March 1997 Newsletter

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The Impact of Housing Renovations in Midtown
City Council Asked to Complete Comprehensive Plan Before Finalizing Ohlone Field and Sand Hill Road Projects
A Community Survey Concerning "Oversize" Houses In Midtown
BPA Questionnaire
Canopy Hopes to Branch Out into Midtown
MRA Membership News

The Impact of Housing Renovations in Midtown

MRA invites you attend the March 17, 1997 general meeting. The focus for the evening is the design of remodeled or new houses in our neighborhood. Because of the recent city council moratorium on the demolition of pre-1940s homes, we expect more development of large homes in our neighborhood. We would like to hear your views on current remodeling regulations. Are they being adhered to? Are they too strict? Too lenient? What is your feeling about "scrape" homes?

Do you share any of the following viewpoints?

We will learn about the current regulations from city staff and hear about the economic pressures leading to oversize houses from a member of the Architectural Review Board. Then we will break into small groups for discussions and report our conclusions back to the whole group.

The MRA Steering Committee will use these results as our input into the continuing dialog with the city council and staff. Our desired outcome from this meeting is to form a committee to explore possible guidelines for renovated housing in Midtown.

The agenda will also include the introduction of Officer Richard Bullerjahn as the Palo Alto Police liason to Midtown. Officer Bullerjahn has been working in South Palo Alto as part of the traffic team for the last several months. He will also assist us in crime and safety issues that we want to present to the city.

Come to the meeting and have your say.

Be sure to fill out our enclosed questionnaire!
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MRA Joins Other Neighborhood Groups

City Council Asked to Complete Comprehensive Plan Before Finalizing Ohlone Field and Sand Hill Road Projects

Due to its timeliness, a near-unanimous majority of the Steering Committee of the Midtown Residents Association agreed to sign this letter drafted by the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association in conjunction with other Palo Alto neighborhood groups. We felt it represented the best interests of the neighborhood, even though we have not had a full community meeting on the topic.

We invite your dialog on this topic and want to hear from you. Please call any member of the MRA Steering Committee to share your thoughts.

January 1997

Dear Members of the Palo Alto City Council,

Your decisions regarding the Sand Hill developments will have a profound long-term impact on this entire region. The Neighborhood Associations and Community Organizations listed below urge you in the strongest terms to do the following at a minimum:

  1. Use the Comprehensive Plan process to hold community-wide discussions on the future of the City. Hold the Comprehensive Plan hearings and approve the new Comprehensive Plan before certification of the Stanford Sand Hill Corridor Projects EIR and before the approval of any Development Agreement. Give serious consideration to less impactful alternatives.
  2. Develop a long-range and creative regional traffic and transportation plan that recognizes and gives consideration to all of the residential areas of this and surrounding communities. The plan should be developed jointly by Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford, East Palo Alto, CalTrans, Portola Valley, Woodside and other interested parties.

Thank you for your consideration.


Crescent Park Neighborhood Association
Midtown Residents Association
Midtown West Neighborhood Association
Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association
Evergreen Park Neighborhood Association
College Terrace Neighborhood Association
Downtown North Association
University South Neighborhood Association
Palo Alto Civic League

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A Community Survey Concerning "Oversize" Houses In Midtown

The Train is Leaving the Station. Should Midtown Get on Board?!?

Other neighborhood organizations are moving ahead with initiatives relating to "oversize" houses, so the MRA steering committee is seeking community input on this issue. Do Midtown residents share the views of, say, our neighbors in Barron Park? This survey aims to find out your views on this very current topic.

Please note: There are two sets of questions. The first set contains MRA questions specifically for Midtown residents. The second set contains a copy of the Barron Park Association's questionnaire. Please answer both sets of questions! To be counted we need to have your survey by Thursday, March 13. Please mail it to MRA, c/o Sylvia Gartner, 824 Moreno, Palo Alto 94303. (Or drop it off at Sylvia's house if time is short.)

The city is developing guidelines to preserve historic (pre-1940) houses where neighbors have complained that replacing older houses with oversized, "cookie-cutter" designs damages the neighborhood's character. Some people are pushing for mandatory city-wide design guidelines (with differences to reflect the character of different neighborhoods). Some design guidelines for residential development already exist, but they are voluntary and lack detail. Protection for "historic" neighborhoods will predictably push controversial construction practices increasingly into other neighborhoods, including Barron Park and Midtown.

The balance between individual property rights and community rights is often difficult. When you bought your house, you were probably considering many factors in addition to the lot and the house: the city, the schools, the look and feel of the neighborhood. You want to be free to make reasonable changes and improvements to your property, but you also want some protection from your neighbor making changes that might damage your property values or the livability of your home. Current zoning laws provide a basic level of such protection. The design guidelines some are proposing would provide an additional level of protection (what and how much is to be determined).

=========== Q U E S T I O N N A I R E ===========

Do you want the Midtown Residents Association to take a formal position that the City should require some sort of design review for new residential development in Midtown? (Check the other side of this page to see, for example, what the Barron Park Association has in mind.)
___ Yes ___ No ___ Indifferent

Do you favor some (any) sort of mandatory design guidelines for new residential development, assuming that they would be sensitive to neighborhoods' distinctive characters?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Indifferent

Do you favor some (any) sort of design guidelines regarding the impact of housing renovation on sunlight access during both summer and winter months?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Indifferent

IF YOUR ANSWER TO ANY QUESTION IS "YES", PLEASE CONTINUE WITH THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS. (We've included the BPA's introductory comments so you can answer their questions in the same context as Barron Park residents did. ) Please remember to return your survey promptly, as specified above. THANK YOU!
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BPA Questionnaire

Potential city ordinance on remodeling and new construction

The BPA Board has taken a formal position that some sort of design review is needed for new residential development. We are seeking input as to what kinds of design review you think is desirable to protect our neighborhood from inappropriate construction while not being excessively rigid or unreasonable.

Building permits check that construction meets zoning restrictions and approved construction methods, and are highly quantitative. Design guidelines would include these similar checks, but would involve judgment of other professionals (e.g., the staff and the City's Architectural Review Board), plus taking into account any comments by neighbors.

Guidelines often handle common cases well, but work poorly for some uncommon cases. Barron Park has many uncommon cases. If you are aware of special cases that need to be addressed, please describe it (and suggested solutions) and attach it to this questionnaire. We will forward it to the city.

In a neighborhood of predominantly one-story houses, should a two-story house be automatically subject to review?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

When a remodeling job increases the house size, at what point should a design review be triggered?
__ 25% larger?
__ 50% larger?
__ 75% larger?
__ Never

When a remodeling job involves replacing external walls, at what point should a design review be triggered?
__ Front wall changed?
__ 50% of walls modified
__ 75 % modified
__ Never

Which neighbors should have to be notified of plans that trigger the design review process:
__ Those within 500 feet of the construction
__ Those on the same block as the construction
__ No notification required

Should the existing neighborhood pattern of setbacks from the street be preserved? (Example: if the legal minimum front setback is 20 ft., but other houses on the block are set back from 30 to 50 feet, should the replacement house be required to preserve at least 30 feet, or a greater setback?)
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Side yard setback of the new house can be the minimum set by code, normally 6 feet. Should the existing neighborhood pattern of setbacks be preserved?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Roof lines and materials, and exteriors: should remodels and new construction be required to be compatible with neighboring houses?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Should there be a limit on the number of very similar designs on a block? For example, see the 2 large Mediterranean style houses on Amaranta near Maybell.
__ Yes, limit similar houses
__ No limit for similar houses
__ Indifferent

In established neighborhoods, landscaping may be viewed as a part of the character of that neighborhood. Should there be a review before significant changes are made to the landscaping as part of a remodel/rebuild?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Should special permission be required from the City arborist or equivalent staff person before a heritage-sized (of a certain age, or of a certain girth), tree is removed?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Should other types of landscaping be subject to review by the City arborist before removal?
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Should the City offer incentives for good designs? (For example, garages are required for all residential uses. Garage area counts against allowed lot coverage. If the garages are placed in the rear of the property, making the street view more attractive, should part of the garage area be excluded from lot coverage, allowing the house to be larger?)
__ Yes __ No __ Indifferent

Optional : Your name
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Learn more about your neighborhood and the trees along its streets

Canopy Hopes to Branch Out into Midtown

Canopy is a new non-profit group whose aim is to enhance and improve Palo Alto's residential street trees. Started with a two-year grant from the City of Palo Alto, Canopy has begun working with neighborhood groups to survey the City's street trees, determine where new plantings are needed and involve residents in the selection, planting and care of suitable new trees.

The College Terrace and Greenmeadow neighborhoods have already been surveyed and over 50 new trees have been planted in these areas. Residents in the Palo Verde area have conducted a neighborhood "tree walk" with Canopy and the City arborist to learn more about the types of trees in that neighborhood and what their needs are.

Volunteers are needed to help survey the Midtown area. This involves creating a systematic list of missing or dying street trees, then working with the City to determine where gas, electric and water lines are located. Planting dates can then be set up for volunteers to put in the new trees which are provided by the City from its list of suitable species.

Canopy will train volunteers for the survey and for planting. We could organize a Midtown "tree walk," too.

If you would like to get involved in a Midtown Canopy project, call Betsy Fryberger at 328-7845 or Lynn Chiapella at 326-4311.
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MRA Membership News

Thank you to all our paid members! Membership adds you to our mailing list. We will send you our newsletter, notices about our general meetings, and opportunities to act in support of MRA issues. It REALLY helps us to keep you informed when you send in your yearly dues to defray our printing and mailing costs.

Members who have paid since the last newsletter include:
Ernst Altschul Bev Benson
* Louis & * Linda Bickham Lynn Chiapella & Al Todd
Jean & Charles Clark Betti & Denis Cogswell
Karen Csejtey Marylin Duffy
Alice & Herbert Fischgrund * Betsy Fryberger
Sheri Furman Sylvia Gartner
David Greene Jay Davidson & Tom Hartland
Margaret & Van Harvey * Holden Jessup & * Adele Khabbaz
Ruth Lacey Eva Maiden
Elliot Margolies Debbie & Michael Mytels
* Randal Millen * Frank Rothacker
Barbara Silberling * Matt Sorgenfrei
Marge Speidel Betty & Howard Swinehart
Judith Wasserman Elinor & Bruce Wilner

* indicates new members

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More WWW Sites for your surfing pleasure. If you'd like to contribute to the list, send a note to or call Sheri at 856-0869.

Palo Alto Online
Center for Civic Networking
Fund Market Manager
Music CDs
Santa Cruz Mtn. Winegrowers
Foreign Languages for
Cookbooks Online
Movie Search

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