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[whitespace] Homeowners wage war of words over design law

San Jose--Bungalow-dwelling locals urged the San Jose City Council to save their neighborhoods from "monster homes" at the Dec. 7 meeting.

"Many of the 'monster homes' are beautiful, they are just too big for their lots," said Willow Glen resident Larry Ames.

Minutes later, Willow Glen thirty-somethings defended their right to start families and build their dream homes.

"These are grand, stately homes--not 'monsters'--being put in the place of these little shacks," said Willow Glen resident Chris Justi. "It's a person's property, and they should have the right to do with it what they want."

Nearly 20 homeowners, neighborhood associations, builders and real estate agents last week argued for and against San Jose's proposed design guidelines for new homes and remodels. The council this week will vote on the design-review ordinance.

The "monsters," some neighbors said, are created when a homeowner builds a gigantic house in a neighborhood of small lots and single-story rooflines.

"A large house on a large lot--no problem," J. Michael Gonzales, president of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, said after coining the term "Godzilla homes." "A small house on a small lot--no problem. A large house on a small lot--now we've got a problem."

Under the current proposal, a remodeled home with square footage that occupies no more than 45 percent of its lot size would not require a public hearing. For example, a homeowner with a 5,000-square-foot lot could build a 2,250-square-foot house.

A home with a square footage between 45 percent and 65 percent of its lot size would be required to conform to specific design guidelines based on the surrounding neighborhood.

A home with a square footage greater than 65 percent of its lot size would be subject to the full design-review process, including a public hearing.

The proposed law also limits new homes and remodels to two stories and 30 feet, with a few exceptions, including Victorian-style homes and lots in floodplains.

Closing the Dec. 7 public hearing, Mayor Ron Gonzales made a commitment to finding a happy medium.

"I believe that we can balance good neighborhoods with the rights of homeowners," Gonzales said. "I believe a home addition should also be an addition to the quality of the neighborhood."
Jessica Lyons

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Web extra to the December 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro.

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