West Seattle microhousing: 3050 SW Avalon Way adds three stories; DPD director @ Southwest District Council

June 6, 2013 at 11:37 am | In Development, Southwest District Council, West Seattle news | 40 Comments

While “microhousing” – residential buildings with up to 8 individually rentable sleeping units sharing each kitchen – is old news for some neighborhoods in Seattle, it’s still somewhat new here in West Seattle, with several projects in the works but none yet completed. Today, two bits of news – first, a proposed microhousing building has revised its plan, triggering an official notice from the city today; second, we have toplines from Department of Planning and Development director Diane Sugimura‘s appearance at the Southwest District Council meeting last night.

First, the revised project at 3050 SW Avalon Way, currently the overgrown lot shown above: The revision notice says it is now proposed as a seven-story, 102-bedroom, no-parking building. It was proposed for four stories when we last mentioned it in March. The revision triggers a new comment period, through June 19th; here’s the form you can use to comment.

Ahead, what DPD director Sugimura told the district council last night – and the meeting attendee whose group is opposed to more regulation:

Some at the meeting were unsure what “microhousing” meant, so Sugimura started with something of a primer, explaining that the city allows up to eight people per housing “unit,” so developers started creating projects with one common kitchen for multiple units. She added, “I believe they are affordable housing that is being provided by the private sector rather than using levy money and all that … they tend to rent between $500-$700/bedroom, you don’t get a lot of space and it’s not for everybody, but if you only have (that much) for housing and you don’t want a roommate or to share a house or apartment or move further out and have transportation expenses, there are a number of people who find these serve a purpose for a time in their life.”

The city’s been dealing with concerns including that these projects were hard to detect because the plans were being filed with only a mention of how many “units” – each kitchen area counting for one unit, even if it was serving up to eight individually rentable sleeping rooms – they had, while developers were applying for tax exemptions (documents that are harder for the public to access) listing the total number of sleeping units. So for example, the newly revised Avalon Way project mentioned above is on the books as “14 units” with “102 bedrooms.”

Last week, three City Councilmembers issued a memo voicing their concerns about microhousing and what they would like to see DPD do; Sugimura says, “most of these were things we were working on.” Read the memo here.

SWDC co-chair Karl de Jong expressed concern about the concept in general, saying it sounded somewhat like “tenement housing.” Sugimura disagreed with that characterization, but in the end, said that challenging the existence of this classification of housing would be a political matter to take up with the council.

Her department’s new proposed rules, she said, will be proposed for a special meeting of the council’s Planning, Land Use, Sustainability Committee on June 28th.

But projects in the pipeline now – including the most recent proposal reported here, at 59xx California SW – will be reviewed under current rules, not the upcoming proposals. (Other West Seattle microhousing-to-be of which we’re aware includes under-construction buildings on Avalon by the 35th/Avalon 7-11 and on Delridge.)

The microhousing discussion veered off into the issue of whether developers should be paying impact fees to make sure infrastructure such as parks and transportation is adequate for the new residents that come to live in their projects. That, too, is a political issue, not anything that Sugimura can directly control.

Before the meeting ended, Roger Valdez, representing the advocacy group Smart Growth Seattle – previously heard from on the issue of small-lot development (which came up earlier in the meeting) – tried to take the floor to talk about their reaction to the councilmembers’ microhousing proposals. Co-chair de Jong did not allow Valdez to speak, as he was not officially on the agenda, but he did drop off printouts of his group’s response to the councilmembers’ memo; you can read it on the Smart Growth Seattle website.

40 Comments

  1. I agree that this “dorm style” living is not for everyone, but I can see how it might be attractive to many. My concern is that there seems to be a large disconnect in the city and how to handle these types of developments. I would think that they could put a hold on permits until they are better understood.

    Comment by coffee — 11:48 am June 6, 2013 #

  2. Go right ahead, build this monstrosity. But only after it’s written into the residential leases that tenants may NOT own a vehicle, and that Metro agrees to increase bus service.

    Fat chance.

    Comment by anonyme — 11:57 am June 6, 2013 #

  3. Without individual bathrooms and without individual kitchens, these “microunits” are the exact definition of tenements.

    Comment by Dale — 12:35 pm June 6, 2013 #

  4. I can’t figure out why it’s so EXPENSIVE. I mean, a studio apartment in West Seattle with your own small kitchen and bathroom is that much per month.

    I am half horrified and titillated by how Soylent Green this seems if it catches on.

    Comment by Spana — 12:39 pm June 6, 2013 #

  5. I have just commented to DPD regarding this trend of growth that is unsupported by existing city/county services.

    Also, it appears the “microhousing” at 35th/Avalon/7-11 is at a standstill and has been for quite a while. I walk by there everyday and it appears to still be the one story foundation that it has been for over a month. In addition, the framing materials and concrete pour look seriously sub-par. Does anyone know if this has been abandoned?

    Comment by BWD — 12:49 pm June 6, 2013 #

  6. The idea that all units will be car free is laughable. This is going to send our on street parking situation into a tail spin.

    Comment by AEL — 1:09 pm June 6, 2013 #

  7. I encourage everyone to comment with your concerns! Hopefully we will be able to make a difference instead of just bending over and takin’ it.
    http://web1.seattle.gov/dpd/luib/CommentEmail.aspx?BID=821&NID=15388&P=3014342&D=06/06/2013

    Comment by enough — 1:20 pm June 6, 2013 #

  8. Just added my 2 cents. It only takes a few minutes. As the old Godfather’s Pizza guy used to say .. “Do it!”

    Comment by enough — 1:32 pm June 6, 2013 #

  9. I think the concerns about parking are misplaced. If a “micro apartment” is all someone can afford, then they certainly can’t afford a car. It’s a non-issue.

    Comment by Peter — 1:36 pm June 6, 2013 #

  10. Peter, it’s a myth that low income people don’t have cars. Have you seen the cars at nickelsville? Or people sleeping in cars? They don’t have money now, but it doesn’t mean they never had money for a car.

    Comment by keden — 2:29 pm June 6, 2013 #

  11. Peter – it’s not the lack of parking in the micro apartments. It’s the 7-story, 102-bedroom apartment building that has no parking that is of concern.

    Comment by AM — 2:36 pm June 6, 2013 #

  12. As a car owner, I agree with Peter that owning a car is expensive to license, maintain and operate. At the same time our current infrastructure does NOT support living in Seattle without one. A high density city with extensive mass transit would certainly fit the bill; however “residential” single family home West Seattle does NOT!

    Comment by Bettytheyeti — 2:44 pm June 6, 2013 #

  13. Have to agree with keden. A lot of people – especially single, young, males – would rather spend money on a car than a kitchen. The parking lot outside the White Center DSHS is filled with client’s cars.

    Comment by anonyme — 3:00 pm June 6, 2013 #

  14. Awesome (not awesome).

    Comment by Mat — 3:21 pm June 6, 2013 #

  15. Where would everyone like to house the people who would fill this development if not in this development?

    Comment by JW — 3:30 pm June 6, 2013 #

  16. kinda of in your face, n’est pas? Just once I’d like to see the city side on the neighborhood, and refuse permits…just once. I think there’s a robot with a rubber stamp somewhere downtown :(

    Comment by JanS — 3:40 pm June 6, 2013 #

  17. share a bathroom? Wait until all 8 people in a cluster want to shower and get ready for work ! Seriously?

    Comment by JanS — 3:45 pm June 6, 2013 #

  18. I missed Keden’s post, but agree with it whole hardly. And no bathrooms for unlimited number of occupants in a “unit” without plumbing is a . . . flophouse and everything it implies.

    Comment by Bettytheyeti — 3:53 pm June 6, 2013 #

  19. Instead of a levy? Are you serious?
    .
    Just imagine if anyone EVER proposed housing like this for low-income people.
    .
    The same folks who are saying this plan is just a great idea would be screaming their heads of about how inhumane it would be.

    Comment by JoAnne — 3:55 pm June 6, 2013 #

  20. Betty I actually find it is very easy to get around Seattle and WS without a car. And I never have to think about parking.

    Comment by Peter — 4:02 pm June 6, 2013 #

  21. The article says nothing about sharing bathrooms. Someone in the comments made that up.

    If people are choosing to live here, to share a kitchen, to not have a dedicated parking space, to pay this much for it (all of which people are already doing in “shared houses,” many of which are horribly managed), what is the real objection here? Before objecting so strongly, remember: NO ONE WILL FORCE YOU TO LIVE HERE. Also, remember: this is not YOUR city or YOUR neighborhood or YOUR public parking, it belongs to all of us, and everyone else here makes different decisions and has different priorities than you do. But we live in a democracy, so go on and object and sign petitions, but don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself walking by one of these buildings and find lovely people happily living there, some of whom do things to make your life in this place possible.

    End of rant.

    Comment by JW — 4:11 pm June 6, 2013 #

  22. Many people are poor precisely BECAUSE they they have to spend such a high proportion of their income on their car:

    http://citytank.org/2013/03/08/driven-into-poverty-walkable-urbanism-and-the-suburbanization-of-poverty/

    Comment by dedalus — 5:20 pm June 6, 2013 #

  23. JW:

    You cite the problem incorrectly: Public parking is a common good, provided as a side effect of public ownership of streets. As a common good, it like fish in the sea, or a commonly-owned village grazing land has unrestricted access.
    -
    Allowing a developer to dedicate additional square footage that would otherwise goes to parking for lining his own pockets (or those of the leasing company or owner) comes at the sacrifice of the the common good, in this case public parking.
    -
    This is referred to as the “tragedy of the commons” and in the same way as overfishing, it may be irreversible once it happens. That’s why we need to protest now. And why it is objectionable. And I don’t want our City to develop in a manner that is blind to reality.

    Comment by JayDee — 5:22 pm June 6, 2013 #

  24. the issue of shared bathrooms is argued by Roger Valdez in his letter to City Council members, that is linked by TR at end of this story
    ~
    “You asked DPD staff to provide an analysis and recommendations for or against the following:”
    ~
    “Requiring sleeping rooms in microhousing projects to include private bathrooms;”
    (then Roger argues);
    “Requiring private bathrooms would eliminate a perfectly safe and healthy option for some customers who are willing to share a bathroom. This kind of requirement prevents innovative, market-driven housing solutions for no apparent reason”

    Comment by Diane — 5:25 pm June 6, 2013 #

  25. Here was my response:

    Allowing a developer to profit from elimination of all parking spots exchanges a public good, street parking, for private enrichment. If this and other similar developments are widely permitted, the quality of life in the City will deteriorate quickly. And irreversibly–can you imagine the howl if the rules changed and we required the property owner to put in parking retroactively? It would not happen.

    This particular project is located near transit, but unfortunately it is near the end of the line for transit going downtown. Many buses using Avalon are full at least a stop before this, including the overly heralded Rapid Ride C line. RR C is much like a full sardine can at this point; one can imagine people being left behind both here and downtown during commute times. But this assumes the people renting the spaces are not driving cars. Because I can guarantee that a significant percentage will own cars, and having no dedicated spaces to park them, will do so in whatever is left of street parking in an already dense area. This project makes no sense, and the city should reject it to avoid setting a precedent, and to recognize reality — We cannot make Seattle become Vancouver BC without providing the transit density that makes Vancouver possible. Our impoverished transit system is an order of magnitude away from creating a Vancouver BC type density, no matter how much we wish for it.

    Comment by JayDee — 5:42 pm June 6, 2013 #

  26. 7200 sqft lot 102 units and no parking that says it all, can’t wait to have these popping up all over. Curious to see what single family house values will do near these projects. Won’t be long before the rents go up for normal size apartments and houses if they get $600- $800 for the under 200sqft micro’s, think what they will charge for 600-1200sqft apts. West Seattle is going to get real expensive to live very soon. Get ready for tolls as a new bridge will soon be coming to support the area. Do some research and see how Portland is doing on this issue.

    Comment by wetone — 6:51 pm June 6, 2013 #

  27. JayDee: parking is not a common good. The advantage accrues only to car owners, not everyone.

    Comment by jW — 7:17 pm June 6, 2013 #

  28. This proposed micro tenemant on Avalon Wy with no parking has 102 bedrooms….right?
    Does that mean 204 people live on a 7000 sq. ft lot and no one drives a car.
    Wow, I got some waterfront property for sale in Arizona if anyones interested.
    Has anyone tried to catch the bus in the morning (to anywhere)at that location? Standing room only. More bus cuts are planned.
    Sounds like a perfect plan.
    I feel sorry for the folks that have made that neighborhood their home.

    Comment by Born on Alki — 8:58 pm June 6, 2013 #

  29. I read R. Valdez’s letter before I posted about the bathrooms and how they plan to count occupants of these tenements. In brief I did comment to PRC@Seattle.gov: I am opposed to the current standard on what counts for a unit in the micro apartments. Just look at adjacent streets in West Seattle apartments and know the developers and proponents of this standard of housing in residential neighbors are either woefully ignorant about the need for a car in W. Seattle or just plain out lying. The lack of parking and underdeveloped mass transit make this type of housing objectionable.

    Comment by Bettytheyeti — 9:45 pm June 6, 2013 #

  30. Well Peter, I am so glad YOU can get around Seattle and West Seattle without a car.
    .
    You must be single, with no kids.
    .
    I have three, try doing grocery shopping for a family of five and taking the bus.
    .
    I live less than 9 miles from work. If I took the bus I would have to walk a mile to the bus, take three buses and spend 90 mins getting to work. I start at 6 AM and last I checked the buses I need to take don’t start that early anyway.
    .
    Biking isn’t an option.
    .
    I agree with the person who suggested that in order to rent one you sign a document stating the you do not own or plan to get a car.

    Comment by Ex-Westwood Resident — 10:56 pm June 6, 2013 #

  31. Well said Ex-Westwood. And that also applies to those of us taking care of elderly or disabled folks (usually on top of working full time).
    .
    Some people are so puffed up by their own ideas that they do not care to know how it might affect others.
    .
    Taking away the ability to park is essentially taking the right to exist from the young, the frail, the handicapped, and their caregivers.
    .
    There was a time when such a self-absorbed attitude would not be tolerated.

    Comment by JoAnne — 8:51 am June 7, 2013 #

  32. The City of Seattle, the Department of Planning and Development and the permit issuers with the rubber stamp DO NOT CARE what you think or have to say. By all means, continue to show up to meetings and write letters. The more people that express their concerns the better. But I have personally witnessed the utter failure of this city to understand the most basic faults with potential projects. No matter if the lunacy seems obvious to 99 percent of residents, the city will still allow construction if it brings in the maximum amount of revenue that the project allows. And there is seemingly nothing to stop them until West Seattle is an overcrowded, crime infested glimmer of its old self with poorly built monstrosities on every corner.

    Comment by DTK — 2:36 pm June 7, 2013 #

  33. DTK, the city can only deny permits for building that aren’t in compliance with zoning, building code, or other regulations. The fact that you or anyone else doesn’t approve is not legitimate grounds to deprive private property owners of the use of their private property.

    Comment by Peter — 3:04 pm June 7, 2013 #

  34. Peter – The fact is, as you state, as long as a project fits into their criteria then they will green light it regardless of neighbor input. My point is that if a 30 story, neon pink half-way house was within their zoning criteria, then it would be built even if everyone within a two mile radius complained, went to meetings and submitted letters. There are structures that are inappropriate for a street, block or neighborhood.

    Comment by DTK — 3:41 pm June 7, 2013 #

  35. Sounds and looks to me and many others I think around this city that any and all city departments that have anything to do with land use need to pull their heads out of their rears and change some things using some common sense. I would think the prior people involved with writing all the city zoning, building codes never had the thoughts the city would allow 102 room micro’s on 7200 sqft with no parking or 40 units on 3700sqft. No common sense just about $$$$$$$$$$$$ In areas like W/S with very limited access (3 bridges) they need to stop allowing any new building and wait a couple years to see what happens and adjust things at that time.

    Comment by wetone — 6:41 pm June 7, 2013 #

  36. Our WS schools are so over crowded, if there are any children moving into this new building, or any of the new monstrous buildings, I hate to think what the class sizes will be then!!! Even with Genesee and Fairmount opening in the next 2 years, there is not enough school space for more kids that will be in these new buildings….

    Comment by WS parent — 9:34 pm June 7, 2013 #

  37. Ridiculous.

    Comment by Leaving WS — 12:06 pm June 8, 2013 #

  38. Parking is a problem. Just because you have a cheap place to live doesn’t mean you don’t own a car. Parking will be very compromised on the neighborhood streets. Why aren’t there regulations for parking?

    Comment by Linda — 12:19 pm June 8, 2013 #

  39. West Seattle!
    What do we want?
    Succession!
    When do we want it? NOW!

    That will be the only way for the citizens of WS to truly have any voice in how this island of ours gets planned. Until then, buckle up, it’s going to be a long, miserable ride.

    Rest of elitist rant deleted.

    Comment by RScott — 9:18 pm June 9, 2013 #

  40. Hey, it’s worse than you think.

    The builder did not add three more stories to this project. It was planned for that. The DPD misrepresented this project on the DPD website. It used to be listed as 4 stories and 14 rooms.

    Further, the DPD was rubber stamping the project and was processing it with a SEPA list that was for a buiding in Ballard next to a Fred Meyer.

    The correction occured because we called foul on the DPD for misrepresenting and rubberstamping.

    Neighbors Encouraging Reasonable Development

    Comment by SeattleNERD — 9:44 pm June 18, 2013 #

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