The San Mateo City Council approved a residential proposal to build a second-story addition that would obscure part of a neighbor’s view of the Bay but, in doing so, was forced to confront a public divide over how to make room for growing families while maintaining homeowners’ interests in their properties.
On Monday, the council considered Verdun Avenue resident Karen Trudell’s request to appeal the Planning Commission’s June decision to allow her downhill neighbors, Terri and Michael Schmier, from a remodel that would block her bedroom and part of her living room views.
While the Schmiers said their plans are aimed at making room for the likelihood that their parents may soon need to move in with them, Trudell said she would be left to bare the cost of losing a view she’s enjoyed for 20 years.
Numerous residents with views said they feared the case would set a precedent and requested clarification of the city’s single-family design guidelines, which were established 12 years ago in response to a similar proposal on the same street.
The current guidelines include provisions for those who remodel to respect a neighbor’s existing views and that additions should result in equitable views for both homeowners.
Councilman Jack Matthews, who served on the Planning Commission when the guidelines were developed, said uniformly preventing second-story additions when it blocks a neighbor’s view wouldn’t be realistic.
“I think that’s a very regressive way at looking at things. We’re a community experiencing change and we need to embrace that and allow for it to happen in a very positive way,” Matthews said. “One thing that hasn’t worked so well, is that it’s pretty hard on the applicants and the neighbors when you can’t reach a compromise.”
The Schmiers bought their home, with 1,700 square feet of livable space, 14 years ago and recently applied to build an 889-square-foot second-story addition with a 149-square-foot patio atop the street side portion of their home.
The Schmiers said they’ve revised their plans four times, incurred $18,000 in city permit fees and added it would be more costly to find a new home than to remodel. But Trudell, who’s lived on Verdun Avenue for 20 years, said losing her view would mean losing equity in her home.
“This is not only affecting myself in an emotional way ... but it’s going to impact the value of my home and I think it’s a very big deal,” Trudell said.
Sia Glafkides, a Verdun Avenue resident and real estate agent, said homeowners are paying premium prices for homes with views and, if buyers aren’t assured they’d be able to keep them, it could affect the market.
Renee Johnson said she and her husband represent a generation of new homebuyers and preserving a view shouldn’t deter growth.
“[A view] may be an added benefit when a home is purchased, but we believe it’s naive to think it wouldn’t change,” Johnson said.
Mayor Robert Ross noted there appeared to be a generational divide with some speaking about the need to allow remodels that keep growing families residing in San Mateo while others asked for an ordinance protecting homeowners’ views for which many paid premium prices.
Karen Herrel, a 50-year Hillsdale Boulevard resident and former planning commissioner, said it was unfair to categorize it as age-related. Herrel said she understood the council was trying to support city staff, but the guidelines need to be refined to support homeowners’ established views.
“I think the community will continue to push this,” Herrel said. “This is something the community won’t let go of.”
Terri Schmier said her family had toiled over the remodel and was distraught it had divided the neighborhood. But Schmier said they determined moving was cost prohibitive and their case shouldn’t be used as a means to change current city laws.
“We are not here tonight to vote on whether San Mateo should pass a view ordinance. We’re here to see whether our project adheres to the guidelines that are in place today,” Schmier said.
The council was sympathetic with the neighborhood dispute, but agreed the design guidelines as they stand were appropriate.
“This is not a popularity contest, I’m not going to take the number of who opposed or the rhetoric of who supported. ... The job here today is adjudication,” Councilman David Lim said. “It’s not our job (in this appeal) to try and change the laws that exist.”
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Note to readers: This article has been changed. The size of the Schmiers' home was originally reported to be 2,367 square feet, which included their garage. Their livable space is approximately 1,700 square feet.