Planning Commissioners couldn’t come to a decision on a single family home project on Aug. 14, and after two motions to approve the project failed, the body sent the project’s fate along to City Council with no recommendation about what to do.
The project, located at 2892 Sycamore Way, had been approved by the Commission’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC) on June 19, which would have granted plans for the demolition of an existing house and the building of a five-bedroom, 3.5 bath house with three exterior points of entry to move forward. However, the property owner had originally wanted a five-bedroom, 5.5 bath house with six exterior access points, and so appealed the ARC’s decision that came with those modifications.
During the planning process, the property owner, who said that the project will help allow her immediate family plus elderly parents to live together in a “dream home,” met with neighbors who wanted to see the plans address privacy concerns due to the positioning of a balcony, as well as assurance that the home will not be used for regular short term rentals.
A line of neighbors attended the meeting and several said that they had witnessed the comings and goings of short term rental tenants and believe that with the construction of a five-bedroom, 5.5 baths dwelling including so many exterior entrances, that the practice will continue, calling it a “boarding home” or “mini hotel” that would degrade the neighborhood’s character. In response the project applicant said that the home had only had seven AirBnB rentals in the past and that the plan was to not continue having short term rentals.
City staff had recommended that the Commission uphold the appeal and modify the ARC’s decision to allow for five-bedrooms and 4.5 baths and only allow for one of the ground floor bedrooms to have exterior door access.
A lengthy debate between commissioners ensued, strained by the fact that the City currently lacks regulations to address short terms rentals, which is an issue that could be rectified in the near future with the comprehensive zoning code update. Commissioner Priya Cherukuru, echoed the neighbor’s concerns about maintaining community character amidst uncontrolled short term rentals but stated that the addition of one extra bathroom isn’t going to ultimately determine whether the property owner rents rooms out on a short term basis or not.
Vice Chair Lance Saleme proposed that, with the property owner’s consent, an inspection of the home could be done by the City in two years to make sure no unapproved interior modifications have been made to facilitate short term rentals. Commissoner Suds Jain proposed that the one exterior bedroom door be made so that it only locks and unlocks from the inside.
Caught between strong concerns from neighbors and the fact that the project is in step with planning guidelines, the Commission was unable to reach a decision about the project.
Commissioners also continued a debate from a prior meeting about an amendment to the City’s code regarding what sorts of projects should be heard by the ARC. A motion was passed that would trigger project review by the ARC if the project is a detached single family home with five or more bedrooms or five or more bathrooms, and also if more than two bedrooms have direct external access. Additionally, an amendment was passed that attached multi-family residential projects include input from a practicing architect and that such an expert would also give input on commercial projects greater that 20,000 square feet.
An upcoming Planning Commission study session will be held on Aug. 20 that will provide a general overview of the comprehensive zoning code update. Another study session is also scheduled for Sept. 3 to discuss safe parking for overnight vehicles on private property as well as assisted living facilities. A Planning Commission meeting originally set for Sept. 11 has been cancelled.
This house was an 18-bed mini hotel from October 2018 until July 2019. there were four beds in each of the four bedrooms, plus two in a closed off family room. One of the neighbors did research into the number of individually rented beds through AirBnB and determined there were well over 2000 rentals. This was an unhosted short term rental (marketed through AirBnB AS A “hacker home”), housing 18 strangers. Nobody could tell who was supposed to be there or not, and no one on-site was in charge. Anyone could enter the house at almost any time for any purpose.
The neighbor also determined, through conversations with some of the short-term tenants, that it appeared there were many “under-the-table” rentals, bypassing the web site, and city taxes.
The constant 24 hour a day foot and vehicle traffic associated with this house, people sleeping in cars parked nearby, using the gutter and residents’ landscaping as a toilet if they couldn’t enter the house conveniently to use the facilities, drug use, fights in the street, suspicious meet-ups on the street at 3am, all created a very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous environment for the neighbors.
The cities surrounding Santa Clara all have reasonable regulations that would prohibit this type of rental. The Mayor and city council were made aware of this situation more than 10 months ago. Regulations are being discussed by the city, but with still more “study sessions” planned, I suspect they are a long way from becoming final.