A proposed home reconstruction project in Los Altos is creating tension among neighbors, the applicant and the city.
Residents in the Ray Avenue neighborhood expressed concerns about a potential “bulking” that could occur if the city approves an application to build a larger home at 1055 Ray Ave.
The Los Altos City Council last night approved the homeowner’s appeal with conditions related to reducing bulk, mass and height. Conditions included reducing the side walls of the house design down to 12 feet, per the wishes of Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins. The action, approved 4-1, requires the applicant, homeowner Anand Ganesan, to return to the council with the requested changes.
Ganesan asked the Design Review Commission (DRC) April 30 to deny his original application so that he could instead appeal to the council. His request came after the DRC made multiple recommendations to his original design.
Neighbor vs. neighbor
Some neighbors are worried that the new home would be out of proportion to surrounding homes.
Ganesan said his project meets all city code requirements and that neighbors who oppose the design have been misled by inaccurate information. Despite some claims to the contrary, Ganesan said he made efforts to apprise neighbors of his intentions before applying to the city.
Janaki Tenneti, whose Rilma Lane home backs up to the Ganesan property, said plans for the new house were first shown to neighbors March 24. She added that it concerned her that the design plans did not show some of the surrounding properties.
Tenneti said she and other nearby residents submitted to the city council a list of loopholes they believed architect Malika Junaid used to allow “excessive bulking” of the Ray Avenue home.
In an email to the Town Crier, John Fadely, another nearby resident, said approving the application would open the door to other bulky designs.
Junaid said the DRC previously instructed Ganesan to “work on bulk and clarify the FAR (floor-area ratio).” Floor-area ratio involves building square footage in relation to the size of the property.
“Everything under the DRC guidelines has been addressed,” she said.
Confusion over what is counted in the floor-area ratio appears to have fueled some of the opposition to the project. Junaid noted that the city does not count basements, for example, as part of the square footage because the space is underground.
She added that other areas in Ganesan’s plan, such as the 184-square-foot atrium, are also not counted in the total floor-area ratio.
Two commissioners at the DRC meeting, however, included the basement, atrium and other sections not normally counted when they rejected the design – labeling it a project of more than 8,000 square feet on a 10,000-square-foot property. Junaid said the actual square footage of Ganesan’s project is 3,278 square feet.
“I think all of this could be resolved with communication,” she said.
David Kornfield, Los Altos planning services manager, said city project design guidelines encourage communication between applicants and neighbors.
“It seems the applicant had done that outreach before they contacted the city, which is what we encourage,” he said.
Kornfield said the project conformed to the floor-area ratio limits.
He affirmed that there are specific areas of the home, such as basements, not meant to be counted in the square footage.
“I think that’s been a part of the confusion,” he said.
Ganesan said he laments the rancor that has arisen from his application.
“We wanted to stay on Ray because of the neighbors,” said the seven-year Ray Avenue resident.
Ganesan added that he was determined to build a home that would be free of controversy, and that he made design decisions with neighbors’ privacy in mind.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” he said.