Developer sues city over rejected plans for homes

BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent

A developer is suing the city of Los Altos after the City Council rejected a proposal to build two single-family homes in the Montebello Acres neighborhood, an action the developer says violates a state anti-NIMBY law.

Milpitas-based GoldSilverIsland Homes filed the lawsuit Aug. 13 in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

GoldSilverIsland wants to divide a lot at the corner of Arroyo Road and Mountain View Avenue into two lots and build a single-family home on each. The developer said its project complies with all city planning, zoning and subdivision standards.

In addition, the developer told the city it would limit the heights of both homes to single story, increase setbacks to 40 feet and orient one of the homes to face Arroyo Road in order to address concerns about the project.

The city’s planning department had recommended approval of the 831 Arroyo Road project, as did the Planning Commission on Feb. 7.

Still, the council rejected the project on a 3-2 vote on May 28.

“Instead of following the reasoned recommendation of its Planning Commission and staff, the City Council, apparently fearful of disappointing a small, but vocal, group of project opponents, denied the project,” attorneys for the developer said in the lawsuit. “Unfortunately for the city, that politically expedient option is squarely at odds with the law.”

Anti-NIMBY law

Specifically, the lawsuit accuses the city of violating the state’s Housing Accountability Act, which is intended to make it harder for local governments to block housing projects. It’s sometimes referred to as the anti-NIMBY law, in reference to residents who say “not in my backyard” when it comes to new development.

The Housing Accountability Act says that cities can’t reject proposed housing that complies with their zoning and general plan — unless the city can detail in writing why the project would have an unavoidable impact on public health or safety. In addition, the city has to show that there’s no feasible way to reduce the harmful impact.

The city’s rationale for rejecting the 831 Arroyo Road project was that it’s not consistent with the Los Altos General Plan, which says new subdivisions should result in an “orderly and compatible development pattern within the subdivision and in relation to its surroundings.”

“The design of the subdivision could cause public health, safety or welfare problems due to its incompatibility with the surrounding neighborhood and its failure to provide for orderly development,” a council-approved resolution states.

Mayor Lynette Lee Eng, Vice Mayor Jan Pepper and council member Anita Enander voted to deny the proposal on May 28; while council members Jeannie Bruins and Neysa Fligor opposed the denial.
Earlier during the May 28 meeting, the council met in a closed session to discuss possible litigation resulting from the 831 Arroyo Road project.

GoldSilverIsland Homes, which is headed by President Ying-Min Li, bought the 831 Arroyo Road property in October. The site includes a home built in 1951.

Dispute over lot size

The proposed subdivision would create a 10,029-square-foot lot and a 13,404-square-foot corner lot, larger than what city planners said are the minimum lot sizes for the neighborhood. In addition, city planners said, the proposed subdivision is similar to two previously approved subdivisions along Mountain View Avenue.

But residents said the project would be out of character with the surrounding Montebello Acres neighborhood.

Residents Susan and Jack Flesher said almost all the homes in the neighborhood are on lots of 18,000 to 20,000 square feet, and the lots are even larger close to the proposed project site.

“(The) 831 Arroyo lot should remain intact (NOT subdivided) so that it remains consistent with the Montebello subdivision,” the Fleshers said in a letter to the city. They noted that many in the neighborhood would be supportive of one home at the site with an accessory dwelling unit, or granny unit, on the lot.

Others were worried that approval of the project would start a trend.

“We don’t think the parcel division is a good idea since it would create a precedent in the neighborhood and then all the lots with older houses would get sold and subdivided by developers,” residents John and Lesley Colgrove said in a letter to the city. “This would completely change the characteristics of the neighborhood.”

Many residents were concerned about the initial plan to have both houses facing Mountain View Avenue. The Planning Commission added a condition that one house face Arroyo Road.

In addition to alleging a violation of the state’s Housing Accountability Act, the developer’s lawsuit says the council didn’t act on the project within 30 days from when it was referred by the Planning Commission.

The lawsuit contends that under state law, the project was automatically approved because the council didn’t act within 30 days.

4 Comments

  1. Raises many questions and poses a serious problem for those involved. These lawsuits are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    PA Daily Post: as a service to your readers could you as follow up look into:
    i) who in City staff “approved” the project when it violates the City’s General Plan;
    ii) how and why did two Council members approve what violates the General Plan?
    iii) was there any quid pro quo between the developer and those at City Hall/Council that approved the subdivision?
    iv) are there not other anomalies that involve the same City staff and Council members concerning projects that contravene the Municipal Code and General Plan?

    The former Planning Manager left under a cloud and there are other lawsuits ongoing that suggest all is not well in Los Altos City Hall and Council.

  2. >The former Planning Manager left under a cloud and there are other
    >lawsuits ongoing that suggest all is not well in Los Altos City Hall
    >and Council.

    The former City Manager left under a cloud, the former Deputy City Manager left under a cloud, the former Mayor was voted out, there are several current lawsuits (how many? don’t know!) all arising from City staff’s actions, City staff is of course managed by the City Manager Jordan and Director Biggs, they are reliably provided cover by Council member Bruins who, as reported by the Daily Post, doesn’t want Council to ask tough questions of staff.

    As PA Daily Post editor Dave Price noted, nothing good will come when Council members whose job is to oversee and manage staff end up protecting and covering up staff’s bad actions.

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