If you team up with a reputable, local developer in Atherton you can get a pretty good sense of what is possible before ever approaching the planning department. Your builder can arrange for a survey and help orchestrate the permit process on your behalf.
Hope this helps!
Do you know if the existing home would benefit from grandfathered in setbacks or other attributes?
I could recommend a local builder and architect that could give you some thoughts. Please email me from my profile.
Atherton loves Atherton's look and feel, so when thinking about a remodel, look at the street and the look and feel of the other homes and then when proposing, to get the easiest yes, don't veer too far from the status quo!
Then for the best guidance, it's a good idea to pick up the phone with the APN of the property, and have a conversation with an actual planner, or even better, go into the planning department in person with your APN intact and your plans in mind.
I was a news reporter for over a decade covering California cities and planning departments! Don't be afraid to just go in and have a frank conversation with someone about your actual plans. You might be surprised how much is possible that you may not even have considered.
You also may want to give the Pacific Peninsula Group a call. They have built or remodeled custom homes in Atherton (over 80 of them!).
Atherton is the wealthiest town in California, the second richest place in America and the nation's third most expensive zip code.
getting permits for anything anywhere on the Peninsula is NEVER EASY.
a remodel permit is typically easier than a new build permit.
each city defines remodel differently.
i would just go to the building and planning departments and speak with the people there about your ideas. you will get a good sense of what will be involved.
Whether its Atherton or any town along the Peninsula, it's always easier to remodel a home without changing the footprint of the building as compared with building a brand new home. In remodeling a home, the owner will certainly need to upgrade the electrical and the plumbing and some portions of the structure, but this type of job seldom requires the same level of expertise or studies as would a home. Most new home projects require soils engineering reports, structure engineering reports, architectural reports, designers--not to mention all of the people/trades required to complete the home. Unless you've personally overseen such large scale construction, you might find the job of building a home from scratch to be a bit more complicated than you could imagine.
On the other hand, a remodel of existing property, usually requires far less studies (usually architect and decorator) and the trades involved in the interior work. You'll also find far less of personal and financial investment required for a remodel.
The procedures for obtaining building permits is the same in all towns and cities in Caifornia. Population density plays a big part in the ease of meeting with a planner to get approvals. In Atherton, the procedure is simple but the City values its community architecture and aesthetics, so a home that differs drastically in appearance from those along an established street might have a harder time obtaining approval from the planner than one that "blends" into the existing street scape and architecture.
Good luck. For more information about planning in Atherton, talk with their City Planning and Building Department representatives.
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