City Council Meeting of
October 24, 2000
Agenda Item: A

TO:                          Mayor and City Council 

FROM:                    Community Development Department, Planning Division 

AGENDA ITEM:   STUDY SESSION: Review Results of the Work of the Residential Review Task Force and Direction on Potential Changes to the Zoning Ordinance Regarding Single-Family Residential Development



The City Council should discuss the findings of the Residential Review Task Force and give direction to staff on potential changes to the Zoning Ordinance regarding single-family residential development. 


The process to examine changes to the current regulations and review process for single-family residential development began in June 1999.  Several residents in Menlo Park approached Council Member Mary Jo Borak with a proposal to modify the current Zoning Ordinance, specifically, to maintain and improve the character and stability of Menlo Park’s existing residential neighborhoods.  Council Member Mary Jo Borak presented this proposal to the City Council and Planning Commission.  After this meeting, a working group composed of Council Members Mary Jo Borak and Chuck Kinney, staff, the City Attorney, and a group of residents of Menlo Park met and determined that potential changes to the current residential review process would proceed in two phases.  The first phase would include changes in the public notification and review process that could be implemented on a short-term basis.  The second phase would explore the potential to make changes to the development regulations and review process in the current Zoning Ordinance.  Due to the nature of the second phase, the City Council felt that it would be appropriate to appoint a citizen task force for input on the discussion of potential changes. 

In October 1999, the City Council adopted enhanced notification requirements for all residential projects that currently require discretionary approvals from the City.  The primary changes to the administrative procedures were lengthening the time for public review of an application and sending two notices instead of only one notice to property owners within 300 feet.  The first notice is sent within 5 days of receipt of an application and includes a copy of the proposed plans.  A second notice is mailed 25 days before the scheduled public hearing date with the Planning Commission.  The Planning Division is currently implementing the enhanced notification process. 

City Council directed staff to initiate Phase Two of the Residential Review Study in November 1999.  Phase Two included the development of a work plan to consider modifications to the development standards and review process for development of single-family residential properties and the authorization of a Residential Review Task Force to identify possible strategies for addressing issues related to the development of single-family residential properties.   


Residential Review Task Force Members 

In January 2000, the City advertised for positions on a citizen task force to consider possible changes to the Zoning Ordinance related to development of single-family residential property.  Approximately 70 applications were received from citizens of Menlo Park who expressed interest in serving on the Task Force.  In March 2000, the City Council appointed 21 citizens of Menlo Park to the Residential Review Task Force (RRTF) from a variety of professional backgrounds and representation from the 16 different neighborhoods of Menlo Park.  A list of the members on the Task Force is provided as Attachment A.  In May 2000, Dan Dippery resigned from his seat on the Task Force.  Since he resigned early in the process, the City Council appointed a new member, Dick Poe as a replacement member.  However, in mid-July, two other members resigned from the Task Force, Lynne Marianni Pogue and Bridgit Louie.  At the time that Ms. Marianni-Pogue and Ms. Louie resigned from the Task Force, there were only three scheduled meetings left for the Task Force to continue its work.  Since then, the City Council approved an extension to the original work plan, which added two meetings to Task 1 of the work plan.   

Scope of Work  

In May 2000, the City Council approved a scope of work and work plan for the Residential Review Study.  The Council formally identified the central issue as being new or remodeled houses that are large and intrusive ("Monster Houses"). The City Council identified that the role of the Residential Review Task Force would be to act as a resource to City Council on the issue of house size.  The City Council specifically indicated that the RRTF was not expected to reach a consensus, but that their work would be reviewed and discussed by City Council.   The City Council identified the following study elements for input from the Residential Review Task Force: 

  1. Reduce maximum buildout by some percentage.  Ten percent reduction may be a place to start.
  2. Establish a review process (Use Permit, Architectural Control, Design Review) where applicants would have a forum to request higher densities than item 1 above if they could prove public benefit/lack of impacts to the neighborhood.
  3. Incentives for different density allowances.  For example, should one-story projects be allowed greater FARs? Current zoning rules require second story additions in order to achieve the maximum allowable size.
  4. Analyze zoning ordinances from other communities to compare and contrast Menlo Park densities and rules to theirs.
  5. Address issues related to standard vs. substandard lots, specifically identifying how the number of substandard lots can be reduced while increasing predictability for applicants and neighbors.

Work Plan 

The work plan for the Residential Study included two principal tasks: 1) input and suggestions pursuant to the scope of work as defined by City Council, and 2) recommendations on draft changes to the Zoning Ordinance. The approved Work Plan is provided as Attachment B. 

The first task in the work program focused on getting input from the Residential Review Task Force on the size and scale of residential development and to identify potential changes to the Zoning Ordinance that would assure that new construction and major remodeling fit in with the size and scale of established neighborhoods.  This staff report represents the completion of Task 1.  The meetings, process, and work products of the RRTF are described in the sections below. 

Task 2 will begin in late-October 2000 after the presentation of the finding of the RRTF to City Council.  The focus of Task 2 is to make recommendations for changes to the Zoning Ordinance regarding single-family residential development.  Following a discussion of the RRTF’s work, the City Council is expected to direct staff to prepare a draft of the recommended changes to the Zoning Ordinance and initiate a schedule for amending the Zoning Ordinance.  The original work plan allocated two meetings with the City Council to review and finalize recommendations for proposed zoning changes. After staff has prepared a draft of the proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance, the Task Force was expected to review and comment on the final zoning recommendations.  The review of the proposed changes as recommended by City Council with the Task Force will take no more than two meetings.  It was expected that the RRTF review of the draft changes would be conducted with a facilitator and that the City Attorney’s office would also be present.  The Task Force comments will be summarized in abbreviated meeting notes, which will be forwarded to the Planning Commission and the City Council as part of their consideration of the proposed Zoning Ordinance amendments. 


The City Council approved $28,500 for the study ($16,500 was approved in the original work plan in May 2000, $12,000 additional expenditure was approved in August 2000 for additional RRTF meetings).  The budget for the facilitation was $17,500, of which $12,800 has been paid.  There is $4,700 remaining in the budget for facilitation services.  The City Attorney's office has provided support to the Task Force by attending the meetings. This work is outside the scope of the regular retainer agreement with the City Attorney. The budget for this work was $11,000.  The budget expended to date for the City Attorney's work is approximately $7,100.  There is $3,900 remaining in the budget for City Attorney’s fees. 

The remaining budget for facilitating and City Attorney support was expected to be used for no more than two follow-up meetings with the RRTF for review and comment on a draft of the changes to the Zoning Ordinance.  The average cost of facilitating one 3-hour meeting of the RRTF with preparation, set up and clean up time has been $1,400.  In consideration of the results of the work of the RRTF, the City Council may wish to specify the number of facilitated meetings with the RRTF.   If more than two meetings are desired, then the City Council should modify the work plan and/or budget to reflect the new number of meetings expected with the facilitator and/or City Attorney.   

RRTF Meetings 

The Residential Review Task Force began meeting regularly every other Wednesday beginning on May 17, 2000.  The meetings ran from 6:30 pm until 9:00 or 9:30 pm.  The RRTF met 10 times, with an average of 15 members attending each meeting.  The meetings were facilitated by Geoff Ball, Principal, Geoff Ball & Associates.  Mr. Ball used a variety of facilitation techniques and equipment to help manage and cultivate discussion.  In addition, City Attorneys Dan Siegel or Bill McClure attended the meetings to provide information or guidance on legal issues that came up during discussion.  Summaries of the discussion at the RRTF meetings were reported regularly to the City Council as information items on the City Council Agenda. 

There was opportunity for public comment at each meeting.  A total of three members of the public attended the meetings, two of which asked to speak to the RRTF about their positions on proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance and on their personal experiences with the current review process.   


Staff  worked with the Task Force to determine the process to accomplish Task 1 of the work plan as outlined by the City Council.  Early in the process, the RRTF decided that they would like to try to achieve consensus on as many issues and solutions as possible, even though City Council indicated that reaching consensus was not expected or required.  Ultimately, the process for the RRTF that was developed began with intensive education of Zoning Ordinance terms and provisions, an assessment of individual “level of support” on alternatives or choices, and concluded with affinity group discussions.  The Task Force made tremendous effort to understand the current Zoning Ordinance in order to have knowledgeable and focused discussion on potential changes to it.  Following many exercises that explored individual thoughts and positions, the Task Force split into subgroups with members who shared similar opinions and approaches to addressing the issues.  The subgroups developed proposals that address the City Council’s study elements and other issues that were important to members of the RRTF.   

The first step in the process was educating the group on the purpose, terms, development regulations, and the process for review of single-family residential development as defined in the current Zoning Ordinance.  Due to the complexity of the subject matter, every regular meeting of the RRTF was an opportunity for education about some aspect of the Zoning Ordinance.  At the request of the RRTF, staff also offered two special Zoning tutorial sessions in May, 2000, to learn about the current Zoning Ordinance.  The handouts from the sessions are provided as Attachment C.  Nearly half of the members attended each of these meetings.   

In addition to learning the provisions of the current Menlo Park Zoning Ordinance, staff provided information on single-family development regulations and review processes from other cities in the Bay Area.  Staff has collected many documents from other cities.  Several cities in San Mateo County have been considering or have made changes to Zoning Ordinances related to single-family residential development.  Other cities have adopted design guidelines to address concerns about architecture and neighborhood character.  A list of the contents in the Planning file on other cities is provided in Attachment D.  A private consultant conducted a survey of changes that other cities in San Mateo County are considering related to single-family residential development.  This survey was prepared for the City of San Mateo in January 2000, as they considered changes to their Zoning Ordinance regarding demolition of residential buildings and design review.  The summary is provided as Attachment E.  Melody Pagee and Sam Sinnott, RRTF members, conducted additional research on other cities’ zoning ordinances:  Melody prepared charts that compared floor area ratios of other cities (Attachment F); and Sam prepared a graphic comparison of daylight plane regulations from adjacent jurisdictions, including San Mateo County and Palo Alto (Attachment G).  Floor Area Ratios (FAR) in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County were distributed to the RRTF, which are also provided in Attachment H. In addition, an example of design guidelines from research material from the American Planning Association is provided as Attachment I. 

Once the RRTF developed a basic understanding of the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance and started learning from other cities, they began to take a critical look at the development standards and review process related to single-family residential development by considering the City Council’s study elements, identifying issues and perceived problems, and exploring potential solutions to the problems in the context of regulations in the Zoning Ordinance.  At one of the meetings, staff asked the RRTF to break into small random groups.  They were asked to identify issues related to house size and start to explore how these issues could be addressed.  The results of this discussion are provided as Attachment J.  

Based on the City Council’s study elements in the approved scope of work, the RRTF discussed the issues related to review of projects on substandard lots, the potential to create incentives in the Zoning Ordinance to encourage developments with less impacts, and discussion of the current use permit process. The RRTF’s discussions are provided as Attachments K, L, and M

The group and staff developed a detailed list of choices regarding development regulations and alternative review processes for the RRTF to consider.  The RRTF and staff identified 52 choices focusing on development regulations for front and side setbacks, building height, daylight plane, building coverage, and floor area limit. The RRTF was asked to indicate their “level of support” for the choice by voting “strong yes,” “moderate yes,” “neutral,” “moderate no,” and “strong no.”  The choices were recorded by hand voting, however, an individual’s voting record was not documented.  The choices and voting record of the group are provided in Attachment N.  The RRTF considered four review process alternatives: use permits, administrative reviews, design review, and neighborhood review.  Staff prepared three development scenarios and asked the RRTF to determine the appropriate review process for each scenario.  The results are provided in Attachment O. 

Voting to determine the level of support for a specific modification to the Zoning Ordinance proved a valuable exercise.  The group refined their understanding of the complexity of the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance.  In addition, the voting results indicated that there were a few areas (“choices”) where the group could reach consensus (Attachment P).  The voting record demonstrated that there were small groups of people who may be able to come to agreement.  Given that some people shared similar views and approaches to the problem, staff asked the RRTF to form affinity groups, subgroups, to develop proposals based on shared opinions.  There were four original affinity groups.  However, the affinity groups merged to form two subgroups at their final meeting.  The development proposals prepared by the subgroups are described below. 

Development Proposals 

The last two meetings of the RRTF focused on the preparation and presentation of the subgroup’s development proposals.  In addition to the intense work by the members of the RRTF on the proposals at the meeting, the subgroups met on their own to continue to refine their proposals for presentation to City Council.  When the final development proposals were submitted, two minority opinions on the subgroup proposals were also included, one for each proposal.  

Subgroup 1 consisted of 10 members.  The focus of the development proposal is an enhanced neighborhood notification and review process and an incentive-based approach to floor area limits.  The proposal reduces the role of the Planning Commission in the review of new construction or remodeling of single-family residences, and introduces a mediation process.  The mediation process would be used if a neighbor objected to a proposal.  Planning staff would act as a mediator or would arrange for an outside mediator between the project proposers and the objecting property owners/residents.  Conflicts that are not successfully mediated would be forwarded to the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission would only be allowed to take action on the unresolved conflict and would not be allowed to introduce other changes to the project.  The proposal recommends modifying current development regulations for daylight plane (more restrictive, but still allow architectural diversity), FAL exclusions (garages/uninhabitable accessory structures, if detached and located in rear, uninhabitable attic space over 5’ on second story, one-story ceiling heights over 12 feet), and light wells in required setbacks.  Subgroup 1 proposal is provided as Attachment Q

There were 4 members of Subgroup 1 who prepared a minority opinion on the proposal.  The minority opinion recommends the following: 1) Planning review of new construction or remodels should be conducted by Planning staff, and should be based solely on development regulations in the Zoning Ordinance; 2) The role of the Planning Commission should be to resolve conflicts of interpretation and not as a de facto architectural review; 3) The development regulations should be objective and clear, rather than vague and uncertain; 4) An objection by a neighbor that triggers the mediation process should not be limited to Zoning Ordinance provisions, but Planning Commission review must be limited to the development regulations in the Zoning Ordinance; and 5) The City should allocate additional resources to the review process and establish maximum time limits on the review process. The minority opinion to Subgroup 1 is provided as Attachment R. 

Subgroup 2 consisted of 7 members.  The proposal identifies problems with residential development, a mission statement, goals and specific recommendations for changes to the building standards in the Zoning Ordinance and to the zoning administration and approval process.  The proposal recommends the following: 1) change Floor Area Limits (FAL) for all lots over 5,000 square feet; 2) modify the daylight plane; 3) limit bulk and intrusiveness of 2-story development; 4) restrict visibility from side- and back-facing second story windows; 5) encourage landscaping; 6) eliminate the designation of substandard lots between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet solely because of size and or dimension; 7) allow neighborhoods to create design overlays for more restrictive or more flexible standards; 8) limit use permits to extraordinary situations; and 9) prepare and distribute design guidelines.  Subgroup 2 proposal is provided as Attachment S. 

There were 2 members of Subgroup 2 who prepared a minority opinion on the proposal because they agreed that the proposal should be more restrictive in regards to daylight plane and FAL.  The minority opinion recommends that the daylight plane regulations should be more restrictive, and follow an example in the City of San Mateo.  San Mateo's daylight plane regulations are measured at the property line, up a distance of 12 feet and inward toward the center of the property at an angle of 45 degrees.  The minority opinion also recommends more restrictive FALs, whereby lots that are 5,000-7,000 square feet would be limited to 40% floor area ratio of the lot to house size.  For lots over 7,000 square feet, the minority opinion recommends a reduction of FAL by up to an additional 10% more than the Subgroup 1 proposal.  The minority opinion to Subgroup 2 is provided as Attachment T. 

Although the subgroup proposals differ substantially in regard to details and implementation, the subgroup proposals are similar in several respects.  First, each subgroup has proposed to eliminate the “substandard” lot classification as a trigger for a use permit.  By eliminating the “substandard” lot classification, each group developed alternatives to reviewing proposed development that included a more involved neighborhood process.  Each subgroup agreed that the neighborhood should have a significant, but defined, role in the review process.   In addition, each subgroup addressed the need to modify the current daylight plane regulation to make it more restrictive than the current regulation.  Both groups agreed that this would address bulk, mass, and privacy issues.  The proposals differ fundamentally in regards to floor area limits.  Ultimately, each subgroup agreed that eliminating the classification of substandard lots for a discretionary review, establishing a review process with the neighborhood, and modifying the daylight plane, will make the process more predictable for homeowners and neighbors. 


City Council should direct staff to proceed with one of the following options: 

Option A:  Proceed with the approved work plan; provide direction to staff to prepare a draft of the changes to the Zoning Ordinance related to the development regulations and review process for single family residential development based on one or a combination of the following:

1.       Subgroup 1 Development Proposal.

2.       Subgroup 1 Development proposal with the Minority Opinion.

3.       Subgroup 2 Development Proposal.

4.       Subgroup 2 Development Proposal with the Minority Opinion.

5.       Specific modification of the Subgroup Development Proposals or the Minority Opinions.

6.       Specific discussion and direction from City Council outlining changes to the Zoning Ordinance.

With this option, the City Council should schedule a second study session to review and finalize recommendations for proposed zoning changes, as was outlined in the original work plan.  In addition the City Council should specify the number of meetings that should be held with the Residential Review Task Force to review and comment on the proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance. 

Option B:  Continue discussion of potential changes to the Zoning Ordinance related to the development regulations and review process for single-family residential development to a future study session.  With this option, the City Council may wish to consider the following:

1.       Requesting that additional information or analysis be prepared by staff.

2.       Requesting that additional information be prepared by the members of the Residential Review Task Force. (If the City Council chooses this option, the City Council should indicate whether an additional meeting with a facilitator is necessary. This may require additional budget expenditure for meeting facilitation.)

3.       Modify the work plan to account for potential additional meetings with the City Council for public comment and City Council discussion of potential changes to the Zoning Ordinance. 


1.         Brief presentation by staff. 

2.         Task Force Presentations. 

3.            Questions of the RRTF and/or staff.  

4.         City Council discussion and direction to staff. 

5.         Public Comment. 

Tracy Cramer
Senior Planner
Report Author

Arlinda Heineck
Chief Planner
Report Reviewer


Kris Schenk
Director of Community Development


Public notification was achieved by posting the agenda, at least 72 hours prior to the meeting, with this agenda item being listed, and publishing notices in the local newspaper on October 11, 2000 and October 17, 2000. 


Not all of the attachments to the staff report are included on this website, but they are available at the Administration Building, or by calling Tracy Cramer, at 858-3400.

  1. List of Member on the Residential Review Task Force
  2. Work Plan For Residential Review Study, August 8, 2000
  3. Notes from Zoning Study Session, April 18, 2000
  4. Contents of Other Cities Planning File
  5. Survey of Other Cities for San Mateo Park Study, January, 2000
  6. Comparison of Other Cities FAR, Melody Pagee, RRTF Member
  7. Comparison of Daylight Plane Regulations of Other Jurisdictions, Sam Sinnott, RRTF Member
  8. Review of Other Cities FAR in San Mateo and Santa Clara County
  9. Example of Design Guidelines
  10. Notes from June 28, 2000 Meeting of RRTF
  11. Standard vs. Substandard Lots, July 12, 2000 Meeting of RRTF
  12. Incentives, July 12, 2000 Meeting of RRTF
  13. Use Permits, July 28, 2000 Meeting of RRTF
  14. Choices on Development Regulations, August 23, 2000
  15. Process, September 6, 2000 Meeting of RRTF
  16. Summary of Levels of Support, September 6, 2000
  17. Subgroup 1 Development Proposal
  18. Minority Opinion to Subgroup 1
  19. Subgroup 2 Development Proposal
  20. Minority Opinion to Subgroup 2
  21. Correspondence: