Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Emergency Moratorium On Backyard/Side Yard Houses Extended For Six More Months

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

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously on Monday to extend the emergency temporary  moratorium on backyard / side yard houses for another six months, as Councilman Conlin said the City Council needed to give the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) more time to revise its recommendations.

Councilman Conlin said the Council will debate the issue again, as well as solicit pubic comment  in November, with the goal of having new, permanent building codes in place before the end of the year.

The moratorium prohibits the development of the smallest backyard / side yard lots, those 2,500 square feet and smaller.

One Home Per Lot  which consists of Laurelhurst residents living around theseshouse, as well as others citywide, is a a multi-neighborhood Seattle wide movement, which explains the issues in detail, shows how to get involved and details the developer, Dan Duffus,' track record and lists the effects these projects have had on neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Fremont, Wallingford and Montlake.

One Home Per Lot says of the six month extension: "Larger undersized lots are still fair game for developers -- and they've taken full advantage of that fact over the last year, rushing ahead with new and bigger backyard / side yard houses all across the city."

In Laurelhurst last year, a new property was segmented out of a larger one to build a tall skinny new house built on a very small lot, originally at 4812 NE 40th Street, and now with a new address of 4810 NE 40th Street, just southeast of Laurelhurst Park.

Duffus purchased the 80-foot wide property which included the whole of Lot 27, 30 feet of Lot 28, and 10 feet of Lot 26 (on which the garage was built). Duffus contacted the City for a letter stating whether the 30 feet of property that was once part of Lot 27 qualifies for development as a separate legal building site according to the Land Use Code.

Nick Jenkins, a Laurelhurst resident, who lives next door to a tall, skinny house, in Laurelhurst wrote a blog post last year, on his experience with the new construction home right next door to him.

The  skinny houses, which typically start at $700,000, are wedged into undersized lots, standing 25 feet tall (30 feet if they have a pointed roof). "To the surrounding neighbors, 25- and 30-foot tall backyard / side yard houses "feel like guard towers, cruise ships or skyscrapers," One Home Per Lot says.

To correct this issue, the Department of Planning and Development has proposed a new, lower height standard. But it's only three feet shorter than the old height. "Talk about an insult to all the citizens who took the time to call, write letters and attend the public hearings and forums," says the group.
One Home Per Lot has created this document to make the related codes / DPD recommendations easier for homeowners and City Council members, to understand, and included photos to show council members the direct impact these homes have on the neighbors. 

Here is a document showing sales prices of 36 skinny homes in the City, including  median sales price for each neighborhood, photos of each home, as well as links to each source.

According to Windermere real estate agent Michael Ravenscroft, there are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 backyard / side yard parcels still undeveloped in Seattle.  " That's hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential property tax revenue going missing -- revenue that could be used to fund schools, rebuild roads and much more," One Home Per Lot says.

They add:

The truth is the city, just like everyone else, has no idea where most of these historic parcels exist. So they can't be taxed. The vast majority aren't listed on any modern day plat maps. Even most of the homeowners who have these anomalies in their yards have no idea they exist.
The only people able to justify these things are a handful of savvy developers who dispatch subject experts into the city's archives to study old maps and paw through other historic documents.

By legitimizing these developers and their backyard / side yard lots, the city is doing itself (and its citizens) a great financial disservice.
Our group put forth a plan to the DPD showing how it could easily create a registry for these historic parcels. Anyone who owned one and really was counting on selling or developing it someday could register it. Then the parcels could be legitimately platted and taxed. We'd all know where they existed, which would remove much of the anxiety homeowners have about them. That idea, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears.

Here are a few of the numerous comments posted on the One Home Per Lot website:

SEATTLE WEEKLY, 7/24/12 - "Genevieve Giuliano, a professor of urban planning at USC, thinks Seattleites are being perfectly reasonable on restricting large homes on small lots. She says the kind of development Duffus does is not the way cities normally increase density, which happens at a more gradual pace. She adds that allowing the piecemeal creation of houses that are radically different from everything around them undermines the 'existing fabric' of a neighborhood.

SEATTLE WEEKLY, 7/24/12 - "Homeowners often don't know they have an extra little lot on their property, and many of the relevant records are tucked away in archives at Bellevue Community College. The records are so old that anyone who handles them is required to wear plastic gloves. Duffus says he doesn't do that himself, instead relying on a stable of real-estate agents who specialize in that sort of detective work, reaping the rewards when they sell the lots to developers."

SEATTLE WEEKLY, 7/24/12 - "Right now, the loophole does not trigger public comment; if a parcel qualifies, a builder permit is treated as a matter of right, explains Mills. The only hope for stopping a project is — as the Queen Anne couple is doing — to challenge a building permit in Superior Court. And that can only be done within a 21-day window, which is tricky since the lack of public notice means neighbors may not know what's in the works until too late."

Here are articles from the news about the 6 month extension of the moratorium:
Seattle Times
Seattle Weekly

For more infomation about One Home Per Lot go hereThe city has created a new website to keep residents informed about the issue.

The Laurelhurst Blog has done numerous posts about this issue, including the impact to Laurelhurst residents. Here is one in-depth post from last August on the Laurelhurst Blog.



Anonymous said...

under the current moratorium a lot under 3,750 square feet and zoned single family cannot go above a plate height of 22'. the continued theatrics that 'skinny houses' can be built up 25-30 feet on lots this size or smaller is just wrong and good reporting would do their homework and not put erroneous comments on record as fact. do you allow people to post comments or do people just not read this blog?

Laurelhurst Blog Staff said...

Here is information from One Home, Per Lot regarding your comment:

The building codes related to this issue -- and more specifically, all the of the exceptions and loopholes -- get very confusing very quickly. However, your reader is trying to confuse the issue even further with his/her comment:

- First, your reader refers to the "current moratorium" when, it appears, he/she really means to refer to the DPD's June 24, 2013, "Proposed Amendments" -- which have now been replaced by the DPD's September 16 proposed amendments. The "current moratoirum" is a temporary stop-gap to prohibit developers from building anymore backyard / side yard houses while the city council and DPD work on new building codes. It was recently extended and expires in six months. There's no sense in debating the details of a temporary stop-gap. However, just to be clear, under the "current moratorium," developers can only build backyard/side yard houses to a maximum height of 18 feet (on lots 3,200 square feet and smaller). So your reader got all the facts completely wrong in this case.

- As for the June 24, 2013 DPD recommendations, your reader is right: The DPD did RECOMMEND that backyard / side yard houses be limited to a height of 22 feet (for lots 3,200 square feet and smaller; note that you're reader says the limit is for lots 3,750 square feet and smaller, which is incorrect). HOWEVER, the DPD also recommended that developers be allowed to add five additional feet for a pointed roof. Add those two numbers together, and the total is 27 feet (enough for a three-story home with nine-foot ceilings and a vaulted ceiling for the top floor). Plus, the DPD recommended that builders be allowed to build even higher if they agree to a Type ll review of their project. Rather than trying to debate the issue in writing, just send your reader a link to this document, which illustrates the issue graphically:

- Yesterday, the DPD revised those recommendations. Now, the DPD is back to recommending a maximum height of 18 feet for backyard / side yard houses (on lots 3,200 square feet and smaller), with five additional feet allowed for a pointed roof, for a total height of 23 feet. However, in a nod to the architectural community, the DPD will allow developers to build as high as 22 feet (with five additional feet for a pointed roof) if the house is limited to two stories, and the additional height is applied to the first floor.

In short, what you have been reporting is correct. And part of what your reader is saying is correct. But other parts of what your reader is saying are incorrect and, it seems, an effort to confuse you and your readers.