BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is preventing Stanford from filling in a neighborhood after residents said they wanted to preserve its rural feel and low density.
The board yesterday (May 24) approved new rules on development in the Upper San Juan neighborhood, between Campus Drive and Junipero Serra Boulevard. The rules require lots to be at least 100 feet wide, and new houses must cover less than 20% of the land. Previously, there were no limits on lot coverage or width.
The rules were created after Stanford applied to subdivide a two-acre lot into nine properties, with a house on each one for employees to live in. The county approved the development at Cabrillo Avenue and Dolores Street in 2018, and construction is underway.
The development sounded the alarm for residents, who feared Stanford would change their neighborhood with more housing.
The rules passed yesterday only apply to new development on all 128 lots in Upper San Juan, so Stan-ford’s development is still good to go.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian said he heard residents’ concerns, and supervisors directed planners to “preserve the character” of the neighborhood in January 2019.
Other strategies didn’t work out
Planners tried two other strategies that didn’t work, Planning Director Jacqueline Onciano said. First, they looked at reducing the number of homes allowed per acre. But the state passed Senate Bill 9, which allows property to owners to build four homes on one lot, even if the zoning allows only one. Another law, Senate Bill 330, also limited the county’s ability to reduce density.
So, planners explored creating a historic district in the Upper San Juan neighborhood. But a consultant said more research was needed to confirm the neighborhood was historic, Onciano said.
Cities and counties have gotten creative as the state passes more laws that limit their ability to prevent housing development, and this is the latest example.
The ordinance passed yesterday creates a new zoning designation that requires lots to be 100 feet wide, with less than 20% of each lot covered by a house. Homes must be set back 30 feet from the front of the property, up from 25 feet, and the location and number of driveways are limited.
An average house in Upper San Juan easily meets the rules: it’s 179 feet wide, is set back by 63 feet and covers 11% of the property, Associate Planner Charu Ahluwalia said. Existing houses that don’t conform are allowed to stay until the owner wants to rebuild.
For comparison, the lowest density residential neighborhoods in Palo Alto require a 20-foot setback and limit lot coverage to 40%.
Eighty people attended meetings on the rules in March, and more spoke yesterday. Longtime residents urged supervisors to approve the new rules.
“This neighborhood is unique. It’s rural and it has a long history,” said Carol Ruth, a homeowner in Upper San Juan for over 20 years. “We realize housing is in short supply, however there’s a right and a wrong way to proceed when you’re in a very historic location.”
Catering to NIMBYs?
Stanford business professor Ken Shotts spoke against the rules, which he said are a loophole to impose lower density.
“With these standards, the county would be catering to a small group of NIMBYs who are adamantly opposed to the creation of any new housing in their neighborhood,” Shotts said. “That would be bad public policy.”
Simitian said Stanford has 8,000 acres of land, so the university has flexibility and opportunity to create housing.
The county has been tough on pushing Stanford to add housing, Simitian said. When Stanford submitted an application to add buildings in 2019, the county asked for workforce housing to match the development, and Stanford withdrew, Simitian said.
He called the changes modest after two more aggressive strategies didn’t pan out.