City of Los Altos Hills CA Planning Department Advice on New Custom Home Design and Approval Process

In this webinar, Steve Padovan, Planner City of Los Altos Hills, CA talks about the Approval Cycle Process for designing and building a New House and ADU.

Livio and City of Los Altos Hills hosting webinar to help you build your custom home


Steve Padovan


Rob: Hey Steve. How you doing?

Steve: I'm doing well. How are you?

Rob: Good. Let me run through. I'll give you a quick little rundown of what we've got prepared

Steve: Okay, great.

Rob: All right. Do you see my screen okay?

Steve: That's nice. Okay.

Rob: Yeah. It's exactly what we discussed so we'll have a quick little intro, overview, review the process, MFA, MDA, talk a little bit about ADUs, utilities and lot split. We have our own little spiel to start then I'll let you introduce yourselves; talk a little bit about your role, your background, everything needed there. Any changes to this slide?

Steve: No, that's fine. I mean it's technically intro, planning record, but who cares. It doesn't matter.

Rob: All right. Cool.

Steve: As long as the email’s correct, that's fine.

Rob: Cool. Overview, I just created this slide so we could talk about maybe what's within the planning purview.

Steve: But this is great. Yeah. That's great. You'll just flip through as soon as I get done with each one or something?

Rob: We'll keep it conversational. I'll ask you questions along the way and kind of say, for example, “Hey, Steve, can you explain to everybody what is the secret process, when does it get triggered?" Basic questions. Review process. I found a photo of you somewhere so there you go.

Steve: That's from the city council meeting. Yeah, that's right.

Rob: This slide is probably a little bit hard to see but hopefully this helps trigger a basic overview I guess of the process, yeah.

Steve: Yeah, I know it all by heart.

Rob: Cool. Awesome. Talk a little bit about MDA. Talk a little bit about MFA. I pulled this as well. This hopefully provides a bit of a--

Steve: This is a really great graphic. Yeah, it's a very simplistic description of why you would get less development area and floor area and such.

Rob: I think this graphic’s perfect for that. Setbacks, what is a setback? Talk to you a little bit about structures, driveways, easements, watercourses, trees, open space, slopes, all those topics. Talk to you a little bit about ADUs. This I pulled from you guys’ website as well.

Steve: Yeah, definitely.

Rob: Utilities. The biggest one here is obviously the septic conversation in Los Altos Hills. I pulled this out but certainly there's probably a bit more to discuss than just that one image.

Steve: Yeah, we actually don't approve septic systems at the city level, it's all done through the county but I can explain that quickly that you go through. If you're looking at a vacant lot or one that has a failing septic system, look at that first and see if you can even fix that or possibly a connection to sewers like the primary thing you should look at first because without that you don't even have to develop a lot.

Rob: That's a non-starter. Lot splits important considerations. What is tentative map and then time expectations. And yeah, that's it. That gets us to an hour.

Steve: That's great.

Rob: Cool. Well, I’m going to go grab a quick bite. I’m going to go grab like a bar or something so I can have a little something in my stomach. I'll put this back up.

Steve: Okay. Yeah, so we'll be back in a couple minutes here.

Rob: Yeah, perfect. All right, we'll just give everybody maybe one more minute to join us and we'll kick it off. For those of you who have already joined us, thanks for taking the time out of your lunch hour here and hopefully you find it to be a helpful hour session here. Steve, can you still hear us okay? There we go.

Steve: Yeah.

Rob: Awesome.

Steve: All good to go?

Rob: I think so. How are you doing? Are you working out of the office there, yeah?

Steve: Oh, yeah. We're back here full time pretty much.

Rob: Nice. That's nice. All right, well, I'll introduce Steve Padovan here in a second but to start just want to thank everybody for taking the time to join us today. We're really lucky to be joined by the most senior person of planning over Los Altos Hills to be able to help us guide through the process and hopefully make it as straightforward as possible. And who knows? Maybe we'll even approve some projects here in the next hour. Just make it make it real swift and easy. In all honesty, it's great to have Steve on board for this one to walk everybody through the process. Some of you might be just looking at lots now, maybe some of you have a property in Los Altos right now that you're looking to redevelop and hopefully by paying attention to this webinar, it at least gives you an overview of what all might be needed and the basic steps and processes that are in place to make sure it's a successful project for both you and the community as a whole.

With that said, I'll jump into it and just give everybody a brief rundown of how we're going to be structuring today's webinar. So I'll give a little five-minute presentation about Livio, what we do. I'll then give that mic off to Steve Padovan, let him introduce himself talk a little bit about Los Altos Hills and their planning department. We'll give a brief overview, what is the planning process? What are some of the important terms, terminology throughout the development process? We'll talk a little bit about the review process as far as the steps for approval need to go. What are the major milestones? Then we'll talk a little bit about some of the specific topics that are going to be most impactful to a development site. MFA/MDA/setbacks which we'll get into ADUs. A lot of acronyms here. Utilities and specifically sewer and septic and then lastly talk a little about lot split potential. Los Altos Hills as I'm sure many of the residents here may be joining does have some large lots and that's certainly a question, I'm sure it comes up quite a bit so we'll try to cover that one quickly and then we're going to leave about 10 minutes towards the end for Q&A.

Just as a reminder, there's two ways to ask questions. The first is just hit there at the top of the bar there's a Q&A box where you can type your question and you know if you're like me and forget your questions throughout the presentation, that's a great way to ask. Otherwise at the very end in the last 10 minutes, you can virtually raise your hand and what I can do there is I can actually call on you virtually, it'll give you the mic and give you the ability to actually ask and direct your question directly to either Steve or I. So either way, yeah, let's jump into it.

So first things first. Livio, we're a general contractor here in the Bay Area. Ultimately, what we do is we take projects all the way from very inception through to the entitlement process. Our history is actually as a real estate developer primarily and we're no longer doing the single-family home side of things on the development side primarily so we're really focused on doing that just as a service to help consumers like yourself through sometimes what can be a complicated process of getting through the entitlement and building. Ultimately, I think we first met Steve probably back in 2017 or so when we did a subdivision of an existing parcel and there were a lot of specific challenges just associated with that many of which we'll probably get into but having to do with pathways, having to do with open space, having to do with Williamson Act which we probably won't get into today but it's a big topic in and of itself and a number of different things. As a real estate, we made our transition from being a real estate developer solely to actually being able to offer it as a service to consumers and we're excited to be here to try to help out any folks who might be going through the process.

We have a unique business model. We have one office here in Los Altos locally. We have another office in India. It allows us to have a really vertically integrated team where we're able to provide a lot of services that are unique, I think to that maybe other general contractors aren't able to provide. We're excited to help you out and we're really lucky to be joined by somebody who we've worked really closely with over the years and somebody who has a wealth of knowledge and we're lucky to be able to pick your brain Steve. With that said, would you mind introducing yourself to everybody?

Steve: Sure, no problem. Thank you, Rob. Yes, my name is Steve Padovan. I am the Planning Director here at the town of Los Altos Hills newly christened planning director but I have been working here about seven and a half years through all sorts of projects. Mostly in Los Altos Hills, we do deal with just single-family homes, large estate homes generally in the 8 to 15,000 square foot range. We do have some minor design review of projects but we do not have an actual architectural committee. That being said, you're free to have a different architectural design than your neighbors and such or your own unique architectural design that you choose and we do have that throughout town, modern structures, we have some that look like old estates in Italy, a whole mixture ranch style home. The advantage again is that you are not stuck with one simple design standard. You have the ability to come forward with whatever designs or style of home that you choose. We do have some general parameters though and that would be the heights of the building certain coverage of the land and maximum flooring development area which I'll get into later.

Mostly what we're dealing with here in Los Altos Hills is single-family homes or small subdivisions of one or two lots and then custom homes built on those. We don't have really tracked homes or anything like that at all. I think that pretty much sums up what we're looking at for when you come in if you want to build a home in Los Altos Hills. Again, it’s a very rural community as in most lots are about an acre, some are larger. We have some that are smaller but in general one acre is a typical size up to two acres and in general most of the lots have already been subdivided but there are a few out there that have the ability to split. There are some new laws coming through the state that may increase that but at this point we have still the one-acre minimum lot size and that's what our standards are all designed with. If you’d go next slide, please, Rob.

Rob: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, Steve.  I'm sure the state's keeping you on your toes. For anybody who's joining now who doesn't live in Los Altos or maybe their project that they're looking at a home isn't in Los Altos Hills, I think some of what we're going to cover today will be helpful regardless of what city you're in but certainly just to give everybody some context and make the most of everybody's time. Make sure if you're joining the webinar, many of the topics that we're going to cover will be catered towards all sorts of hills but again will probably have relevance in any city within the area that you're looking to develop. Anyways, with that said, let me jump over to the next slide. I guess Steve, this is more just what is the planning department and what's your guys’ primary role in this city and can you kind of walk us through just at a high level and give us an overview?

Steve: Sure. Pretty straightforward here. The general plan basically encompasses a rural residential atmosphere so the only land uses we really have in town other than obviously single-family homes are some schools, institutional uses, churches, synagogue, private schools. We also have a couple of unique uses but very little in regard to anything other than single-family residential. We have no apartments or town homes at this time. All we have is single family that may change over time because of the state laws but at this point that's all we're looking at. Our zoning ordinance is all basically geared towards single-family residential. The zoning itself is actually residential agricultural so there are agricultural uses. You'll see people have some animals, chickens; you can even have a cow. It was basically generally towards horses so that's what the original concept for the town was is that people had a one-acre lot where they could have their horse and ride their horses around on some trails throughout the town so that was the reason why it was created. It was a rural residential horse-based type of community. That's obviously evolved very few owners now have horses but again--


 Rob: Tesla version of a horse, I guess.


Steve: Yeah, you’ll see people were riding around. You see people ride their horses down the street but it is limited in that for--so again a zoning ordinance is all deal basically for single-family residential design. For long-range planning and policy documents, we do have again general plan, we have a housing element that is being updated this year and next that may change things. Right now, the state is looking at increasing density in towns especially like ours that have only one zoning which is again we have the RA one-acre lot minimum size and they may even also allow splitting of parcels one acre lots into two parcels. These are all things that we're looking at and dealing with in our policy documents and in our long-range planning.


For environmental review, because they're single-family homes, those are exempt in general from CEQA process. The only time we would get involved with the CEQA process would be lot splits or dividing land and there's areas where they're not on sewer and water. They would still be quite septic or there's creeks or something else that would be an environmental issue that we would need to address if it does have to go through a CEQA process, then obviously we deal with that. Mostly we do it internally unless it's a significant enough subdivision that we would go out with a consultant to do that and we would just be managing the process but so basically for single-family homes there is no environmental view. They're just exempt called categorical exemption which means there is no CEQA process that we go through.


For Planning Commission and City Council, generally planning commission only gets involved it's five members that are appointed by the city council. They only get involved when a project is either appealed or it doesn't meet our zoning standards to allow staff approval. By staff I mean the planning director.  I'll get into that a little bit when we get into the review process. But basically, the issue with having to go forward to the planning commission either again on an appeal and such is that you don't have five independent members determining what is feasible for the site or what they feel is a possible development for the site instead of just the single planning director doing the review. So it does make it a lot more complex review plus they only meet once a month so just keep that in mind but there is a planning commission that does review projects sometimes the single-family homes and it can get bumped up to city council but that would only be on appeal to the city council and again they only need once a month so it does limit your ability for speed obviously to get projects approved if it gets appealed.


The environmental design and protection committee and open space and pathway committees are three committees that are involved when you are building a single-family home. Even if it's tearing one down or rebuilding it or you're doing a major addition in other words you're removing more than 50% of the structure or adding more than 1500 square feet, those would all be reviewed by these three internal committees that provide recommendations to staff or the planning commission as the project ends up at planning commission. These committee members will go out and visit the property once they get notified that project’s coming forward. They come out and do site visits, will notify the owners of the property, will notify in some cases the surrounding residents if there has been some concerns or comments and will notify obviously the members of these committees. And they do set up times to come out and actually visit the property, look at issues related to their committee. So when it comes to the committee's, environmental design and protection does look at lighting. It looks at scale of the house. These again are not in the code per se as in you have to have certain articulation of the building but they do look at issues that are more esoteric but definitely more in a subjective situation instead of just the objectivity of the zoning code and so you will get comments from them that some of them address issues that are policy type issues.


Open space really only deals with if you have a creek running through the property or a slope greater than 30% that might have some oaks that we need to preserve or looking at preserving view sheds and things like that. The one thing about the open space is they can recommend an easement over your property we try and minimize the amount of easement but it's possible that some cases over half of the property was encompassed in an easement as part of the approval process. Now again these easements aren't for the public to walk on. It just limits your ability you still own the land but it limits your ability to use the land so you may only be able to plant native trees or obviously mow things, you can put pathways. Usually in some cases you can put septic systems in the open space easement areas but that's the one thing that open space committee does look at is whether an open space easement should be placed on a property. Generally, this only occurs if we have other open space easements nearby or it's a steep slope or has a creek so just keep that in mind.


The last one is pathways committee. Very straightforward. They basically just look to see if a pathway fee has been paid or if there's a potential easement that's necessary to complete some type of off-road or on-road pathway they will provide comments on that. In general, and if there is no easement required, there is a pathway fee that is assessed on all new residences unless of course it was already paid for say the houses built in the last 10 years, they probably already paid the assessment so you wouldn't need to pay another. Once it's paid, once you're good but that's what the pathways committee does. Those three committees are critical in the review of the single-family home


Rob: Steve, quick question there. Are those three committees involved regardless of whether it goes to planning commission or not are they involved throughout the just standard. Well, I know we're going to get into the fast-track review cycle but are those three committees involved in just your standard review cycle as well?


Steve: Yes, they are. They're always involved in any new house or major addition remodel. They will be sent referral is the term we use. They get a referral with a set of plans usually electronic but that one I think takes a hard copy and they do provide comments.


Rob: Got it. Okay, that makes sense. And then when as far as planning commission goes you mentioned neighbors may be notified--it's also open to the public at that point? Is that correct?


Steve: Yeah, I mean, I was going to explain that in all homes, new homes and such go through a public hearing. It's either a public hearing called a fast-track hearing which is staff approval director or it's the planning commission. Those are the two options that a single-family home goes through.


Rob: And we'll jump to the next one since I jumped ahead and asked you a question that we were going to touch on later but I was able to snag a photo of Steve Padovan here in the in the slide deck which I was proud of being able to dig up.


Steve: That's not me at the podium.


Rob: Ultimately—yeah, hopefully everybody has a brief overview of some of the important terms and again a lot of what we covered maybe in this overview slide is pretty much universal across a lot of different planning departments but some of this is a bit more catered like open space and pathway committees with a bit more importance and maybe a bit more weight in Los Altos Hills than other jurisdictions that at least we've developed it. Yeah, so jumping into the--


Steve: Real quick. Is that one of the houses you built on Magdalena?


Rob: This isn't although it looks a lot like 10800 Magdalena you're right.


Steve: That’s what I thought. Okay.


Rob: In our project we did--there was an open space easement that was granted which affected setbacks and of course MFA and MDA which we'll get into and there was also pathway committee. We met with each of those individuals and because it was a subdivision, we went through plenty commission and thankfully Los Altos Hills Steve was our plan on that project, did a fantastic job at prepping us for what needed to be done and as a result I think we were able to work really closely with the commissioners and make it through the process which isn't always the case in every city so Steve, thanks for making it straightforward and prepping us well. Without further ado, let's jump into the to the review process.


Steve: Sure. When it starts say you come into town hall with a property that you're interested in buying so just for example, starting from scratch you're looking at a property to buy you see something for sale, many times a prospective owner will contact the planning department and just ask for some general information. This is above and beyond. This is before we get to this review process that you're seeing on the screen but it is a critical one because you need to know what the possibility of the lot is and we may have these worksheets that we can show you what is the maximum permitted floor area is or maximum permitted development area and such. But even if we don't have that information, we can give you all obviously the setbacks and some other things that explain generally where your building envelope is. We can also can tell you whether it's on sewer as a possibility to connect to sewer or if there's some fees or whether you do the septic system or if there is an existing house there and you want to tear it down, what other parameters might come to play because of that?


So a critical first step is obviously contacting staff and some do it through email, that's fine, some call us or some actually come down to the counter. It all depends obviously your ability to your proximity of the town hall that you are but once you've decided say to purchase a property and you're looking at what you can develop on it, this is where we then ask for what's called a pre-application meeting. This pre-application meeting is the first step in-- you've come up with a preliminary idea of what you want to build on the property again you've already asked or your architect has talked to us about setbacks and heights and all that stuff. That's all in the code and you can just obviously read that but this pre-application meeting is the first chance we get to see your proposal and whether it generally meets our regulations. This is a $500 fee that is assessed. We do it by zoom at this point. We used to do it in person when we may go back to in person we've done a few still in person but the idea here is we can go through and look at your proposal and in that we can tell you well this is going to work or this needs additional setback and we try to break it down oh it's usually about a half hour a one hour meeting of all the issues that we see just in a preliminary review of your project that you probably need to address or need to address before you can submit a complete application.


We also give you all the fees associated with it. We've changed our process where it's a flat fee now not a deposit. We used to do the fee and deposit and we just got into a lot of juggling and confusion and we've decided just pretty much trying to eliminate all these deposits at a flat fee. It usually runs around $5,000 that covers everything all your hearings and such but that's where we're leaning to so we still have a few that are on a deposit system but hopefully we can get rid of that in the next year or so. But anyway, so once this pre-application meeting and at the pre-application meeting, we will review, we'll ask that you provide what's called worksheet one and worksheet two. And the reason why I'm bringing those worksheets up is because the one thing that I think is necessary and we find that doesn't happen very often is you need to do a topographic survey of the property unless one has been done very recently you need to have and pay for usually because a lot of times the seller doesn't do it but you need to have a topographic survey done so we know what the average slope of the lot is. Without that average slope, we cannot calculate the floor area and development area. So, this is a really critical piece of critical plan that we need to do the rest of the work, to do a proper pre-application meeting.


Just to keep that in mind, this topographic survey is critical. It does cost $5 to $10,000 but you easily get the value back because there's no more confusion as to what you can actually build on the property and you're architected or whoever's doing your design to the plans now has a good framework of what they can actually build on the property. I just want to emphasize that the topographic survey is very important and having worksheets one and two done before the pre-application meeting is almost necessary. Without that we can't even give you a good review of your plans and so that's just the critical and pre-application.


Once the pre-application is done, we tell you here's your checklist, this is what you need to provide with your checklist. One of the critical things that I want to state before you even go forward to doing your plans, is if you're going to be on septic and you're staying on septic or proposing a new septic system, you need to get some type of preliminary approval by the Department of Environmental Health at the county of Santa Clara before you even submit an application. The reason for this is if you don't even have a preliminary review of that and you don't know if a septic system is even viable, it's pointless to go forward with a project because if you put the house in a place and that's the only place you can put the septic field, your design is void. So the idea here is that's important. If you have no option for sewer, you need to get that clarified first or you don't really have a project. I just want to make that important point and we will make that point in the pre-application meeting also. We'll state you need to get a pre-approval and again it's not an approval your actual septic design it's just that you've done the test, the percolation test whatever else is necessary for department of environmental health to be able to say yes, we believe a septic system can go on this property in roughly this area, you can go ahead with your four-bedroom house, five-bedroom house, whatever roughly the design that you've shown on your plan that you gave us. So just keep that in mind. That's an important thing and I can answer any questions on that if you'd like


Once you've submitted the application and paid the fee, there's a 30-day review process that we send out the referrals with the plans to engineering department, the fire department, which is the county fire department, all the committees. And then the other one that's critical is for geo-tech. We have a lot of faults systems throughout the town. They're not major faults but they are branches of the main San Andreas fault that goes through the mountains behind the town about several miles off to our west. Because of this faulting, many properties have a potential fault through them or have areas that are within the fault zone which if you've never heard of the Alcus Fuel fault zone. It's about—I think it's 600 feet wide or 600 feet on either side. I don't remember the exact number but basically, it's a large swath that usually encompasses several properties on either side of the fault that then you have to do what's called a geotechnical report. This again will be outlined in your pre-application meeting but the idea here is we send that off to our town geologist who then offers recommendations on foundation design and such many times in this town because you're on slopes it's peers. Even if you're not on slopes, you have soil that is prone to shrink swell is what they call it and you need to drill down and be beyond that level so it does require a more expensive foundation so keep that in mind when you're designing your home especially on hillside it may be a more expensive foundation than just your typical standard flat lot.


Anyway, we have that 30-day period that we send out and we get comments back. At the end of that 30-day period you receive a letter that says, this is the incomplete status of your project and this is what needs to be done to fulfill and make it complete for hearing. Generally, we get a response back then from the applicant within or the owner from within a couple of weeks usually sometimes it takes longer depending on if your engineers are busy or you need additional information. Once you resubmit that, there is technically another 30-day period but usually we can shrink that down because we're only looking at the changes that have occurred. So once that second review is done, generally it's ready to go to hearing so it's not usually doesn't need a third review. We've got a few that that happens but generally we're good to go, we say great, your project looks like it's complete, we can set it for hearing.


There's fast track hearing and planning commission hearing. The fast-track hearing is approved by the director. They meet once a week or we meet once a week and so it's a sped-up process compared to the planning commission which is one thing once a month. Now how you go to fast-track hearing all depends on this. A fast-track hearing you cannot exceed our grading policy so that means if you do more cut than fill that's allowed that would have to go through the planning commission beyond what the director can approve. If you're asking for variances so you're not going to do you're doing a height exceeding or a setback exception that all goes to the planning commission.


There are some again minor versions that the director can hear but generally on a new single-family home, if you're asking for variances and other things the planning commission reviews, if you're asking for some of their issues with the neighbors, again we send a notice out. We do all this to all the neighbors within 500 feet of your property and if we get substantial concerns or comments back, that may cause it to be bumped up to the planning commission because we rather just go there first instead of going to fast track and then it just gets appealed because they can be appealed from fast track simply by an owner, a neighbor having concerns. Usually, we can work all this stuff out that's the thing but it does happen or once in a while it does get appealed but the idea here is fast track is much quicker only one person is approving it which is the director. There is an appeal period that could go to planning commission but generally try and work everything out at that level. So, we're going through the fast-track process, there may be comments at the meeting; you get preliminary recommended conditions of approval.


We do review all that, you get a chance to comment on that as the owner or applicant and we can discuss it at this fast-track hearing in a more casual atmosphere. It's not very formal with the two minutes and all that like a planning commission would be and so usually we work these things out. If a neighbor has some concerns with visual, there is a landscape screen plan is required of every single-family home and so that landscape screening plan we can just refer that okay at a future date we're going to look at landscape screening on this house that will be another public hearing after the home is framed.


So you get your approval for the home, you can start construction with a building once you get your building permit and then once it's framed then we go back and look at fencing, outdoor lighting i.e pathway lighting, pool lighting, cabana lighting or whatever and we look at obviously all the landscaping. We are looking mostly at landscape screening which means ground cover things like that are not as critical. We're looking at the plants that are needed to screen the new house and we don't mean it has to be completely invisible. Clearly that's not what's going to happen. You're planting trees that are-- we have minimum 24-inch box trees and minimum 15-gallon shrubs. Those are only so big they're not going to hide the house but the idea is in 10 years it provides a good screening. Again, that's when we look at that. Those types of issues with screening of the house are what we look at that time not at the time that the house has been going through approval just for the structure itself. And again, I want to emphasize architecture is not specified. You can provide or you can come up with whatever design you like


or whatever your architect feels that is a design that meets what you're looking for in your home and we don't specify that you can't do a modern style home. Even if the next-door neighbor's home is gothic revival, it makes no difference. We just are looking at whatever you want to do and it's quality architecture with quality materials that's what we're looking for. We want to see quality materials. We don't want to see a cheap house even though some might look like that when they're done but the idea here is we want to look at quality materials that add value to the neighborhood because that's what we're doing here. We're looking at new homes add value to the neighborhood. Anytime people say that it reduces value that's never happened in my 35 years of existence in the planning department when people build a brand new house in the neighborhood. You're only increasing value.


Yes, there are instances where you could do something that impacts a neighbor's value i.e they have a view and you block it that would be an issue that we would deal with. In other words, we have had homes had to reduce the height of their roof structure or go to a flat roof and we have modified designs to preserve somebody's view because in this town a view is worth in many cases a million dollars or more so that is a case where we would modify your architecture if there is some type of view corner that's being impinged upon or blocked or whatever. And it doesn't mean that you can't block a part of a view but the idea here is if somebody has a fantastic view and suddenly you put a big structure and they have zero view, that's clearly not going to work for us do we do modify or we'll look at modifications that design either lowering the house and such but it is very rare. I've seen that only happen once or twice in my years here that somebody's building actually blocks a view. Maybe a partial view or a small amount but never blocked an actual view of like the Bay or San Francisco or whatever they're looking at and suddenly you have a house there blocking it. It's not a common procedure. So that's kind of a long verbose method


Rob: That was great. I think hopefully everybody found that's super helpful. One thing that I'll mention is this pre-application meeting step. I mean, not every city has this process but it's definitely time well spent to make the most of that meeting and making sure that you do your homework beforehand and go there with as much information as you can so you can make the most of people's valuable time like Steve where you're able to have a constructive conversation as opposed to hey, you guys really need to pull this together pull or that together. Steve, just curious from a planning commission standpoint. I know they meet once a month but from the last schedule, how far out are you scheduling at the moment?


Steve: Sure. So probably say from the time you actually submit the application. If you're going to fast track, most homes are completed within two to three months. If it goes to planning commission, it usually is four to five months so it’s a more delayed process for planning commission because we already have a backup for this current meeting and so it does get bumped usually to the next meeting


Rob: Got it. No, that's really helpful. I think two things that you mentioned that were really important to have are this worksheet one, worksheet two that you referred to. I did my best to put together a brief slide here. It certainly doesn't include everything that there is to have as far as the formulas go for anybody who might be wanting to do the math right now but Steve, would you mind talking about MDA and how is important and rural sort of hillside towns like Los Altos hills?


Steve: Sure. First thing I want to point out is this is a common type of a requirement having a maximum development and floor area in these rural residential towns along the western edge of the peninsula here so Hillsboro something similar. I believe Portola Valley Woodside and down in [inaudible] and even Saratoga has some of these same requirements. Basically, what the maximum development areas means anything that's hardscape or artificial emplacement on the ground including the obviously the building tennis course pools, these are all called development area. And based on the slope of your property and the size of it, we come up with what's called a Lot Unit Factor. This LUF is what we use to calculate the maximum development area and maximum floor area. So in this case say you have a flat lot it's pretty straightforward say you have one acre exactly and you have it it's less than 10% slope that's what we consider a flat lot. That would be a maximum development area of 15,000 square feet so that means you can cover the building with all the building square footage now again we don't do footprint we do all of the building floor area that's just the way our calculation rolls but it's all the floor area plus any footprint of --like in this case of this slide. Here you see a pool, pool deck, a tennis court, all of that is part of the development area. Driveway, fire truck turn around if you need one, that's a big deal on properties that are far away from the street. It absorbs a lot of your development area so keep that in mind.


Now the plus that we have in this town, you can put materials down that reduce your development area. In other words, if you put pervious materials like paver stones, decomposed granite pathways and things like that, that'll reduce the percentage of development area so obviously 100% percent is if you use concrete or obviously a building a pool. But if you put say your driveway and use paver stones, we will give you a 25 credit on that say 2,000 square feet of development area. Now it's only 1,500 square feet. It's counting against your MDA. So the idea here is that there's rarely an instance where you need to get a variance for development area because you have a lot of development area for the garage, for the patios, and driveways and such that. You can actually reduce just by putting different materials down. This even includes the fire truck turnaround because we do have a 25% and it's a maximum but it's 25% that we allow for fire truck turnaround as long as you use some type of pervious material and allows water to pass through that's what basically previous means.


Also, I want to point out that we don't count all the way. Say you have a really long driveway 300 feet long. We are not going to count the entire driving. We understand if your lot is designed in such a way that it takes quite a way to get to your home several 100 feet. We only count 100 feet from the face of the garage down and then beyond that there is no requirement to count MDA unless you're doing some other additional turnarounds or car parking areas or something that are outside the setbacks but they are extraneous and not part of the driveway which is required to be just 12 feet wide. Just to keep that in mind, we don't count the entire driveway all the way down the street so you're not feeling like well, I have this flag a lot. I'm losing most of it to just a driveway. No, that's not the case. You only have the first 100 feet that we count but again with this MDA we do look at different materials to try and reduce the amount of or to improve the perviousness of the surface so that water is percolating through because we really only allow maybe 25% lot coverage anyway over the whole property in general.


The idea is you're already mitigating a lot of the storm water impacts but I do want to point out with MDA. The engineering department does look at storm water retention systems so if you have a vacant lot or a underdeveloped lot and you pave a lot of it and you're adding up to the maximum say it's a flat lot you put 15,000, you will be required to put in what's called storm water detention systems and what these are these are like underground pipes or underground storage tanks that hold an event of a rain event so they hold a certain amount of water that's in addition to what was running off the property before. If you have a vacant lot, it usually needs to be a much bigger system than if you had a partially developed lot which would be a smaller system because it's only the net change. But that is something important to keep in mind because those detention systems are an additional cost above and beyond just the development of –


Rob: They take up a lot of space. They can eat up—


Steve: They don't count towards your


Rob: Sure. Sure. In fact, from planning's perspective--


Steve: There's an added cost for no real benefit. You're not getting any value out of the retention system. You're just having to pay to put it in. Just keep that in mind that's an extra cost but that is an issue that we do look at is storm water runoff and that's a critical thing.


Rob: Steve, you mentioned about the topographic survey is. What's key in calculating this average slope. That's where--if you're going to that pre-application meeting, having that topographic survey completed, having either a civil engineer or a professional prepare your worksheet one and worksheet two all really important topics. This is going to be a little bit repetitive for this next one but max floor area Steve if you don't mind.


Steve: No, actually, this is an important because it's not the same obviously. Now all of your floor it doesn't get included in the development area but the MFA is just floor area. Now the thing is what count in this town is all floor area. We're talking sheds, garages, carports, all of that counts as floor area. The one thing that doesn't count is a basement. So you have the ability to put an entire basement underneath the main floor of your house and if it meets our basement criteria, it does not count for floor area. You'll see if you look at some of the new homes in town it says in our say we're sending out a flyer for a public hearing it says, it's 6,000 square foot house. Yeah, but it may have a 3,000 square foot basement so you're talking it's over--it's like almost 10,000 square foot house from that regard and that's typically what's being built. I’m just going to tell you right now is typically like 8 to 10,000 square feet the typical home built. But anyway, the maximum floor is again calculated using that LUF that Lot Unit Factor. Based on the slope of the property and then we come up with this number and so a flat lot you get 6,000 square feet.


The one thing we did back in 2003, I believe it was. They gave more advantage on some of the sloping lots were really getting cheated out of flora if you want to call it that. They gave them a minimum 5,000 square feet is permitted as long as your Lot Unit Factor was over .501. Before it used to be reduced, they gave credit to some of these lots that have steeper slopes but they were losing on the amount of floor they could put. They created this new formula so now again as long as your Lot Unit Factor is over 0.501, you can get 5,000 square feet. That's a great bonus because your development area might drop but your floor area is up.


So the idea here is that if you build the house closer to the street and not have as much no fire truck turn around and shorter driveway, you're probably okay. Unfortunately, on steeper lots that have a deep driveway or need to have a fire truck turn around, this is a real impediment. I'll just tell you that right now. I'm not trying to say don't buy a lot that's on a slope that's got a long driveway but you will find there's really significant limitations on being able to maximize your floor area and develop well, your development is going to get used up but to maximize your floor it becomes a difficult situation. Just keep that in mind that again the whole floor area goes into the development area that's why it becomes an issue when you're on steeper lots that have a deeper setback.


For what's included in the floor like I said before, again you have the car ports are also included but all your garage space. We even include if you have like say a large an entry that has a very high ceiling in it. If it's over 17 feet, we will count that area twice. The idea here is to try and reduce massing of buildings. We had some single-story homes that came in with very high large roofs and they looked as massive as a two-story home yet it had only two-thirds of the floor area so they were saying like if we're going to have a massive home like that single story then, we're going to penalize you for 17 feet whether you agree with it or not that does come into play so depending on your design, you may run into a situation where having a really you know steeper pitched roof on a single story home may cause you to actually lose floor area than if you had a two-story home surprising as that is but so that does happen but anyway there is that penalty for high like atriums and things like that. We only count stairways once or elevators once they're stacked so that's a benefit there.


We also look at though if you have enclosed areas with a roof that have three walls and a roof and a patio, we will include that as flora because basically you have now enclosed a space that's an extension of the room. That is one of the things that does that you should be aware of if you are in closing spaces on with three walls a roof and obviously a floor then that will be countered as floor area. Again, that's because our definition of floor just as the floor and any extension of it and so if we consider that area usable as floor area or you know especially if you put foldable walls and things in place like loggias and things like that that does come into play and we will count that as floors so that's a thing to be aware of.


One of the things I also want to point out with maximum generally we do not approve exceeding the maximum floor area or maximum development for that fact on projects in town so keep that in mind. We don't hand out variances for floor area and development area. Very, very few times if ever in the last that I can think of in seven years so keep that in mind that those are kind of your parameters that you're going to be living with. If you're asking to exceed floor and development area, you'll probably not get a recommendation of approval. I just want to make that clear. No matter what it would go to the plan commission if you're doing that. But we have allowed some minor if again the parcel has some real extreme conditions and it's like an addition on a home sometimes, we've allowed some minor ones but generally with a new home no, it has to meet the floor and development


Rob: Perfect. Yeah, that's a really important point certainly for folks who are interested in going through the approval process early it's important to get a lot of these facts straight. This is a really nice graphic that was pulled from your documentation Steve that you have prepared but you can see adds the slope of a particular lot increases, what that does to your MDA and MFA and I think it provides a really nice visual for anybody who is following along and wondering what it might look like visually. So hopefully this helps.


Steve: That's a great graphic because it gives you the idea that obviously as you go up in slope, you're seeing a significant drop-off especially in development. Look at the developmental drop-off it's significant on the slope it's almost half of what you'd be allowed on a flatter slope so--


Rob: Yeah. Yep. No doubt. Setbacks, we've talked about--hopefully at this point talked about MDA, MFA. We've set the bounds of the box but another piece of all this is of course is the setbacks. Steve, what is a setback and what should the folks know?


Steve: Sure. Setback is the distance from the property line to where the building envelope is and that's this dashed line that you see around the building. Sorry. Someone's done the wrong.


Rob: I’ve been having you talk too much.


Steve: Yes.  Okay, I think I'm better. Sound like a frog but-- so anyway we have the setback here with the- we have a front setback that's required of 40 feet and then any side or rear setback is 30 feet. And the front setback is either chosen by staff or it's primarily where you're getting access to the property. So your driveway is there the front door is there. On a corner lot, only one is considered the front setback. So on this we have the front setback of 40 feet. This corner side setback that you're showing on this graphic is the 30 feet and the rear and the other side are 30 feet also. This graphic doesn't show as is proportionally correct but the idea here is you have--those are your setbacks for the structure itself and everything needs a fitness structure except ADUs. There's a new state law and our new ordinance that I'll go into briefly but the ADUs are slightly different and can be in some of these setbacks not the front but the other ones. The structure is obviously-- all the structures need to be within this setback area not on ADU and also your patios and things like that carport. All of those need to be.


Now for driveways, walkways and fire truck turnarounds, those can be in the setback up to within you got to have at least a 10foot setback for grading so keep that in mind for that. Easements are usually for open space or there's a driveway easement across your property. Those have specific restrictions that have a certain they've granted some type of right to another property or another user. So an open space easement is granting the right to use that property or the town has now been granted that open space we have certain rights over that property. If PGE

 has an easement, they have the right to go in and repair lines or install lines. If you have a driveway easement, a neighbor may have the right to drive over the property. Doesn't mean they can park there because it's maybe just an egress easement but those are all things that if you're looking at buying a property, definitely research the easements on that because it may limit your ability to use that land for anything other than whatever driveway or whatever.


Water courses again we're going to put easements over that if you're building a new house. We do have a 25-foot setback from top of bank is in our general plan so keep that in mind if you have a creek going through your property. Generally, you have a larger property though it's at the bottom of the hill so it generally doesn't affect most development. Once in a while it does


Trees and open space, slopes, all of those can be encompassed in an open space easement. Trees that are protected right now all we have protected are heritage oak trees. Those are trees that are 12-inch diameter at breast height is the term. So if you stand up to about four feet high and you wrap something around it like some string or some ribbon to figure out how it's about 37 inches and change circumference is about a 12-inch diameter oak tree and that would be protected so just keep that in mind.


Rob: That's a big one. Yeah, there's certainly I know it's during our development in Los Altos Hills and as we continue it's definitely sometimes a challenge to make sure you provide a design that limits anyway the heritage oaks to be removed so that's definitely an important topic. Steve, you talked quickly about and I'm going to kind of breeze through these next couple slides so we can get to any Q&A but you talked briefly about ADUs. These are a couple of slides that I pulled from well, I thought the sales would you mind giving everybody a brief overview since it is a relatively new code adoption.


Steve: Yeah. Basically, starting in 20 January, the state said they now said these are permitted by

 right ADUs and they can be very close to the property line um and you get an extra 800 square feet above and beyond the maximum floor and development area that recalculate the property. So say you are maxed out you buy a house that's already built out completely, you still have the right to put an 800 square foot ADU on the property and that 800 square foot ADU could be within the setbacks. There is a minimum four-foot setback. We try and increase that if you're an adjacent to neighbors we encourage obviously a 30-foot setback for the ADU and if you want to go up to the maximum size ADU< it would have to be outside the setbacks but generally it's a streamlined process. If you come in with an ADU, we look at it if it meets all of our regulations, we say go get a building permit. That's basically how it works. And it meets our regulations if it meets that 800 or it's within the inside the-- it's not in the setbacks, it's 16 feet high, the design is somewhat compatible with the home that's on the property, all of those we look at it as you can see in this little chart here. We just do a pre-application meeting from planning. It's $400. We look at it. Yes, it meets all the criteria, go get a building permit, so go submit your plans for a building permit and it gets reviewed through that process. There isn't any kind of hold up or discretionary review of the term we use of an ADU.


This is obviously been very well; people are definitely putting in projects. We've had 30 or

 a year since 2020 so we are definitely seeing an uptick in these ADUs generally they're somewhere in the 800-a thousand square foot size or even a little bit smaller. We don't get as many yet they're up to the maximum permitted which is 1200 square feet and again if you want to do a1200 square foot ADU, it needs to be out of the setbacks. That's the rule there. It's a very

streamlined process in general, just put it that way.


Rob: Great. Steve, can either be submitted as a part of your I guess primary residence application or it can be completed at a later date? Is that true?

Steve: Yes, definitely. If you have a new home, you're proposing along with an ADU, we review it all at the same time because obviously you can't have the ADU out of the house because an ADU means an accessory well, not the primary. The idea is you can't have it as attached to it even and it can be in the setbacks. The idea here is though you have to build the house clearly so it would be reviewed at the same time but technically the ADU was permitted by right so we don't even look at the additional square footage associated with that ADU but obviously we're looking at the same time because it's part of the house so in those cases. But if you have a separate ADU detached, yes, you would have it on the project plans but as soon as you've got the house built you can come in and do it concurrently with the ADU and such but again you have to have a single-family home on the property to build the ADU. You can't build the ADU first without building the single-family home.


Rob: Understood. I'm just going to breeze through this one real quick but this is showing a septic tank and leech fields. I'm going to jump to this next slide because really this is where especially in rural areas, I think it may have a larger effect but when it comes to maybe lot splits or maybe a new lot Steve, you already mentioned that one of the most important things to start with is going to the county and speaking to DH and as somebody who's worked with the county a lot it's not always the most straightforward process so starting that early on, I would definitely advise that. But even when it comes to you mentioned that this may be changing but in its current form and how the town is viewing lots but would you mind giving the folks a quick overview.


Steve: Sure. So right now with our current standards you would need to have a property if it's flat clearly two acres to be able to split it and that doesn't include any exceptions for removing if the road needs to be widened and such so just because a lot has two acres may mean that you cannot split it we would again look at the floor and we would look at the Lot Unit Factor of each future lot and the slope and we'd look at any right-of-way easements or dedications that are needed plus we have certain criteria right now that you have 160 foot diameter circle within a future lot that you create. That inherently means that you've got to have 160-foot-wide lot as a minimum size. It doesn't mean you can't do a flag law but the idea is some area on the property has to be 160 feet wide in a diameter of a circle for a development area for a house to be placed.


These maps right now we do have a process that we go through where it's a tentative map which means this is what I'm proposing, this is my tentative idea for a lot split. And we look at it to

 make sure it meets all the criteria. Maps are subject to the subdivision map act the city of California. You can only submit one if it actually conforms to what our zoning in general plan states. You can't submit a map that needs a general plan amendment and zoning amendment and fall through the same review process as just a subdivision map that meets the code. You have to keep that in mind there are certain time frames associated with tentative maps that need zoning whereas that doesn't occur with if you need a general plan amendment or a rezoning of the land. That's a completely different process because it's discretionary completely compared to the map. But with the map again time expectations if it's a basic you're on soaring water and it meets all the criteria, they can be done pretty quickly. Sometimes they take three or four months just because we've got to go through all the process and the maps usually don't come out exactly as or meet all the criteria there's a lot of boxes to check when it comes to the subdivision but the


idea here is that you could probably get a subdivision of a basic simple flat lot in three to four months, maybe four to five months. If it does have other issues though or has to go through environmental septic some other things like that, it could be up to a year. We've had some two years so some divisions can be difficult if the laws change and do this by right obviously that changes everything. But at this point all we have is the processes that we have now and it usually takes those time frames.


Rob: Right. And as far as when it comes to how this lot split kind of interplays with the previous review cycle that you'd mentioned, is this all happening before you get in the queue for the cycle, we were looking at prior?


Steve: Well, yeah, because it's not those are for single family homes all a parcel maps do go to the city council so that's why it usually takes longer because you have to go through all the steps. And you have to come up with a preliminary design or at least some type of idea of where your house is going to go because we can also want to look at if it affects somebody's views. There is a more drawn-out process with maps much beyond unless again it's a very basic straightforward map that's why it usually takes four to six months on a standard one with a few tweaks to up to like a year plus


Rob: Understood. One of the questions and we have about three minutes here which I'm trying to save here at the end. Steve, the first question that we have is, is the ADU square footage taken from the lots MFA?


Steve: You get 800 square feet above and beyond what the maximum floor area is. If you want to put an ADU on a block that's already maximum built, you still get the right to put 800 square feet. So it's above and beyond. It's like a credit of 800 if you want to put an ADU.


Rob: Perfect. I think that answers that question pretty straightforward. Is there any exceptions for setback for example, if the lot size is 40 feet wide and the setback is 20 feet without the exception one would not be able to build anything at all?


Steve: This is how it works. So clearly there are lots in town that do not meet if you put two -foot setbacks on the side you may be left with 10 feet wide. Clearly that would be a justification to apply for a variance. We have had variances approved and they're usually on these substandard lots as the term we use. Some are an acre in size but many of them are very narrow they're like 80 feet wide maybe or 90 feet wide or less and there's physically no way you can put a normal house on a 70-foot-wide lot. If you have two 30-foot setbacks on the side, you'd live for the foot wide house. So that would be a justification for asking for a variance. The one advantage that this town or what we give is if you already have a house on that property which many times that's the case. That house doesn't meet our current setbacks because it was built before the town was incorporated usually. Generally, you are allowed to maintain those setbacks with your new proposal because you're not increasing the amount of encroachment is the term that we use. If the house right now that exists only has 15-foot setbacks, you could p