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October 24, 2006 > What's in a story?

What's in a story?

by Linda Stone

In recent months, a new housing development in Milpitas has caused a divide between the city, KB Homes and Sylvia Avenue residents over the height of the new construction.

One of the issues is whether the new high-density homes (located on the east and west sides of Abel Street and north of Curtis Avenue), facing the rear yards of Sylvia Avenue residents, are three or four stories.

In a Sept. 8, 2006 letter to the Milpitas City Council, residents from Sylvia Avenue stated in part, "During the June 20th, 2006 City Council meeting the question of what the maximum height for the new constructions is had been raised and Mr. Tom Williams replied that 3 stories is the maximum building height. In reality KB's construction are 4 stories and the first story is described as 'Basement Floor' or 'Garage Level' and we would like to bring your attention that this 1st level is built above ground level and is designed for use as indoor car parking, storage room, laundry room, computer room, hobby room, etc."

Looking at the structure from the rear gives the impression of a four-story building. In the front, it seems like a three story home. But that depends on whom you ask. Certainly, Sylvia Avenue residents think it looks like a four-story, when actually it is a three-story home. Why? Well it depends on where you live, or more specifically, in which zone you are located.

In the instant case, KB's Terra Serena homes are located in an R4-S zone with a PD (Planned District) "overlay." Each zoning code has different requirements and in R4-S or high-density housing, height restrictions apply, as they do in any zoning ordinance. The confusing part comes in when the height of a building is measured from a finished grade. A finish grade includes backfill around the property. Backfilling more than 50 percent from street level means that floor, a.k.a. basement is not counted as a "story." To further confuse things, KB's own brochures list a fourth story option ( search Viento at Terra Serena).

Although the residents on Sylvia Avenue say that these models are four-story homes, and they may look like four-story homes, the fact remains that measuring from the finished grade, these homes are actually three-stories high and do not exceed the height requirements for that particular zone.

What the residents of Sylvia Avenue may not know is that they can do the same thing. This area is an R-16 zone or single family residential. However, the building height limit is 30 feet, less than R4's approximate 45-foot limit. However, what you would end up with, according to Planning Director Tom Williams for Milpitas, is a gain of only 4 to 6 feet.

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