Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Your Chance On Friday To Weigh In To City Council On Tall, Skinny Houses On Back/Side Yard Houses Built On Undersized Lots, Two Already In Laurelhurst

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


Friday at 2pm, City Council is holding a public hearing on side yard/backyard houses on undersized lots in SF zone and proposed building code changes.
Over the last several years, several skinny houses on small lots have been built in Laurelhurst, all the work of developer, Dan Duffus, who is well-known around the city for building the houses which are modern in style, towering 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,
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.

John Taylor, who lives directly behind the new home, commented in a 
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.

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

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing to amend the Land Use Code to establish new standards for development of single-family houses on undersized lots in single-family zones.  The new standards would replace interim standards first established by Ordinance 123978. 
Among other things, the proposed new standards would:
·           Establish a minimum site size of 2,500 square feet in area;
·           Eliminate use of tax records and historic mortgages as a basis for establishing lot size exceptions;
·           Require consolidation for redevelopment of adjacent lots with areas less than 3,200 square feet;
·           Clarify the “75/80 Rule” for establishing lot size exceptions;
·           Establish a new “100 Percent Rule” exception for establishing lot size exceptions that are equal to the mean area of lots on the same block front;
·           Establish a Type II discretionary review process with notice and the opportunity for appeal for development on sites less than 3,200 square feet in area;
·           Establish lower maximum height limit for development on sites less than 3,200 square feet in area;
·           Repeal a platting development standard related to short subdivisions where there are two existing houses; and
·           Make other minor clarifications and modifications to development standards.

One Home Per Lot.  a city-wide grassroots group monitoring large homes built on side and backyards of existing homes, said about the public hearing that "this will be your chance to sound off about the issue, face-to-face, with the city council members who will be making the final decisions about what the new building codes will be."

The group added that if the city council members don't hear from hundreds of citizens about this issue, "they'll assume the public has lost interest or is completely satisfied -- and they'll be that much more apt to cave in to pressure from the developers' lobbyists. So please don't
sit on the sidelines and expect other citizens to step up."
One Home Per Lot has been working the last 18-months to establish new building codes for backyard / side yard houses. Last month, City Council voted unanimously to extend the emergency moratorium on backyard / side yard houses for another six months while the Department of Planning and Development works on the recommended building code changes.

On April 2nd, the City's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, accepted the Department of Planning and Development's final recommendations on how to change the building codes for backyard / side yard houses. 

Next in the process is the Committee debating the recommendations internally, taking input from the public and then make their own changes to the recommendations before forwarding them to the City Council for a final vote.

One Home Per Lot believes that during this time, developer Dan Duffus  and other lobbyists, mainly including Smart Growth Seattle, the  developers' lobbying group, are all "pressuring City Council leaders to water down or eliminate aspects of the DPD's recommendations. These groups and individuals are well-funded, well-connected professionals who represent the developers' interests. They will be very vocal and assertive, and their messages to city council members will need to be countered by you."
Smart Growth Seattle, is also "the main staff contact for the Seattle Builders Council," as they identified themselves in a recent email to supporters, is "fighting against citizens' efforts to impose new building codes on backyard / side yard houses," One Home Per Lot said.

Roger Valdes, the main lobbyist for Smart Grown Seattle, told supporters in an email to write to DPD saying "Please don't implement the DPD recommendations without amendment and further discussion with people who build housing."
In their recent press release they said that "the greatest risk to our growing prosperity is a lack of housing choices for people in Seattle and those who are moving to our city."

Valdes also claimed that "because DPD staff has been so focused on new construction they may have failed to realize that all the limits they have written into their proposal actually close off the possibility of improving existing homes" which he says would include height restrictions on second floors to small homes, as KIRO reported recently.
One Home Per Lot said that unfortunately Smart Growth Seattle is "spreading this false rumor and they address it their report found on their website.
One Home Per Lot said the "developers' lobbyist is hoping that owners of existing small homes will become livid when they hear the city is trying to prohibit them from expanding their homes and will demand the city scrap the height limits in the new regulations, which would allow the developers to go back to building new, three-story houses on tiny backyard / side yard lots."
New height rules proposed by the DPD would also impact some existing small homes, in order to keep the owners of those homes, and developers, from turning them into tall skinny three stories high, One Home Per Lot told us. 
The DPD director's report states: "This is because the potential impacts on neighbors of a substantial addition to an existing house on a small lot would be no different than the impacts of an identical new house built on a vacant lot of the same size."
Katy, with the City Council, told us that:
As proposed, these standards would apply to new development as well as additions to existing structures.  Assuming that these standards are adopted, existing structures on lots less than 3200 s.f. in size that exceed maximum allowable heights could be rebuilt or expanded subject to rules for structures that are non-conforming to development standards.   

That essentially means that non-conforming structures could be rebuilt or expanded provided that the expansion does not increase the existing non-conformity.  
Regulations related to non-conforming structures can be found hereNote that there are also some existing allowances for dormers, clerestroies, and eaves on single family houses that don’t conform to height limits that can be found here.
The height restriction are contained in Section 6 of the council bill and state
Section 6. Subsections A and B of Section 23.44.012 of the Seattle Municipal Code, which Section was last amended by Ordinance 123978, are amended as follows:
23.44.012 Height (())limits
A. Maximum (()) height established (())
1. Except as permitted in (()) subs ection 23.44.041.B, and except as provided in (())subsections 23.44.012.A.2 and (()) 23.44.012.A.3 , the maximum permitted height for any structure not located in a required yard is 30 feet.
2. The maximum permitted height for any structure on a lot 30 feet or less in width is 25 feet.
3. For a lot or unit lot of any width, if the area of the largest rectangle or other quadrilateral that can be drawn within the lot lines of the lot or unit lot (())is less than (()) 3,200 square feet (()) the maximum permitted height for any structure on that lot (()) shall be (()) 18 feet(()) unless the structure's height is further restricted by other code provisions , provided that structure height up to 22 feet is permitted for a principal structure with habitable floor area on no more than two partially- or fully- above-ground floors, and top-of-floor-to top-of-floor height is at least 10 feet at the level of the main entry .
4. The method of determining structure height and lot width is detailed in Chapter 23.86, Measurements.
Smart Growth Seattle also implies in their communications that their is a housing crisis, which the DPD discredited as written in a January Seattle Times article in which Tim Hauger, the comprehensive-plan manager for the Department of Planning and Development said that Seattle currently has triple the housing capacity necessary to accommodate growth targets through the year 2024. "We have over 50 years growth capacity across the city."

"This isn't the first time Smart Growth Seattle has promoted backyard / side yard houses as the best solution for an invented problem," One Home Per Lot said. Here is a list of Smart Growth Seattle's past arguments. "all of which have been exposed as clever distortions of the truth."
Smart Growth Seattle sent an email sent to the group's supporters "revealing why they are  working so hard to fight any new building codes." In the email, the developers' lobbyist said that the developers funding Smart Growth Seattle simply want more building permits for the small-development projects they specialize in creating."
They're not interested in solving any housing problems. And they're not concerned about the concerns of neighborhoods. They just want to do more building (and backyard / side yard houses are building projects that are very, very lucrative for this small group of small-scale developers)," One Home Per Lot said.

In the email, lobbyist Roger Valdez writes: "This is the year we can, together, change the civic conversation in Seattle about housing. The question this year we'll be asking is what is the city doing to increase the number of housing choices people have in Seattle" and thereby increasing housing supply by permitting more housing?

One Home Per Lot reported recently that backyard / side yard houses can be devastating to the surrounding property values, according to a professional appraiser  saying:
When a professional appraiser appraises a home, he relies on data from the recent sales of "comparables." Those are homes much like the house being appraised. And because backyard / side yard houses are typically unlike anything else in the neighborhood (they're new, they sit on half-sized lots, are usually ultra-modern in design, and sell for an average of 35% more than the neighborhood's median), they are never, ever going to be used in a comparable analysis. 
In other words, the high prices that backyard / side yard houses sell for (an average of $727,926) don't positively impact the value of surrounding homes, because the backyard / side yard house would never be considered a comparable. 
However, the appraiser  will most likely factor in the environmental impact of the backyard / side yard structure (and that's never positive). 
Sitting 27 feet tall (that's the equivalent of three stories), and squeezed into a backyard or side yard,  backyard / side yard houses block sunlight to the neighboring houses, block views and, because they typically tower over all the surrounding homes and yards, they rob the neighbors of the privacy those homeowners once enjoyed. 
That loss of sunlight, views and privacy can easily drag down the appraised value of the surrounding homes by tens of thousands of dollars. Those were valuable attributes that the current homeowner paid handsomely for, and the associated benefits are now missing or negatively impacted. 

One Home Per Lot strongly urges City Council to notify surrounding neighbors when a backyard / side yard house is being considered for approval on their block as well as  notifying the current homeowner when a developer asks DPD for pre-approval to split the homeowner's property into two lots, which means the property is now worth twice as much money. This would prevent more homeowners from selling to developers at far below actual market value.

"While a good step in the right direction, the DPD's current recommendations need improving if they are going to have a chance at successfully addressing the problems that are roiling neighborhoods all across the city of Seattle. This document details the changes that should be made," One Home Per Lot said.
If you can't attend the public hearing, you can write or call the City Council members and provide input through 5pm tomorrow.

Here is contact information for the four members serving on Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee:
And here is contact information for the other City Council members::

Here is what One Home Per Lot suggests to say to City Council:

While a good step in the right direction, the DPD's current recommendations need improving if they are going to have a chance at successfully addressing the problems that are roiling neighborhoods all across the city of Seattle.
This document details the changes that should be made.

Copies of the proposal are available from the City Clerk’s website,  Reference Council Bill No. 118052 or go here.

For more information contact Andy Kim of DPD at 206-684-8737.

One Home Per Lot can be reached at and here.


No comments: