Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Contact State Reps Before Tomorrow's Meeting To Require City To Give Public Notice For Small, Skinny Home New Construction


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


"It could happen to you with no warning" was one Laurelhurst resident's comment when a tall, skinny home was built in 2012 on the 4800 block of NE 40th Street.

The house, southeast of Laurelhurst Park, sits on a piece of property only 30 feet wide, which was segmented out of a larger one only 80 feet wide leaving only three feet in between the houses.

Nick,  a Laurelhurst resident, who lives near a tall, skinny house, wrote a Blog post about his experience with the new construction home right across from him, titled, There Goes The Neighborhood — And Yours May Be Next.

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.

Tomorrow at 1:30pm in Olympia, State Representatives Pollet, Tarleton, Ryu, Santos and Gregerson will be introducing the legislation (HB 1084) at the state level, trying to force the City of Seattle to provide the surrounding neighbors with official notice when the Seattle Department of Planning and Development is considering allowing a developer to build a new, full-size home in the backyard or side yard of an existing home.

A number of Laurelhurst residents have joined a multi-neighborhood Seattle wide movement called One Home Per Lot, to fight small, skinny homes.

The group sent out this information about tomorrow's meeting:

Tomorrow is a very important meeting. We will be sending a representative to speak and encourage others to attend and testify. If you can't attend, please take a minute, before Thursday, to send an email (and / or call) in support of the legislation. Email or call each of the members of the House Local Government Committee (and copy Representative Gerry Pollet). Emails are found below.
"Small-lot housing" still has neighborhoods all across the city fired up. And the notification issue is an especially contentious element. 
As you may recall, in May of last year, the Seattle city council passed a new set of building codes for small-lot homes that included a notification requirement. However, it only applies to the smallest of undersized lots (those under 3,200 square feet) and does not include lot boundary adjustments (another way developers build on undersized lots). 
In that same piece of legislation, the city council also promised, in writing, to study the notification issue further. It's been eight months since that promise, and still no results.   
When Representatives Pollet and Tarleton proposed similar legislation last year, professional lobbyists for the building / development industry were the only people to speak -- and they were obviously very critical of the idea of notifying the neighborhood (developers love to work in secret). 
Here's an easy-to-understand summary of the building codes the city passed last year  and here's a complete summary of all that has transpired on this issue.

Here is information from Representative Pollett:

Neighborhood Community Council Members and Stakeholders,
This legislative session, I plan to introduce a bill to ensure that land use decisions affecting neighborhoods are made with notice to neighbors.  
This would end a massive loophole. Currently, neighbors have 21 days to challenge a land use decision, but it is not required that they are given notice of this decision. It is important for community members in a neighborhood to be able to have this be a transparent process. The Seattle Times covered the issue this past September.  
I would greatly welcome your input and or support for this proposal. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions. Please let me know if there are other community members you would like to be added to this list. For both, please CC my Legislative Assistant, Angie Weiss at

Bill Draft Summary:
·         Declares that the Legislature finds that due process requires notice to be given to adjacent landowners and residents within 300 feet of specified land use decisions, and declares the Legislature’s intent that the Land Use Petition Act’s (LUPA) statute of limitations does not run until notice is provided in accordance with statute.
·         Adds to LUPA a new date of issuance – i.e., the date that notice of certain land use decisions is effective – that must be considered in determining when LUPA’s 21-day statute of limitations begins to run.
·         Requires cities with a population of 500,000 or more to provide notice to adjacent landowners and residents of the following: applications for approval and approval of boundary line adjustments, and applications for approval and approval of preliminary short plats of short subdivisions. Applies only to Seattle, where this is a serious problem.
·         Defines the term “adjacent landowners and residents” to mean owners, residents, and persons who are both owners and residents of real property located within 300 feet of property subject to approval of a proposed preliminary short plat of a short subdivision or boundary line adjustment. 

Here is a letter the Laurelhurst Community Club wrote to Representative Pollett:


Dear Representative Pollet:

                The Laurelhurst Community Club strongly supports House Bill 1084 which would require notice to adjacent property owners of small single-family lot development.  Without a change in law, neighborhoods have 21 days to challenge a land use decision—but they have no notice of the decision. This is not due process. With the pressure for increased density, property lots continue to be subdivided far below the lot size specified in Seattle’s Land Use Code, as there are exceptions that allow this with no notice to affected neighbors.  These new developments more often than not exceed height and lot coverage restrictions and setback requirements.  Neighbors should have an opportunity to comment before the bulldozers show up.
Zoning loopholes, exploited by some developers, have resulted in building inconsistent with the height, bulk and scale of surrounding homes on lots as small as 1,050 square feet in Single Family 5,000 zones.  The Seattle City Council has addressed some of the issues with this small-lot development, but nonetheless, notice remains a major problem.  This infill development is destroying the character of neighborhoods with major adverse valuation and aesthetic impacts upon surrounding homes.  Below is an egregious example in Laurelhurst.

4845 NE 40th Street, Laurelhurst
Three-story house wedged into side yard
Zoning regulations and their consistent enforcement is the backbone of fair and diverse development within our city. Predictable plat sizes for adjacent buildings assure home owners that their investment in 30 years of payments will provide some equity for them in the future.
These small lot sized multi-story homes block the sunlight to adjacent yards, and eliminates the ability for the backyard neighbor to nurture a family garden for lack of sunshine.  In addition, existing privacy evaporates with the new intrusive views, and window placements.
At minimum, the Laurelhurst Community Club requests that adjacent neighbors and the community provided notice with this substandard development. 
The Laurelhurst Community Club supports the bill's specific requirement to give notice and an opportunity to comment:  Because of the impacts to surrounding properties, affected neighbors and community councils should have notice of proposed development on these undersized lots, an opportunity to comment and the right to appeal to the Hearing Examiner.  Currently, this exception is considered a Type 1 decision with no notice, opportunity to comment or appeal to the Hearing Examiner.  Because of lack of notice, impacted neighbors are most often not aware that a building permit has been issued until bulldozers arrive.  This means that the 21-day period to file a Land Use Petition Act appeal to Superior Court is unworkable.  With no notice of the permit and the possible delay between the granting of the permit and the commencement of work, the 21-day time period likely would have lapsed with no opportunity to engage legal counsel or to pursue legal right.
Nearby neighbors should not have to lose value in homes they’ve likely owned and worked on for decades due to the antiquated provisions in our local code.  Neighbors’ homes represent an investment they have counted on for their futures.  A standard, such as that listed in SMC 23.46.006, should be a part of any future proposed Code change.  That section states, “The use shall be determined not to be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property in the zone or vicinity in which the property is located.”  A similar provision exists in SMT 23.40.020C3.
House Bill 1084 offers protection at least from the state when local municipalities fail to provide notice to affected homeowners. 
Thank you for your sponsorship of HB 1084 and considering the comments of the Laurelhurst Community Club.  We urge you to do all you can to encourage other legislators to support this important measure.

Contact information for Representatives courtesy of One Home Per Lot:
- Representative Dean Takko (D), Committee Chair

- Representative Mia Gregerson (D), Committee Vice Chair

- Representative David Taylor (R), Committee Ranking Minority Member

- Representative Dan Griffey (R), Committee Assistant Ranking Minority Member

- Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D)

- Representative Joan McBride (D)

- Representative Bob McCaslin (R)

- Representative Strom Peterson (D)

- Representative Liz Pike (R)

- Representative Gerry Pollet (D), the sponsor of this bill

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