Someone has called us who just bought a house and wants to tear it down and build a new one.

When looking up the information for the property we discovered that the information that the Multiple Listing Service pulled from the County of Santa Clara County records had the wrong Zone for the property.  The correct Zone for the property is not Commercial (which, for a residential property, has its own issues). 

Its zoned R1-D.  The D stands for Design Review.  Meaning that this house cannot be simply torn down and a new one built in its place.

The house is in a historic part of town and changes to the structure will have to go through the Planning Department and, likely, have a Public Hearing regarding any project proposed by the owner.

Why is the zoning information wrong?  Who knows?  Could have been a simple clerical error years ago – our 4 bedroom house was listed as a 3 bedroom when we bought it, but it had always been a 4 bedroom! 

Why allow office buildings to encroach into a neighborhood?

The ‘commercial’ zone (actually Zoned O for Office)  takes a jog around 2 properties, this particular one and the one next to it and then jumps back to include the property at the corner.  And there is a office building next door.

Ultimately, it comes down to you, as the Buyer of the property, confirming information provided.  You don’t want to be surprised by something like this, that’s for sure.

Looking to buy a house?  Call the Planning Department and find out what the Zone is and what the rules are related to that Zone.  Some Cities/Counties have the information online, but many don’t.

Ask questions like: 

-What is the definition of the Zone?  Agriculture, Rural, Rural-Residential, Design Review, Hillside Design Review, Commercial, Multi-Family, PD are just some of the possibilities and each of these has its own process and rules associated with it.

-What are the setbacks (front, back, each side)?

-What is the allowed Floor Area Ratio?  This is the allowed ratio of house to land.  For instance, a 1000sf house on a 6000sf lot has an FAR of 16.6%  Some cities include the garage in the square footage and some don’t.  Some include the porch and some don’t.

-What is the allowed Lot Coverage?  This is the combined square footage of all buildings on the lot divided by the square footage of the land.

-Is there a height limit?

-Is there a limit to the number of buildings on the property?

-Can there be a Secondary Dwelling?

You have a responsibility to do your own legwork when you’re buying a house.  Sometimes information that seems concrete is wrong and its no one’s fault.  Get in detective mode, you’ll be glad you did 😉