The owners of a Robin Hill Road property won the right Monday to build a home on their steeply sloped lot. The decision followed an eight-month contest with their neighbors over the city’s hillside ordinance.
Carlos and Monica Paredes’ project at 3950 Robin Hill was ultimately approved at 2,281 square feet, about 1,000 square feet smaller than the plan that had been given the Planning Commission’s approval in April.
Neighbors of the project maintained that according to the hillside ordinance, the house should be no more than 1,500 square feet in size because the Parades’ lot has a slope factor of more than 50%. Stopping short of approving that appeal in July, the council sent the property owners back to the drawing board to reduce the size of their house.
Still not satisfied with the project when the revision was presented in September, council members gave more specific guidance. They agreed unanimously this week that the final result met their approval.
Working with architect Brad Barcus, the Paredes reduced their design from the originally approved 2,974 to the current size by placing some storage areas below grade, thus separating them from the floor plan.
The final result is a house that fits roughly 1,800 square feet of living space in a 1,400-square-foot footprint, excluding the garage.
Bill Waller, one of the five appellants, told the council he thought the Paredes hadn’t actually changed their plans to accommodate the neighbors’ concerns.
“They’ve taken the same house, and reshaped it, and called it a new house,” he said. “They’ve just taken an area out of the old house and called it excluded. It just strikes me as a bit much.”
Waller said that by approving this project, the City Council is sending a message that the hillside ordinance can be violated.
“This is really the steepest slope within the city where something has been built, and now you’re talking about doing massive land work on this slope,” he said. “The people who drafted this ordinance would be crying to see this approved.”
Council member Donald Voss said the new design meets the findings required to exceed the law’s guidelines, and that as long as the design addresses the privacy of the neighbors, the home will fit in fine.
“I think clever and strategic landscaping and screening … can work to solve that problem and make this house essentially invisible to the neighbors below,” he said.
Mel Blaney, another neighbor contesting the construction, said in July that he was worried about the home disrupting the character of the neighborhood. But he changed his objections this week, saying drainage and safety are now his chief concerns.
“They need to take into consideration all the transitional impacts below their property,” said Blaney. “I would like a complete redesign.”
Ultimately, the council decided to give the Paredes family the leeway needed to make it worthwhile to develop their land, rather than follow the exact numbers of the hillside ordinance.
An ordinance is a guideline, not a rule book, Council member Steve Del Guercio said.
“I think it’s a guideline, and to say we’re only having a strict enforcement would be saying you can’t build a house on this lot,” he said. “I don’t think the city can impose that.”
Mayor David Spence agreed, saying that it was important for the city to work for the outcome that had the best real-world outcome because no rule is perfect.
“There’s no way you can rule an ordinance that applies to every single case,” he said. “This process has made it possible to come up with a very fine design for this lot. It’s an expensive design, it’s a beautiful design, and I think all the requests the neighbors are asking to have mitigated, I believe can be mitigated.”