Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Comments Due Tomorrow To City DPD On Skinny Side Yard Houses In Response To Their Draft Proposal On New Regulations And One Home Per Lot's Analysis

House at 4812 NE 40th Street built on small side yard oringially part of home next door

Tomorrow is the deadline to submit comments or appeal on the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD)'s draft proposal on tall houses built on small side yards, which was released on June 27, as well as DPD's related environmental review (under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and decision.

 Here are instructions for commenting and the appeal process. The draft ordinance, Director’s Report, and SEPA materials are on DPD's project documents page.

City Council's Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee will first review the amendments, followed by the City Council, who will then hold a public hearing, most likely in August. The goal is for the permanent standards to be adopted by September 2013, as intended under interim Ordinance number 123978.

Information about the draft ordinance, Director’s Report, and SEPA materials are here.  For more information, contact Andy McKim at 206-684-8737 or

Several skinny houses on small lost have sprouted up in Laurelhurst over the last few years, the work of developer, Dan Duffus, who is well-known around the city for building the houses which are modern in style, tower over the established homes beneath them and don't fit in with the character of the neighborhood..

One  is located at 4812 NE 40th Street in Laurelhurst, which sits on a piece of property 30 feet wide, and was segmented out of a side yard which was a total of only 80 feet wide. The house covers all the land, except for 10 feet of the house's previous yard.

The Seattle Times reported that the 1924 house and side yard were sold to a developer for $815,000 in 2012, then it was resold without the side yard for $760,000. The new 3-story home next door is expected to list for $1.5 million dollars.

John Taylor, who lives directly behind the new home, commented in a recent  Seattle Times article, that  looming presence over his back yard is like “a guard tower.” He said the neighbors had no notice from the city or the developer that a new house was being crammed in between two existing houses, on what had been the old house’s yard.

“The city identified the side yard as a separate building site even though it had never been taxed as such and had never been bought and sold as such,” Taylor said. “What offends me is that it’s completely unexpected and random.” 

Nick Jenkins, another Laurelhurst resident, who lives next door to a tall, skinny house, has posted his experience going through the construction process and now living with one of these houses right next door to him. His blog post titled "There goes the neighborhood and yours may be next" can be found here

Laurelhurst residnts living around these tall, skinny houses, as well as other residents citywide, 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.

DPD writes in their review, which lists new regulatations that  "new construction in neighborhoods will better meet the needs of current residents as well as new residents and owners who acquired a property before the adoption of the new requirements will maintain a reasonable opportunity to benefit from their investment."

And the end result will be that "our Land Use Code amendments will help promote new construction that fits in with the character of the surrounding neighborhoods."

One Home Per Lot says that "not surprisingly, DPD finds the changes will not have an adverse impact on the ecological environment. In general, the recommendations are a good step, but don't go far enough to satisfy us. Thankfully, the DPD has decided not to recommend the ridiculous "80 Rule" promoted by the developers' paid lobbyist."

Here is One Home Per Lot's recommendations after reviewing DPD's recent release of the draft proposal.

Here is the latest update and news regarding their battle against backyard/side yard houses:

KOMO TV is the first to report on a three-story, ridiculously skinny side yard house now under construction in the Roosevelt neighborhood.  The lot is only 1,750 square feet, and the foundation for the house measures just 30-feet by 18-feet. Yet, at three-stories, this toothpick of a house will loom over all the neighboring homes. The developer was able to get approval for the project just days before the emergency moratorium took effect last year. Now that construction
has begun and neighbors can see the impact, the community is rallying in opposition.

Two neighborhoods and one independent homeowner have now taken different aspects of this issue to the courts. All three cases are now pending (two in county superior court, one in federal court), and any one of those could set a precedent in how backyard/side yard houses are constructed in the future.

As you know, the city of Seattle Department of Planning and Development floated some preliminary solutions to this issue (changes to current building codes) in March and asked for feedback from citizens.

We expect the city council's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability committee to officially start reviewing, debating and revising those recommendations at the end of July (we understand it takes about 30 days for other city departments to review the recommendations before the city council can start working on them).

The Seattle City Council has less than 10 weeks to debate the issue of small lot development internally, get public input and draft final legislation.

Public hearings (your chance to publicly sound off on the issue again) will most likely occur in August.

Note: If the city council is not able to do all of the above, and vote on a final bill before September 10 (the end of the temporary emergency moratorium), the moratorium will be extended.

The city has created a new website to keep you better informed about this issue.

The One Home Per Lot workgroup that's been lobbying the city and DPD from the beginning recently established an end-game strategy and will now begin implementing it. But to be successful, they'll need your continued support -- and your help gathering more supporters (see note below).

Please encourage those people to sign up to receive our emails directly from One Home Per Lot here on our new supporter registration page.  Please take a minute to sign your name to the list -- and ask your friends and neighbors to sign it as well (anyone who thinks backyard/side yard houses need more controls placed on them).  We need to show the city council that there's widespread support for our efforts to reign in the spread of backyard / side yard houses.

Gathering more supporters, and officially documenting their numbers, is going to be very important moving forward. City council insiders have made it abundantly clear that we need our supporters to make themselves visible -- and make themselves heard -- if we're to be successful in overcoming the developers' professional lobbying efforts.

Here is a sample letter to City Council:

Dear friends,
The citizens' group responsible for Seattle's temporary moratorium on new backyard / side yard houses is gearing up for a final push to reign in the spread of these structures (full-size homes being built in the backyards and side yards of existing homes).

I'm a supporter of their efforts, and they've asked me to encourage any interested friends and neighbors to also become supporters.  Becoming a supporter of the One Home Per Lot group takes less than 30 seconds. There's no obligation on your part (no requests for membership, money, etc.), the updates they send are very helpful, and your personal information will not be shared, sold, spammed or otherwise abused. It's just a loose-knit group of citizens trying to make a difference on this issue.

Allowing backyard / side yard houses to be built 27 feet tall (with a pointed roof, as currently proposed) only adds to the fire risk for all the surrounding structures.

The "engineered" construction materials used for these projects (to reduce costs and speed construction) are created with glues and chemicals, which makes them far more flammable than traditional wood. The taller they are, the hotter they burn (and the harder they are for firefighters to extinguish). Plus, remember, most backyard / side yard house are only required to have a five-foot setback from the property line -- which puts these fire hazards within easy striking distance to the surrounding homes.

It's a very dangerous combination. And fire departments across the country are sounding the alarm.
Will Seattle's city council listen?

Here's what the National Fire Protection Association has to say about the subject.


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