By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The developer planning to build a 30-unit, no-offstreet-parking building in Morgan Junction says it will be a duplicate of a 30-unit, no-offstreet-parking building the same architect designed for a North Seattle site.
After Mark Knoll explained that last night to about 30 people who came to hear from and talk with him about 6917 California SW (map) – the plan first reported here two months ago – we took a field trip today for a firsthand look at the “duplicate” building.
Ironically, we discovered, that building (same architect but different owner/developer) in Roosevelt is directly across the street from a big parking lot.
The lot has more than 150 spaces open to the public (but not free), and its streetfront is in turn lined with free public parking (mostly diagonal). The Roosevelt building also is a few blocks from a planned station for Sound Transit light rail, something West Seattle currently can only dream of.
More on that building and its context later in this story. First, what Knoll told, and heard from, those in attendance last night at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center:
The meeting came exactly one week after something of a preparatory meeting at which attendees learned how development rules got to the point of allowing buildings without parking in some places. We recorded it and published the video in this story. Knoll’s remarks to last night’s meeting indicated he had watched it; he offered compliments to Morgan Community Association and Concerned Morgan Junction Neighbors for the information it had included.
Most developers, he said, wouldn’t do what he was doing, standing in front of a skeptical if not hostile crowd to talk about an unpopular plan. The contention voiced in comments, meetings, and petitions ever since the plan became public was summed up in what someone wrote on the city-placed sign not long after it went up:
And yet, last night’s meeting was downright genial.
“This is a different kind of meeting,” as Morgan Community Association president Deb Barker put it at the start, and that was borne out. Barker is a retired land-use planner; while she did not work in Seattle, she spent years on the city Design Review Board here, and is now a fixture at its meetings, offering informed comment on many projects. She and MoCA communications officer Cindi Barker (no relation) have led the group’s facilitation of information regarding this project and city processes.
And so, by invitation, since he couldn’t be at the meeting last week, Mark Knoll faced the neighbors last night.
He is a Magnolia resident who runs the West Seattle-based company Blueprint as its CEO. Blueprint’s main business is financing development and, as explained on its home page, providing development services, with almost 50 West Seattle projects on its current slate. But this project, Knoll told last night’s meeting, is one he plans to hold for his own “portfolio.”
“I’m super-sympathetic to concerns about parking,” he said early on, showing drawings of the project in North Seattle at 838 NE 69th (map), Pladhüs Apartments (described on its own website as “micro-suite living”), that he described as basically “identical” to what he is planning to build in Morgan Junction.
Knoll said the apartments there are – and that his here also will be – studios with “a Murphy bed that comes with the unit, and pretty high-end finishes throughout, pretty much (what we would put in) townhouses that we do.”
Rent would be likely around $700, he said, pronouncing that “affordable for a person making about $15/hour … a price point that Seattle has a huge demand (for) so this fulfills a big demand we have in Seattle for lower-rent housing.” He reiterated later in response to a question that his job as a housing developer is to “meet demand. … In Seattle we have a huge demand for more affordable apartments.”
Knoll insisted that in order to enable that level of rent, “the price is no parking.” This is the first project he has developed like this; “my company typically finances projects like this.”
As noted in our original story, adjacent lots will include a separate project with townhouses and single-family homes, but Knoll contends he has “scaled back the project a little bit” from what would have been possible if he had “maxed out” the lot. He talked about some of the many projects he’s developed around West Seattle – from The Junction to Morgan Junction (primarily live-work buildings that you have likely passed many times, in the north end of The Junction, 5200 block of California, California/Graham) and beyond.
The building, he said, would be three stories, ten studio units per level, with a hallway down the middle, two accessible units on the first floor, two sets of stairs. Two units on each level would face onto California.
“Is there an on-site manager?” asked an attendee. “We haven’t made that decision yet,” said Knoll. “Typically a building of this size might or might not (have one).”
He reiterated that these are not “aPodments,” aka microhousing – each unit has its own kitchen, and will be about 300 square feet, “small little studios.” There are laundry areas, but the accessible units each have their own laundry so the residents don’t have to use the stairs.
A large fir tree on the alley side of the project will be preserved, according to Knoll. He promised “we’re not going to dig so close to the tree that we’re going to break the roots,” though he didn’t know if an arborist had been consulted.
Knoll clarified in response to a question that he is going to own this particular property but the townhouses and single-family homes to the north will be sold for someone else to own. He said that the site probably could be developed with up to 70 units but he chose not to max it out. He also said his previous projects on California all provided more parking than zoning required. “This is geared to people who don’t own cars … (but) I can’t guarantee that people who live here won’t own a car.”
It’s all about what the market wants, he elaborated.
“As a developer, I’m competing with all these other buildings that are being built in West Seattle. You’ve all seen the cranes? … I think the market’s going to decide who rents in here, and if they have a car they are going to have choices better than mine (with) a parking spot.” He also insisted “these are one-person units.”
“We have a transportation problem in Seattle, in West Seattle, I’ll be the first to admit it … We need a light rail, a tunnel, like the one they have in Capitol Hill, that comes right down here. … Everything that happens down here is going to affect parking. The overlay doesn’t require any of the businesses to provide parking (either). … I’m not here to argue that putting more people into Morgan Junction isn’t going to put pressure on parking. It’s going to.”
“So, are you willing to help us mitigate that?” asked an attendee.
No direct answer. Knoll suggested there might be a bit of room behind the building for cars, but said he is not allowed to include that in the plan. The townhouses and single-family houses to be built next door WILL have parking, he confirmed. He also said this is the only property he holds right now on California.
What ensued, by request of an attendee, was a recap of how development rules and zoning got to the point of urban villages where “frequent transit” access meant some development could be done without parking. This was recapped in last week’s meeting (WSB coverage here, including video).
MoCA’s Cindi Barker stressed that when the neighborhood plans come up for revamping, “we need all the neighbors at the table” to talk about where the community should go.
Knoll was asked if he really thought the units would go for $700. If they were on the market right this very moment, he said, yes, but “the market sets the rent, I don’t set the rent,” he said.
His “one person per unit” contention was challenged: “Do you think people are going to live alone in these units for the rest of their life?” he was asked.
He suggested that he didn’t think anyone would live in a unit like this “for the rest of (their) life” and briefly recalled his college days with roommates living in relatively cozy quarters.
The question came up again: Does Knoll really think residents will be people without cars? He repeated that he thought people with cars would not choose to live here. But what if it’s the only place they can afford? someone asked, in not so many words. There was no easy answer for that.
One attendee wanted to know if there was really no chance the building would be higher than three stories. Nope, Knoll reiterated. And he said there are no “departures” (exceptions) from zoning being sought. He repeatedly pointed to the renderings of the North Seattle building, saying, “It’s going to look just like this … As a developer, I don’t like departures. I don’t like to (ask for exceptions from) the code.”
“Could you have a covenant that your tenants not have cars?” asked one attendee.
“I don’t even know if … restricting people’s rights, would be legal,” Knoll replied.
“You’re targeting people without cars.”
“I’m targeting people looking for $700 a month apartments.”
“Are you doing anything to draw (tenants without cars) in?” asked another attendee, wondering about bike parking, room for shared cars, etc.
Knoll said he could look into those features.
The rent – $700 or whatever (“approximately …that range … if we were renting right now,” Knoll clarified, not committing to that amount) – will include utilities.
“Housing and transportation are two different issues,” Knoll said again, contending his responsibility is to provide the former.
And again, the process by which the City Council approved the “no parking required if frequent transit available” changes was brought up by MoCA’s Deb Barker – in other words, if you think it should change, take it to your elected officials, who can do something about it.
Cindi Barker then mentioned the Comprehensive Plan Amendment process coming up in 2015, at which time an amendment could be proposed saying “You overdid it (in terms of making parkingless-ness possible) … at some point we might be able to switch it back a little bit.”
One man said that actually they might not be able to discriminate against couples or families if they chose to rent one of these small units, but could say “no vehicles” just like they can say “no smoking” or “no pets.” However, as people spoke up to say around the room, while he could say “no vehicles on the property,” he couldn’t control what people did outside.
Local civic advocate Diane Vincent pointed out that units like these elsewhere in the city are actually going on Craigslist for $900 and higher – and Knoll said yes, in North Seattle, rents are much higher, and “there’s no supply of this type of housing, and there’s huge demand.”
“The market sets the rent, so they may be higher, that’s for sure,” Knoll acknowledged. He said he “prefer(s) one-year leases” rather than month-to-month.
What if an elevator were included so the building could be geared toward senior citizens? one attendee asked.
Knoll basically said “no” – noting he “doesn’t have any experience with senior housing.” He hasn’t much experience with apartments, either, he acknowledged, saying that Blueprint handles mostly single-family and townhouse financing, and has only done one other**apartment building.
“Would you consider offering a free bus pass as an incentive to rent?” Cindi Barker asked.
“As long as everybody goes onto all the blogs and (comments that), ‘Gee, Mark Knoll is not such a bad guy after all’ for each bus pass,” Knoll joked in response.
He also said that he hopes “someone” is studying the effects of parkingless buildings being built around the city, like this. One attendee said that she had heard of a Portland study that two-thirds of the tenants in parking-less buildings own cars.
Deb Barker asked about the front of the building. “What about residential amenities such as a place to sit? A table around the tree area?”
“Sure,” Knoll said, “as long as it doesn’t become a public thing where people come who don’t live there …”
“What are your fencing plans?” she pressed.
“I don’t have a specific landscape plan,” Knoll replied.
While reiterating that the building would have “the same finishes we put in $400,000 townhouses” such as 6025 and 6075 California on the north side of Morgan Junction, he promised the landscaping plan wouldn’t be perfunctory: “I don’t just put a bunch of beauty bark down and call it a day … The stuff I’ve built, I’m proud to drive by and say ‘I built that.’ That’s why I’m here tonight. That’s what I do.”
And yet, asked about storage space, he acknowledged, “I don’t know how anybody can live in a unit this small!”
A few minutes later: “Did you ever think, if a building like this was built in your neighborhood, what your concerns would be?”
“I think about that all the time … I care. That’s why I’m here. There aren’t a lot of developers who would show up to a meeting like this.”
“We know you care. Are there any concerns we’re missing?”
“You’re pretty thorough,” Knoll laughed.
Talk turned briefly to the houses to be demolished on the site. He said that the houses to be torn down are in bad shape – one where birds were kept has feathers and other debris; the two “had drug paraphernalia everywhere,” he noted.
Back to the apartment building to come: What about the design – does it really fit? he was asked.
“I was hoping we were going to get through this without (that question),” he said. “… The younger demographic that rents these units, this is the design they like.” Same for the “modern” houses that are proliferating on teardown sites, he said. “Ten to one, people are saying they want a modern house over a traditional bungalow … the overwhelmingly popular house right now is the modern design; that’s what the market is asking for.”
Are you going to allow pets? he was asked. He wasn’t sure, saying he would have to talk to the “management company,” though “as a landlord I would rather not have pets.” Morgan’s pet population was mentioned by Deb Barker at that point. (The location, it should be noted, is within a few blocks of a pet-merchandise retailer and pet boarder/groomer.)
“If this is a done deal, could you be sensitive about your outdoor lighting?” a woman asked.
Another question went to what color it might be painted, and Knoll said he would leave that decision “to someone else.”
Next Thursday night, 6917 California is the subject of another meeting, to be convened by the city in response to a citizen petition, to take comments on State Environmental Policy Act-related concerns, including traffic and noise. That meeting will be at 6:30 pm December 19th at the Senior Center of West Seattle in The Junction (California/Oregon).
Now – back to that building in Roosevelt. Knoll said so many times that 6917 would be “identical,” we thought a visit would be worthwhile before we wrote this report.
To get a sense of the area – in comparison to the Morgan Junction site of Knoll’s project – we consulted a colleague, Rebecca Nelson, who edits and publishes Ravenna Blog nearby. She even counted the parking spaces in that big lot across the street, and told us the Calvary Christian Church within view of Pladhüs is a popular place for community meetings.
It’s down the block, at the south end of the aforementioned parking lot, which, as the sign shows, offers monthly parking.
The apartment building itself is between what appear to be single-family homes to the south and newer multi-family construction to the north.
The one thing we couldn’t do was look inside – it’s a security building, and we had no contact with tenants. The Pladhüs website shows floor plans; interior photos – even one through a window overlooking that parking lot – are on the architects’ website. There’s a bike rack out front and a small concrete patio by the back door, adjacent to the waste containers:
According to a property-management website, Pladhüs rents range from $795-$1190; nothing is listed as available now, but one 202-foot studio is shown as available starting in early January at $965. Again, the developer of the Morgan Junction project says he has no involvement with this other than hiring the same architect who, he said, suggested using the same plans.
In comparison, if you’re not familiar with the 6917 California SW neighborhood, there are no paid public lots anywhere nearby. Street parking is all parallel; multi-family buildings across California have garages. Transit includes Rapid Ride C Line a few blocks away at California/Fauntleroy; the 22 goes by on California currently, but is slated for deletion next June unless funding is found to replace the expiring state “mitigation” money related to Highway 99 work.