Single Story Overlay

Palo Alto Municipal Code Sections on Single Story Overlays
Any property owner(s) within a neighborhood may submit an application for a Single Story Overlay (SSO) Rezoning. The City Council is the decision-maker, following public hearing conducted by the Planning and Transportation Commission. To view the Palo Alto Municipal Code (PAMC) on the City’s website Click here .  The code section that describes Single Story Overlay applicability and site development regulations is PAMC Section 18.12.100; the code section that describes the rezoning process is 18.80.035.  Click here to see pending and recently adopted SSOs.

City Staff’s Role in Recommending an SSO
The City staff does not gather “votes” of property owners.  The above referenced municipal code section only requires evidence that 70% of property owners support level at application, and in the case of a neighborhood having Covenants Codes and Restrictions restricting development to one story homes, the code only requires evidence of a 60% support level.   When the application includes evidence supporting these required levels, staff is able to forward the proposal to the Planning and Transportation Commission.  Staff alerts the PTC as to the current level of support at the public hearing, based upon any additional evidence received from any new owners submitting signatures in support and any persons requesting to withdraw their earlier signature of support.

Non-Complying Homes in SSO Zone
An existing two-story home or home exceeding a height of 17 feet above grade (or 20 feet above grade in flood zones) becomes a ‘non-complying facility’ following SSO adoption.   Sometimes existing homes encroach into a required side or rear yard setback, or exceed allowable maximums for lot coverage or floor area.  Those homes are also considered ‘non-complying facility’.  Restrictions on what may be done to non-complying facilities are set forth in PAMC Chapter 18.70 sections 18.70.080, 18.70.090 and 18.70.100.  Home Improvement Exceptions (HIE) are an option to modify homes when 75% of the exterior walls remain in place as exterior walls.  The HIE process, eligibility and findings are contained in PAMC Chapter 18.12, Section 18.12.120.  Below is a brief summary of what the rules say. 

·         A two story home destroyed by non-willful means (referred to as “act of God”) may be rebuilt in the same two-story footprint, envelope, etc. per Palo Alto Municipal Code Chapter 18.70.

·         Intentional removal of an existing, noncomplying, two-story home in a SSO zone district would result in the requirement to construct a compliant one-story home limited to 20 feet in height.

·         Maintenance, repair or limited enlargement that does not increase the “degree of noncompliance” can be permitted. PAMC Section 18.70.080 allows for limited enlargement, but a homeowner cannot add more floor area on the second floor, for instance.  Enlargement or improvement of the first floor, as otherwise permitted by the Zoning Code, is allowable. Chapter 18.70 also refers to Section 18.12.050, Permitted encroachments, projections and exceptions, which allows limited encroachments of first floor area into required setbacks.

·         Home Improvement Exceptions (HIE) are an option for additions, when there are non-complying circumstances, such existing reduced setbacks.  An addition may be allowed to encroach into a setback or exceed allowable lot coverage or floor area if findings for HIE approval are made.

However, if improvements result in more than 25% of the exterior walls being removed, the project would not be eligible for HIE (PAMC Section 18.12.120), because at least 75% of exterior walls must be retained in place as exterior walls to qualify.

Last Updated: Oct 3, 2017