Home Buying in Palo Alto>Question Details

June, Home Buyer in Mountain View, CA

Can someone tell me what subdivision regulations for a lot in Palo Alto are? I am thinking about buying a big lot for home and subdividing it.

Asked by June, Mountain View, CA Fri May 3, 2013

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How about 144 Tennyson in Old PA (7500 sq ft lot)? It was subdivided into two lots, 3750 sq ft each fairly recently.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 10, 2013
Unfortunately two different attempts to divide the same property can yield very different results even within a fairly short time period. The goals of the planning department are constantly changing. Knowing how to present your proposed homes is important.

Theoretically I believe it is still very difficult to create a flag lot (the city started discouraging flag lots quite a few years ago). However it was done recently on Marion Ave. The property was fairly narrow (55') and long. One adjacent neighbor already had a flag lot, the other didn't.

A substandard lot in Palo Alto is one which is less than 50' wide or less than 83' deep. The city of Palo Alto will probably not allow subdividing if it will create a sub standard lot.

Currently a normal R-1 lot is one which is between 6,000 and 9,999 sf. Shortly after Steve Jobs bought his neighbors house, bulldozed it, and turned it into a small apple orchard, the city made it difficult to combine lots to create a larger one. The current "goal" seems to be to prevent anything which reduces the number of homes (which is good if you are wanting to subdivide).

A 30,000 sf lot recently sold for $4.2M in a typical Palo Alto neighborhood (California & Louis). It would probably be easy to turn it into three lots, but turning it into more will take time, effort and skill. If you are thinking to subdivide a Palo Alto lot the land will probably cost over $2M.

It would be quite difficult to exceed the maximum allowed lot coverage or the maximum gross floor area. People wanting to build large houses need to find a large lot.

For some general guidelines see

To read a short diary of my experience building a new house in Palo Alto see

Living in and having sold more properties through the MLS in Palo Alto than any other agent, I can assure you there are no simple rules. If you can make a strong case for subdividing it can be done. Your neighbors will likely fight anything which requires a variance. Don't hesitate to give me a call and chat or to send me an email.

Juliana Lee
Top 2 agent nationwide at Keller Williams Realty, the nations largest
Cell: 650-857-1000

Over 30 years experience (and many more ahead)
Over 1,000 homes sold in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties
Web Reference: http://julianalee.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri May 3, 2013
I am pretty sure the lot has to be at least 10,000 sq feet, but there are many variables with that depending on the neighborhood, set backs, size of home, etc. The city has the last word on whether a lot can be subdivided. It is a very tedious and expensive process and I can count on one hand with 4 fingers left over the number of times I have seen it done in the last 15 years and that lot was a lot more than 10,000 sq feet. I think it was at least 20K.

If the process was easy there would be a lot more developers who would be buying old homes on large lots and subdividing. There are very few parts of Palo Alto where the lots are 10K or more. There are a few in Barron Park in the back towards Bol Park but I know those lots are not allowed to be subdivided. There are large lots in Old Palo Alto but most of the time one is sold for lot value it is because the small house will torn down and a large one built in its place. I am guessing that people have tried and been turned down by the city.

Marcy Moyer
Keller Williams Palo Alto
DRE 01191194
Web Reference: http://www.marcymoyer.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri May 3, 2013
Palo Alto is a very unique town to develop in. Per-unit fees are twice those charged by any other city in the area and getting a lot split project through the city council can be tough.
I sold one of the largest parcels within city limits last year that will be subdivided for development (2.45 acres, $15.8M, closed in November - see "567 Maybell" under Sold listings in my Trulia profile).
Some parcels can be subdivided, some can't. You definitely want to check with the development department to get the straight scoop on zoning for the property you have your eye on.
That said, Palo Alto values are the best in Silicon Valley and if you can find a deal on a parcel it is without a doubt worth investigating.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri May 3, 2013

You may be able to get some general information in regard to your question in this forum. I do not think you would be wise, however, to make a decision based on the information obtained here in regard to the rules for dividing a lot and building a house in Palo Alto.

The City of Palo Alto Building Department is the place to get the correct information that you need. http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/pln/building/default.asp
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri May 3, 2013
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