(King County Assessor’s Office photo of 3650 55th SW in 1953, shortly after it was built)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While our coverage of – and your comments about – West Seattle development tends to focus on multi-family projects (with more than 2,000 apartments in the works), single-family-home development is intensifying too.
And because much of it is “infill,” since a city neighborhood like this tends not to have wide stretches of undeveloped land – it often touches the nerve related to the same issue that swirls around apartments: Density, which means taller structures with smaller footprints.
Citywide, the One Home Per Lot movement has gained attention – residents in various single-family-home neighborhoods opposed to new homes being built on smaller lots that were originally used as side yards or backyards.
Much of their scrutiny (as detailed in this Seattle Weekly story last summer) has focused on West Seattle developer Dan Duffus, who is a prolific “infill” developer, houses as well as townhomes and live-work units, here and around the city.
Duffus is co-founder of the Blueprint Capital funding group, which declares itself the leading residential-housing lender in the area, and which has a membership list including two companies who have just bought and are seeking to subdivide a corner site in a northwest West Seattle neighborhood where neighbors rallied this week as part of their attempt to stop the plan.
This fight is centered on the southeast corner of 55th and Manning (map), just south of west Schmitz Park, the former home of Marjorie Sansone. It’s highlighted in this screen grab from the King County Parcel Viewer:
The owner died last year at age 88. Nine months later – in mid-December – her estate closed the sale of the home and its 11,500-square-foot site for $860,000, according to county records, with this document showing its owners as two construction companies, All-Day Constructors LLC of Seattle and JMS Homes Inc. of Medina.
County records show All-Day Constructors as having completed the purchase of the house at 3650 55th SW on December 17, 2012, along with JMS Homes. The 11,500-square-foot property was described on the purchase document as three parcels, four lots. The document says lots 10 and 11, which hold the former Sansone house, now belong to All-Day Constructors; neighbors say those lots add up to 6,500 feet; lots 8 and 9, 2,500 square feet each, now belong to JMS Homes. (If you look closely at the historic photo atop this story, the four lot numbers are noted.)
A land-use-permit application filed by Ron Day of All Day that same day – December 17th – seeks to reapportion the site into three lots, with plans for two homes, one on 55th, one on Manning, with Mrs. Sansone’s 60-year-old home to remain, though a detached garage on the site is proposed for demolition as part of the plan.
The zoning for the area is single-family 5000 (square feet per lot), which, if you go strictly by that size, should allow two houses on the site, and that’s what neighbors say they would expect. But instead, DPD records show, in addition to the existing house remaining, one lot on 55th is slated for a new house, while one lot on Manning is slated for a new house. Those two are listed with Bill Richmond – point person for JMS Homes – as the applicant.
Neighbors say the city is due to decide this month – possibly within days – on the subdivision request, with the construction permits to follow. Their objections include the contorted form of the lots, and they provided this graphic:
They also are concerned about what they expect to be the size and shape of the homes, compared to the existing residences in the area. Their PDF also includes projections of how they believe the lot will be configured after construction:
The neighbors say the house they’re focusing on is the one on 55th – the one in red. The plans for both houses are already outlined on the Blueprint Capital website – 55th SW house here, and the SW Manning house here (though the “under construction” description is inaccurate) – both described as 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, 2,900 square feet.
They are among 52 in-progress or newly built Blueprint West Seattle projects, according to this map on the Blueprint site, including the 6 under-construction homes near Lincoln Park on which we reported a month ago.
This week, the neighbors of the 55th/Manning site took their concerns to a local TV station that was expected to show up for an interview on Wednesday morning. The Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council sent its mailing list an invitation to rally in support of the concerned residents, and that’s the first we heard of this neighborhood’s fight. We went over with the intention of checking out a rally, or at least finding out more about the neighborhood’s concerns. The neighbors say the TV station canceled at the last minute, telling them another story got in the way. But concerned neighbors, led by Dave Allen, stayed to talk.
About half an hour into the gathering, one of the new property owners, Ron Day of All Day Constructors, showed up, and was vocally upset to find the gathering outside the property. He declined to answer specific questions about his plans for the site, also noting that he owns only the section with the existing home, not the two sites for which new homes are proposed. But he contended that new homes would increase neighboring property values, while neighbors insist there will be a negative effect.
In a letter to the city, neighbor Dick Miller, former chair of the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council, wrote:
The character of our neighborhood is single-family homes, mostly mid-century, and allowing such a development would be ugly. Surely, with time and patience a single family with children can be found who would love to have the home with its large lot. This would preserve the architectural cohesiveness of our neighborhood.
Citywide concern about situations like this led to a moratorium of sorts last fall – as explained here on the One Home Per Lot website, – that apparently does not affect lots the size of those into which this parcel is proposed to be split, which is why the neighbors are particularly upset about the one L-shaped lot. They say two homes would make sense for the 11,500-square-foot site, but not three.
Miller’s letter also mentions that the laws should be changed so that neighbors get notice of changes like this, rather than having to “stumble across” them:
Our neighborhood stumbled across this project before the bulldozers arrived. The City should require all proposed lot line adjustments and developments to be announced well in advance, and underhand maneuvers such as this should be prohibited. The simple 5,000sf zoning rules should be uniformly followed.
City rules do say there are exceptions for lot size – see here – most often when other lots in the area are smaller than the size classification. Checking the King County Parcel Viewer, only one lot in the vicinity is smaller than 5,000, a 4,600-square-foot lot to the south.
The concerned neighbors say they have been contacting the city – from the Department of Planning and Development to Mayor McGinn‘s office – regarding the application. This is not the kind of proposal for which a public hearing would routinely be scheduled, so they also are talking to a lawyer to see what options they might have in the long run.
As for the status of the application – which neighbors thought could be decided as soon as next Monday – we asked Alan Justad, DPD spokesperson, who just replied: “Our internal due date of Jan. 14 is a target date; we use these for managing the permit process. It’s not a hard (and) fast date. In this case, I understand this project review will not be completed by the 14th, which is not unusual. I do not have an estimate at this time, though I would assume the review will end fairly soon.”