Suspicion and some degree of alarm still linger around the future of the former Fenwick estate in Los Altos Hills. On Thursday (Oct. 7), the town’s Planning Commission, once again, continued consideration of an application for a perimeter fence around the 42-acre Elena Road property until the owners supply more information about the commercial agriculture operation they plan there.
According to commissioners, the limited details the owners have revealed so far could negatively affect the land: erecting a 6-foot fence could impede an established wildlife corridor, terracing a 30-degree slope to accommodate grape vines could cause dangerous erosion and growing bamboo could lead to the proliferation of a potentially invasive species.
“I don’t know if (their plans) are real or not, but just the fact that they mentioned it concerns me, that we don’t know how to control what they may or may not do in areas which I think need to be protected,” Commissioner Rajiv Patel said.
Patel and his colleagues unanimously agreed the applicants must remove all existing unpermitted fences on the property, prepare and submit a detailed fence proposal including a map and grant Open Space Committee members access to survey the presence of wildlife in the area. The applicants also must ensure the owners of two adjacent homes accessed by a driveway easement are on board with the plans.
A cloud of mystery surrounds the new owners of the Fenwick estate. They include Los Altos Hills residents, according to their attorney, Stephen Pahl, but they have not publicly revealed their identities, and Pahl speaks for them during public meetings. Operating under the name Sea Landing LP, they purchased the land from the Fenwick family in 2020 for an undisclosed amount estimated at between $10 million and $13 million. Like the Fenwicks before them, who once used the land for grazing cattle, the new owners benefit from the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, or Williamson Act, which provides property-tax assessment breaks in exchange for the preservation of land for agricultural or open-space use.
During the August Planning Commission meeting, the last time the fence application was discussed, commissioners’ directions to Pahl included clarifying the intended agricultural use, considering the use of wildlife-friendly fencing and preparing a topographical map of the land.
While Pahl did not expound on the agricultural use Thursday, he said shorter fencing would permit animals to “devastate” the crops, and he argued a topographical map is not required as his clients are not requesting a zoning change.
“I’ve actually been advised by my client that it will not be back for a zoning application,” he said. “But if it does ever come back, the next owner, when he or she brings it in for a subdivision, you’ll have the opportunity to do all the open-space planning, all the wildlife planning that you wish.”
Commissioners continued the item to a date uncertain.