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Palm Haven
Defends Vintage Character
by Helpa De Haven
March 2004

In 2004 a developer sought a permit to build a house on the last unoccupied lot in Palm Haven. Their initial design was a modern house with the garage out front (a "front-loader") -- not at all in keeping with the vintage character of the Palm Haven neighborhood.

The developer was not willing to reconsider the design based on neighborhood input, so concerned residents of Palm Haven spoke at Planning hearings about the inappropriate design. They were aided and supported by people in North Willow Glen, the Gardner neighborhood, and others.

The Planning Commission agreed with the neighborhoods and worked out a compromise with the developer. In the end, it was probably to the developer's economic advantage to go with a design that fit into the neighborhood; the process may have prevented him from making a long-lasting mistake.

Here's the outcome, as reported by Palm Haven resident Mike Borbely:

I sent the message below to the Planning Department heads regarding the
handling of the proposal to build a new house on Plaza Drive in Palm Haven.
I believe they set a good example for future projects to follow in historic
neighborhoods by using the "Your Old House" guidelines as a tool to
recommend appropriate changes.

The changes they recommended based on the guidelines included things that required complete redesign of the house as well as other more subtle

  • Relocating the garage back from the front of the property
  • Relocating 2nd-story massing off the top of a porte-cochere so it looks
    like a porte-cochere
  • Requiring true divided-light windows with mullions on the front of the
  • Using exterior finish materials that are consistent with the period and
    the surrounding neighborhood
  • Requiring the applicant to include their description of finishes on the
    plans so the Building Dept. will see them and expect them in the finished
    product (wrought-iron details, stained wood trim, corbels, etc.)

I know some of us were skeptical of the outcome of this but I believe the
city handled this very well. It also took a willing applicant to modify
their plans as requested so credit is due there as well.

Finally, a large credit is due to all of you who took the time to write the
city and go to the hearings. That feedback is what gained the attention of
the Planning Department and resulted in what I now think is a plan that is
more consistent with the heritage of Palm Haven.

I owe a special thanks to Tom Smith, Dan Erceg and the North Willow Glen
Neighborhood Association for considering the matter and sending a letter to
the Planning Department as well as Kevin Christman of the Greater Gardner
Council and Reymundo & Norma Mendez of the Gardner Advisory Council for joining the letter and showing support for our effort. Thanks also for
support from Ed Rast, Ken Eklund, and Harvey Darnell.

My thanks go to all of you and I believe your contribution will be felt not
only in Palm Haven but also in other historic neighborhoods of San Jose for
years to come.

Michael Borbely

Copyright 2003