Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vote To Close Loophole On Tall, Skinny House Construction Approved, Community Needed At Thursday Public Hearing

Tall, skinny house under construction in Laurelhurt

Sue, a Laurelhurst resident, living near a tall, skinny house under construction at 4812 NE 40th Street sent us this update:
Yesterday afternoon (Monday, September 10) the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the emergency ordinance to close a loophole in the City's Land Use Code that, in Land Use Chair Richard Conlin's words, "allowed developers to build large houses on very small lots by manipulating lot lines intended for tax purposes."  His full explanation of the ordinance and its importance is pasted below. 
Citizens from Laurelhurst, Wallingford, Fremont, Queen Anne, Montlake, and West Seattle turned out in force to speak in favor of the ordinance.  Laurelhurst was well represented at the microphone  by homeowners Sue Donaldson,  John Wilson and John Taylor.    
The next step is a meeting at 9:30 a.m. this Thursday, 9/13, to start the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee's 6-12 month process to draft/approve permanent legislation. The community needs to make a strong showing at this meeting too, so please try to attend and share your suggestions about how to make any future backyard/side yard houses more accommodating to neighbors and neighborhoods. This is a public hearing (they want the public to speak, and the council members are prepared to listen). 

Also, on the Fox 13 newscast, the Laurelhurst structure (including before and after shots) was featured (and wrongly identified as being in Wallingford).  The news piece did not  mention that this house, like others around town, is a spec house.  KOMO 4 and the Seattle Times also covered the vote (the Times also had a good advance piece in Monday morning's paper).
Here are the details of Thursday's meeting from 9:30-10:30am at City Hall, 600 4th Avenue: 
Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee - SPECIAL MEETING
You must arrive at 9:00 to sign up to speak during the meeting (Conlin says it's important to not only show up, but also speak up). In order to keep the developers' supporters from dominating the sign-up sheet, plan to arrive and sign up at 8:45. You'll have a maximum of three minutes to speak. 
One Home Per Lot organizers point out that this is is a great chance to be heard: "You can still point out how wrong the backyard/side yard house in your neighborhood is, but you might add what you think could have been done to make it better (i.e. maximum of two stories, smaller footprint, require design review of the plans, require notification of the neighbors, etc.).  The work of the committee from this point forward is focused on solutions and you have a unique perspective to add input early in the process." 
Councilmember Richard Conlin, who chairs the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee, explained its substance of the impact in the following email: 
The emergency ordinance is a rarely-used procedure in which the Council can act quickly to provide a short term fix (stopping problem activities) while it considers legislation for a long-term solution; in this case, land use standards that make sense on very small single family lots.  Emergency ordinances are defined under State law, and expire after one year. 
The emergency ordinance brings these lots into conformance with other lots under the City's land use regulations by preventing development on lots that are less than 50% of the square footage defined as a minimum size in the underlying zoning.  It also ends the use of historic property tax records as a basis for qualifying for minimum lot area exceptions, and allows development of lots with an area up to 75 percent of the general minimum lot area of the zone (i.e. lots up to 3,750 square feet in an SF 5000 zone), but only up to a limit of 22 feet in height (2 stories).  Owners of existing houses on small lots retain the right to renovate, replace, or expand their houses. 
Under the State code governing emergency legislation, the Council will hold a public hearing on Thursday, September 13, at 9:30 AM in the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee to hear comments on this legislation and on the plans for next steps.  The Council legislation also creates a work plan for developing permanent legislation to address this issue.  Under the work plan, new legislation will be developed by the end of this year, go through environmental review, and come to the City Council in the spring of 2013. 
This legislation is not about density - the modest number of homes that can be built under this loophole are not a significant addition to the housing stock.  It is certainly not about affordable housing.  It is about replacing a random pattern with no rhyme or reason, dependent on a developer happening to find archaic lot lines that were not intended to define a buildable lot, with planning in a systematic and thoughtful way.   
The neighbors who brought this to the Council had already been impacted:  houses have been built or permits granted that affect their houses.  They should be applauded for their willingness to engage in community and civic action unselfishly, out of altruistic concern to prevent their fellow residents from having the same negative experience.  This is a great example of democratic engagement:  people mobilizing not out of a desire for profit, but in order to maintain healthy communities.  Thank you for your commitment and involvement. 
Councilmember Richard Conlin
Chair, Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee

No comments: