A stunning design can come out of an intense, prolonged public approval process with patience and perseverance. Just ask architect Donald J. Ruthroff; he spent a year working to get the Palo Alto, Calif., architectural review board, made up of seven architects, to approve home designs for a 4-acre infill parcel. “Every time we would come back from the architectural review board [after members commented negatively about the home designs] literally we started all over,” recalls Ruthroff of Dahlin Group Architecture Planning. “We weren’t tweaking. I would sit down and we would start all over again. I kept saying that I didn’t want this to be a camel” a horse designed by committee.
In the end, the architectural crucible rendered clean-lined three-story homes with traditional forms without traditional froufrou. Ruthroff calls it a form-based approach, removing fussy shutters and pot shelves and adding interest through color and the textures of materials.
The method also took costs out. D.R. Horton was able to build the 37 alley-loaded homes, ranging from 2,259 to 2,312 square feet, for $92 per square foot. Buyers liked the plans, too, and they sold out within a year.
The judges praised the open feel and function, the solid plans, and the clean, well-formed exteriors—particularly on a houses only 24 feet wide.
The architectural review wasn’t the only component in the project that took a great deal of time. The development review process started nine years ago and took four years to complete. Then the recession kicked in and it sat idle for another three years. The approval was complicated because the site formerly had a grocery store that the nearby residents didn’t want to lose. In the final plan a smaller grocery store and retail component was included.
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