Monday, September 10, 2012

Neighbors Urge Community To Call City Council Today To Stop Backyard And Side Yard Tall, Skinny Houses On Small Lots

Photo courtesy of OneHomePerLot

"It could happen to you with no warning" was one Laurelhurst resident's comment, among many comments we received,  after our post on Friday about developer Dan Duffus' current tall, skinny house under construction at 4812 NE 40th Street. 

The house, southeast of Laurelhurst Park, sits on a piece of property 30 feet wide, which was segmented out of a larger one, only 80 feet wide. Many of Duffus' houses sit only 3 feet from the next door neighbor's house.

Dan Duffus, a developer, is well-known around the city for building these tall skinny houses on very small lots, of which the houses are  modern in style, towering over the established homes beneath them and don't fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

City Council will vote today at 2pm whether to pass Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin's emergency legislation to stop the continuation of tall, skinny houses. The legislation would require lots to be at least 50% of the size of a legitimate building lot and would restrict the size of houses in lots smaller than 3750 square feet to that of an accessory dwelling unit. Here is an article in the Seattle Weekly about the legislation.
Neighbors are urging residents to call or email City Council right away to give input on this important issue, which could affect anyone in the neighborhood and city-wide.

Duffus, is not only the developer on these homes, but  also finances the builders he works with through is company Blueprint Capital, which last year financed 32 percent of the new homes in Seattle priced between $400,000 and $1 million. Duffus told a a neighbor that he has built about 100 homes on small lots in the city.

A number of Laurelhurst residents have joined a multi-neighborhood Seattle wide movement called One Home Per Lot in which the website explains the issue in detail, shows how to get involved and details Duffus' track record and lists the effects these projects have had on neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Fremont, Wallingford and Montlake, to name only a few throughout Seattle. Here are photos of Duffus' homes throughout the city.

The website says "No more backyard and side yard houses. Building a new house in the backyard or side yard of an existing Seattle home doesn’t seem like it should be legal. And that’s the problem. It’s only possible if the developer finds a historic tax parcel, then pursues this little-known building code loophole".
Nick Jenkins,  a Laurelhurst resident, who lives next door to a tall, skinny house, in Laurelhurst sent us his blog post on his experience with the new construction home right next door to him.

His blog post titled "There goes the neighborhood and yours may be next" can be found here. We have posted his entire entry below.

Also Sue, who also lives next door to the skinny house under construction in the neighborhood told us about a recent Seattle Times article that she says is:
".. yet another  good explanation of the problem, despite failiing to challenge the developers' talking point about penalizing elderly people who were counting on the income from the extra lot.  Several problems with this argument (a) since it's linked to the land's 1957 status, the original owners would have to be very, very senior citizens, b) in many cases owners  are unaware that their lots can be legally built out in this way, so the developer reaps the profits, not the original seller.   
For a fuller explanation see the Blaine Street Preservation Association Facebook page.  While there, scroll down and see the property being exploited there.



Nick Jenkins, Laurelhurst resident, post from his Family Blog:

There Goes The Neighborhood — And Yours May Be Next
Last month, construction began across the street on a new dwelling directly across the street from Casa de Jenkins. And this isn’t going to be an ordinary dwelling — a word I chose instead of “house.” Seems a local developer named Dan Duffus of Soleil Development found a loophole in the Seattle Building Code that allows for second homes to be squeezed on to certain lots where formerly only one home existed. (More.) Duffus either subdivides the lots and builds on the new lot or, as is the case across the street, flips his newly-created sliver to another developer for building.
The projects are often financed by Blueprint Capital, another Duffus company. The result — well, they’re almost as hard to believe as they are to look at (see for yourself: 1I2). The dwelling across the street from me will be an ultra-modern one on a block full of traditional homes and, at three stories, will tower over the surrounding houses. Ironically, it’s being built by a Blueprint member company called “Classic City Homes.” No fewer than three neighbors will lose their sunlight to the new Laurelhurst tower, which doesn’t look like it’s going to be “classic” anything.
Seattle-area developers are using a little-known building code loophole to squeeze two oversized dwellings where one used to be
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. According to the pictures in the document numbered “1″ above, Duffus and other developers are building these ultra-modern “skinnies” in Seattle neighborhoods otherwise full of Craftsmans and Colonials: “skinnies” because these two-homes-on-one-lot homes are understandably quite narrow (the one across the street from our house is eighteen (18) feet wide) and usually a story or so higher than the surrounding neighbors. And there’s more on the way: according to this Seattle Weekly article, Duffus has no fewer than forty-three other projects in the works. And given the alacrity with which Duffus obtains building permits — the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) gave him the project across from us in one month (hmmm …) —
Seattle-ites can expect to see more of what one commenter called “3 story refrigerator boxes” in their neighborhoods sooner rather than later. Already plans have been approved for such projects in Queen Anne, Ravenna, Bryant, Laurelhurst, Seward Park and Wallingford to name a few. Worse are reports that a Bothell real estate research firm called New Home Trends is developing software that will enable developers to easily identify parcels eligible to be subdivided under the existing loophole. If that software hits the market, expect to see these eyesores popping up in side yards everywhere.
The good news is that someone’s doing something about it. Wallingford resident Peter Krause has organized a group of Seattle-ites who prefer not to see more dwellings wedged into back- and sideyards. Some of them now have or will have their sunlight blocked out by these skinnies. The grassroots group is well organized and has a friend in the City Council in Richard Conlin (e-mail:, who is putting together “one lot, one home” legislation that would close the Duffus-exploited loophole.
formerly only one existed.
I couldn’t imagine anyone would oppose such a fix — wouldn’t you be outraged if Duffus or another developer wedged one of these buildings in your neighbor’s former backyard? — but the Krause group is expecting opposition. Apparently one councilperson is already defending the status quo because developers create construction jobs. But jobs should never be the only concern for policymakers. Legalized cocaine would result in jobs at cocaine processing plants, but no one would seriously argue that those jobs would justify legalized blow. I can see the status quo being defended, too, on the grounds that private property rights are, after all, rights, and even big bad developers like Duffus are entitled to them. That argument is fine as far as existing projects go, but if the City extinguishes the right to squeeze two dwellings on to a single lot then that right would no longer exist, making the property rights argument a nonstarter.
 The legislation will also no doubt draw criticism from the anti-suburban sprawl crowd on the grounds that it’s anti-density. No one’s more for density than me — but within reason. The “we want density” argument could be justified to eliminate all setback requirements or to justify allowing multi-family apartments in single-family zoned areas: certainly not even the most ardent density advocates would go for that. My fear, however, is that the vote on Conlin’s legislation to come will have more to do with the money than merits. If that’s how it plays out, the grassroots Krause group will be hard pressed to overcome Duffus’s connections and campaign contributions.
Seattle-ites can and should act before their neighborhoods are affected. As per the “Stop It” page on, concerned citizens can, inter alia, e-mail Conlin (e-mail: to voice support for his upcoming legislation. Or they can sign this online petition at Or they can contact Duffus’s West Seattle/Queen Anne development company and simply ask him to spare their neighborhoods — at the very least by building homes that conform in character to the surrounding neighborhoods. (That’s my tactic, not OneLot’s.) If the guy isn’t completely evil to the core, he’ll consider such requests.
Across the street from casa de Jenkins they’re squeezing a three-story modern into what used to be a small sideyard. Total space between houses — three feet.

Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about the project across the street. As per state law, once a building permit is issued the right to build vests — the City cannot take that right away. No public notice is required under this loophole, so no one can do anything about it. The dwelling is being constructed at break-neck speed, and I seriously doubt the builder will stop midstream to consider the neighbors’ feelings.

According to reports a Queen Anne couple asked Duffus to minimize the impact of one of his projects by building a two-story building instead of a three-story one. He agreed — for $100,000. (They declined.) After losing my kids’ college funds to a Louisiana parish as the result of some serious Olympia overreaching (more), I’m a tad short.
Here’s hoping the Seattle City Council acts before other Seattle-ites are forced to reach into their pockets to prevent neighborhood ruin. If the Council votes “one home one lot” legislation down — well, you’ll know who it’s working for. Unless your name is Dan Duffus, it’s not you.

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