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[whitespace] Proposed 'teardown' on Franquette shows: one man's castle is another man's monster

Willow Glen--Mark Rasmussen's tall frame looms in the doorway of his one-bedroom, one-bath Willow Glen bungalow. The 750-square-foot single-story house is set back from the street, swallowed by the 14,174-square-foot lot it occupies on Franquette Avenue, a bucolic street where neighborhood kids play ball in their front yards and an occasional chicken or two wanders by.

"I like the atmosphere," Rasmussen says. "I like the neighborhood. I like the people. I'd like to set my roots down and make it my home. But I don't think anyone can live in a one-bed one-bath home."

Rasmussen bought the property about a year ago with the intent of splitting the original lot into two smaller lots--each 44 feet wide by 80 feet deep--and building a two-story, four-bedroom home on each. He'd like to keep one, maybe start a family, and sell the other, he says.

"I'd like to get remarried, have two or three more children," he says. "These days, you need three bedrooms and an office or a computer room."

Two days prior to our conversation, at a community meeting to show Franquette Avenue neighbors the preliminary house plans, the mood was hostile. Some neighbors opposed the split, saying 44 feet is too narrow for one lot. Others didn't like the Tudor or Mediterranean style homes shown in the plans. A few gave Rasmussen the go-ahead to start building. But the question of the hour could be heard loud and clear: Will they or won't they be monster homes?

"I grew up on the street," Janice Robbins said. "I live a few houses down. It really bothers me to see this giganticness on the street. It's totally changed the face of the neighborhood. I can see one house there but I truly can't see the massiveness of these two houses."

The preliminary drawings show two houses, one Tudor style and one Mediterranean, each 28 feet wide by 59 feet deep. But neither the plans--nor the lot split--are set in stone. Nothing has been approved by the Planning Commission yet.

"I'm totally open to changing the style to fit the neighborhood," Rasmussen says. He draws the line at two houses, though, with around 2,400 square feet to accommodate a minimum of three bedrooms and a den.

"I'm building a home for myself to live in. I want to make it nice for myself and my family. It's not about taking advantage of the neighborhood, building these two houses and moving out. It's about doing it right. These will be beautiful homes. The style of houses that we chose won't be monster homes. I don't think 2,500 to 2,900 square feet is a monster home."

Some neighbors do.

"Our street is very unique," says Linda Sweeney, who lives a few houses down from Rasmussen. "It has a very rural feeling--it's a source of neighborhood pride.

"He's tying to put too much on too little and change the character of the neighborhood. One house would be acceptable. It could be a big house because it's a big lot. But to keep the pattern of the neighborhood, two won't fit."

Other neighbors say let the man build.

"The thing that bothers me is, why do we as his neighbors have the right to tell him what to do with his property?" Barbara Wigginton asks. "I don't see any negative ramifications of putting up a two-story Tudor style house on a 44-foot-wide lot. Judging someone's home and how it looks is the wrong path to go down. We can agree to disagree and still be friends and have our differences of opinion." Some neighbors feel that it's up to local government to make these kinds of hard decisions..

"The city should be doing more of its job," Sweeney says. "They shouldn't put it all on the neighbors. We have to face each other everyday. We don't want to speak out against a neighbor. We want to do the neighborly thing."

Taking the initial steps toward doing their job, city planners are considering a review process that would look at plans, and limit the size and shape of new homes and rebuilds in the city's older neighborhoods. The City Council is scheduled to approve legislation June 15 that would make such a review mandatory.

"It's something that's long overdue in San Jose," says Willow Glen Councilmember Frank Fiscalini, who introduced the proposed ordinance two and a half years ago. "The heart of the issue--at least from my point of view--is the creation of very stable neighborhoods. That's been part of the problem in the past, people waking up one morning to find out their neighbor has a development project underway and they have no idea what is going on."

Now it's literally back to the drawing board for Rasmussen, builder Mark DeMattei and architect Gary Kohlsaat. The three are looking at plans for smaller homes, and some different styles--maybe a two-story Craftsman and a single-story bungalow. After they come up with some revised plans, they will hold another community meeting, possibly putting the houses up to a vote and letting the neighbors make the final call.

"A little less mass, a little less footage," DeMattei says. "That's the way I'm going to approach it. I'm a builder and I need to have neighborhood support. The only way I will be involved in the project is if the neighborhood likes it."

With one man's castle being another man's monster, finding that delicate balance of a home that the neighborhood likes may be more difficult than it seems.
Jessica Lyons

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