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Homes in San Carlos: How Big is Too Big?

by Chuck Gillooley

THE Hot Topic in San Carlos.

For the first time in many years, the hottest topic in the local real estate market is probably no longer about the price of homes in San Carlos.  Now, the lightning rod of discussion seems to be focused a the size and density of homes in San Carlos.

Thanks in large part to the resurgent local economy, many homeowners along the Peninsula now have quite a bit more discretionary income to invest in their homes — money that they didn’t have when we were trudging through the years of the Recession. Consequently, it seems as if you can drive down just about any street in San Carlos and see a major remodeling project underway. And it’s the sheer size of some of homes that are being built – perfectly legally, mind you —  that has created a groundswell of opposition that has reverberated all the way to the San Carlos City Council.

History: Lot Coverage.

Back in 2011, the City of San Carlos opted to increase the maximum lot coverage* for most residential zoning from 40% to 50%. I say “most” because the formula for maximum lot coverage is not a simple multiplication factor – it depends on the slope of the lot, and the zoning that is assigned to the parcel. If you’re truly interested in the guidelines regarding lot coverage, building height, and property-line setbacks, look at Section 18 of the San Carlos Municipal Code.)  The decision to increase the maximum threshold was in response to homeowner’s desire to be able to build larger homes in a landscape that is defined by smaller than average lots.

*”Lot coverage includes all structures greater than 18″ in height including decks, covered porches and accessory buildings — it does not include on-grade pavement, trellises open 50% or more to light and air, or portable items such as BBQ’s, umbrellas, or removable canopies.” — City of San Carlos

Unlike the neighboring communities to the south like Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto that have been subdivided with larger lot sizes, the average lot sizes in San Carlos are generally on the smaller size, especially in the desirable sections in the flatlands of San Carlos close to downtown. It’s not uncommon to see 4,400 square foot lots throughout many streets in the White Oaks, Oak Park, and Howard Park neighborhoods.

The effect of the larger lot coverage cap was probably not felt in the city right away. This is simply because it takes 1-2 years to go from an idea to a finished product when you’re talking about a significant house remodel, and frankly the economy had not recovered sufficiently to fund such a project for many homeowners.

But in the last several years, the rate of development in residential neighborhoods has increased almost exponentially, and the size of the homes that are being built has some neighbors very concerned.

Increased Density.

Home size is not the only concern for some residents. There are a few select pockets in the flats of San Carlos that enjoy larger than normal lot sizes — some 10,000 or larger. It doesn’t take a PhD in Mathematics to figure out that a developer can make a tidy profit by purchasing a small home on a large lot, then subdivide the lot and build two brand new homes in its place.

The objection to this practice arises when two larger homes get stuffed into a lot where one smaller home once stood — thus creating a marked difference in the density and character of the neighborhood.

When you combine the two elements together — house size and house density — it has rapidly become one of the most talked about issues in all of San Carlos.  And it’s a battleground that can and will pit neighbor versus neighbor.

Planning Commission Meeting – Monday June 6.

These concerns have raised sufficient visibility at the Planning Commission and City Council level that they both will become discussion items at the next San Carlos Planning Commission meeting, which will take place on Monday June 6 in the Council Chambers in City Hall.

From what I have read on the various social media outlets like NextDoor and Facebook, there will be a significant public turnout at this meeting to voice their opinions for and against the current residential building regulations.  The agenda for Mondays meeting can be downloaded by clicking here: San Carlos Planning Meeting: June 6.

What are your thoughts?

Where do you stand on this discussion?  Are the guidelines that are in place conducive to building homes that are out of character for San Carlos? Should the City of San Carlos revise the maximum guidelines back downward to the 2011 standards?

Or, are the regulations fine as they are now?

Voice your opinion in the comment section on this post, and register your vote in the poll at the top of the site.

Regardless of where you stand, this issue has the potential to be the most significant public discussions since the outsourcing of the police and fire department services several years ago. If you want your opinion to be heard either way, Monday night’s meeting may be a good start.

Update:  Here’s a good article on the same topic that was published after this post was written in the San Mateo Daily Journal: Split Large Lots, Big Homes Rile Neighbors.
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