Almanac

News - June 8, 2011

Portola Valley planners examine proposal to divide Shorenstein estate

by Dave Boyce

Portola Valley's traditions of environmental stewardship and rule-based consideration of homeowners' plans were on display Wednesday evening, June 1, as the Planning Commission began its review of a proposal to subdivide the 11.6-acre Westridge neighborhood estate belonging to the heirs of real estate magnate Walter Shorenstein.

The proposal before the commission would initiate preparation and approval of a map subdividing the property at 1260 Westridge Drive into three parcels. The proposal will return for further discussion and comment from the public, probably in July and after a mid-June review by the Architecture and Site Control Commission.

The spacious main house was reportedly a getaway for Mr. Shorenstein, who was a generous friend of the Democratic Party, an ardent fan of Portola Valley's character, and a not infrequent host of notable politicians. Mr. Shorenstein died in June 2010.

The proposal would allow a future owner to subdivide the property and either sell the parcels for separate residences or develop them, such as by adding a guest house.

In considering the estate's future, town officials will be dealing with features that, under current law, are either questionable or not allowed. For example, the property is now in violation of maximum square-footage limits for floor area and impervious surfaces, such as tennis courts and driveways.

Such structures would be allowed to stay, but if significantly altered, they would be subject to the updated regulations, including town scrutiny of the plans. A kitchen remodel would likely not be problematic, but something like an additional bedroom would be because it would change the home's exterior, Town Planner Tom Vlasic said.

Corte Madera Creek borders the property, which has two wells within the creek setback, both 80 feet deep. The commissioners wondered whether all three parcels could use the well water, and whether the wells have a role in a reported phenomenon: Water is seen flowing in the creek as it nears the Shorenstein property but has "no flow visible" leaving the property, noted Commissioner Leah Zaffaroni.

Some of the property's fencing would not be acceptable today, but because it is covered with foliage that screens neighboring properties, it should probably stay, Mr. Vlasic said.

During the public comment portion of the discussion, former mayor Jon Silver argued that the proposal "seems non-committal on historic preservation," and advocated for an unambiguous statement about the house's historic value. He also spoke of a priority to restore it.

"It does seem to me that there ought to be an improvement to the status quo," he said.

"I think the assumption is that (the house) would be preserved," Ms. Zaffaroni said.

While the house is not officially listed as historic, Mr. Vlasic said, the town would not take lightly a plan that would seriously change it.

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