lot.