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Palo Alto housing guidelines aim to preserve Eichler design, not Eichler philosophy

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New Spanish-style homes in Eichler neighborhoods have “sparked outrage”


Joseph Eichler wanted to make well-designed homes for the masses. That, in part, was his ethos. The city of Palo Alto, home to many Eichler specimens, wants the opposite. In February, the Silicon Valley town’s Historic Resources Board approved a new set of home guidelines that, if enacted, would bar any new house two stories and up and any home that didn’t signify, however loosely, the iconic midcentury-modern developer.

Cue the upside-down smiley face emoji.

According to Palo Alto Weekly:

[...] Large new Spanish-style homes in Eichler enclaves like Faircourt have sparked outrage—and calls for action—from longtime homeowners. Some have appealed the approvals of proposed new houses that they deemed incompatible; others argue that two-story homes should be banned altogether.

The conflict hit its crescendo in 2015, when residents from four different tracts petitioned for “single-story overlay” districts, which prohibit new two-story homes and second-story additions. [...]

Among other things, the new guidelines call for homes with “minimal windows, typically clerestory or triangles,” “post and beam construction on a concrete foundation,” “one story, horizontal orientation with clean orthogonal or angular lines,” and a “paint palette [that] includes earth tones and brighter colors for accent.”

A sign of Palo Alto living in the past? You bet. The new guidelines, which aim to reduce tension among Eichler neighbors, currently warring over a possible future lacking of cohesive midcentury design, could also restrict new materials on housing.

“As new materials come along—and new looks and things—we might be missing out on siding, roofing and things that might make your house better, not worse,” Michael Nierenberg, owner of a two-story Eichler, told Palo Alto Weekly.

Perhaps most egregious: These guidelines would restrict much-needed housing in the area. Palo Alto has been willful in the Bay Area’s ongoing housing crisis, refusing to build more stock. These guidelines won’t help provide relief.

What’s more, these guidelines fly in the face of Joseph Eichler’s philosophy on housing. Or, as Kim-Mai Cutler puts it:

The housing guidelines will go before the City Council later this spring.