Hatfield-McCoy feud comes to Pleasanton
We've all heard about the legendary Hatfield-McCoy family feud of the late 1800s that pitted two back-country West Virginia-Kentucky families in a fight over property rights. Now, more than a century later, the feud has become a modern allegory for neighbors in the Old Town section of Pleasanton, especially along Second and Neal streets where long-term homeowners succeeded last week in denying a newer neighborhood couple from significantly upgrading the 100-year-old house at 205 Neal St. they bought three years ago.
It's a neighborhood feud that has played out since March 2009, when well-known Pleasanton Realtors Francine and Dave Cunningham asked the city planning staff for a permit to replace the existing small, 482-square-foot single story house with a new two-story home with 1,844 square feet of living space. Once completed, the Cunninghams planned to move into the rebuilt home, which is just a few blocks from their real estate offices on Main Street.
But Christine and Brian Bourg, also downtown property owners who live next door at 215 Neal St., objected when the Cunningham proposal went before the city Planning Commission. Brian Bourg and a group of neighbors expressed concern that the old house is on too small of a lot to accommodate the 2-1/2 story rebuild, would require more lot space than the city allows, and that it will look even more wedged in than it does already, depressing home values in the historic neighborhood. Christine Bourg said the loss of the "cottage" would be a loss of the city's history and implored the Cunninghams to save the house, restore it without changing its looks or size and move into the old family home.
Debbie Ayres, who lives on Second Street, said the neighborhood of historic homes and wide, tree-lined streets is unique to Pleasanton. Only a small number of people are fortunate enough to live in the downtown area and even fewer have the privilege to reside in historic properties. She believes that those who live in the Old Town neighborhood have a responsibility to preserve it. The people who first settled the area are gone, but the homes they built, including the small house at 205 Neal St., live on to tell their story.
Others, however, including Jon Harvey who is building a large home on the site of an older one in the neighborhood, questioned the "historic" references to homes in the area. Although Pleasanton's downtown is historic, most of the homes beyond the downtown district are not. "Historic Home" markers that were passed out to homeowners a few years ago have no authenticity, and no home in the area is designated by any government entity as historic.
Still, to keep peace in what they thought would be their future neighborhood, the Cunninghams hired Pleasanton architect Charles Huff to work with the Bourgs and city planners in making design changes that would satisfy their critics. Huff, whose home designs frequently resemble his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright, moved the Cunningham home's garage toward the back, cut back second floor front rooms, lowered the home's peak and made other design changes to provide a better streetscape view. Over a series of meetings, Planning Commissioners agreed that the new design met the city's requirements and approved the Cunningham petition 5-0.
The Bourgs and their neighbors appealed, asking the City Council to reverse that decision. They called the Planning Commission's acceptance "a very dangerous precedent (that) could open the door to similar homes being built on small sites right next to our historic homes." With the "Hatfields" and "McCoys" facing off in the council chamber and after a one-hour debate over the merits of the Cunninghams' proposal and the Bourgs' appeal, council members squared off as expected with Mayor Jennifer Hosterman calling Charles Huff's design "beautiful" and an improvement for the neighborhood, and Councilman Jerry Thorne also favoring the Cunningham plan, largely because the Planning Commission studied the application extensively and approved it.
Councilman Matt Sullivan, who has repeatedly said Pleasanton should not tear down its older homes because there are so few of them, voted to grant the Bourgs' appeal. So did Councilwoman Cindy McGovern, who said the proposed 1,844-square-foot rebuild would be just too big for the small lot it's on. Then came the stunning surprise: Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, who most thought would back the Cunninghams, instead voted in favor of the Bourgs' appeal, agreeing with McGovern that the proposed home would be too big for the site. The house at 205 Neal that looks much like the 100-year-old cottage that it is, will remain untouched and will likely become a more affordable rental in a neighborhood of $1-million-plus Victorians.