Approved residential addition in San Mateo stirs debate on preservation of homeowner views 

A proposed home renovation in the hills of San Mateo has stirred up tensions between young families hoping to expand their dwellings and longtime residents fighting to preserve their properties’ bay views and market values.

The renovation at issue was ultimately green-lighted by the San Mateo City Council during a July 21 hearing, but the underlying debate as to whether views should be protected under the law, and the limiting of homeowners’ rights when developing vertically, remained unsettled.

“This is not only affecting myself in an emotional way and [my] enjoyment of getting up every morning and looking out to a beautiful view but it is also going to impact the value of my home,” said Karen Trudell, in her final failed appeal to halt the project.

Michael and Terri Schmier, Trudell’s downslope neighbors on Verdun Avenue, will now be able to proceed with a second-floor addition to their 1955 ranch-style home in the Beresford Hillsdale community. The additional space will help the couple accommodate their growing children and aging parents.

“There’s literally nowhere on our house that we can add where we’re not blocking some portion of our neighbors’ views,” said Michael Schmier, after outlining several measures taken to minimize the project’s impact on others.

Public comments indicated that the debate over this project has not only riven apart the community surrounding Verdun Avenue, but has rattled homeowners citywide.

There were fears on both sides that a negative precedent would be set with the council’s ruling. Some argued that the renovation’s failure to meet approval would frighten off homebuyers in the future, forfeiting their would-be investments to other Silicon Valley cities.

“My husband and I represent the current demographic who are buying in the neighborhood. We’re younger professionals, we have 30 years until we’re going to want to retire; restricting vertical additions will keep families away from San Mateo,” said local homeowner Renee Johnson.

But others expressed support for a view preservation ordinance as a means of protecting vistas that contribute to a home’s value.

“The adverse financial impact on the uphill neighbor’s property hasn’t been addressed… buyers are paying significant premiums for views,” said Sia Glafkides, a Verdun Avenue resident and real estate broker. “If Karen [Trudell] were to put the house on the market tomorrow, we would be required to disclose that ‘your view is going to be impacted.’”

The council’s unanimous denial of Trudell’s appeal ultimately turned on the fact that the Schmier project proposal complies with Planning Commission design guidelines as they currently stand.

Mayor Robert Ross encouraged those in favor of legally mandating view preservation to organize their efforts, while Councilman Jack Matthews indicated he wouldn’t support an ordinance to that effect.

“When you try to define the view and view equity, you’re up against a lot of interpretation about what’s really a valuable view and how do you parcel it out,” said Matthews.

“Just because you were there first, doesn’t mean you have a necessary right to that view in perpetuity,” Matthews added. “I think that’s a very regressive way of looking at things. We’re a community experiencing change.”

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S. Parker Yesko

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