‘Can a 1930 document control our actions 86 years later?’ Ruling awaited in tree-vs.-house case

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The fight over 3,166 square feet of land and one ~100-foot tree is in the hands of city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner, who is awaiting final written arguments after her 2+-hour hearing on the case.

Once they’re in, her ruling is expected by early February.

We first reported on the clash seven months ago, when neighbors went public with their hopes of keeping the city from granting a special exception to allow a house to be built at 3036 39th SW (map), taking out a towering Ponderosa Pine which meets the city’s definition of “exceptional tree” and has been dubbed the “gentle giant” of the neighborhood. The exception was granted; an appeal was filed; last Wednesday, we published this preview on the eve of the appeal hearing, with neighbors saying the fight had become about more than the tree.

The tree was not the topic of last Thursday’s hearing, it should be noted; it was scarcely mentioned at all. The neighbors’ other issues, such as the thousands of dollars charged by the city for the “interpretation” that facilitated the appeal, wasn’t, either. The testimony was all about the ground beneath, and around, the tree, and what its owner intended for that part of his property when seeking the building permit in 1930 to build the house to its south at 3038 39th SW.

For the city to grant a “historic lot exception” – which it did in October, leading neighbors to pursue their challenge – the Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) had to determine that it was considered a separate building site going back more than half a century, though nothing ever had been built on it. SDCI staffers who have written, by their admission, hundreds such determinations were the department’s main witnesses at the appeal hearing.

The focus was on the minutiae of what information the department uses to make those determinations – which seemed to be portrayed as more of an art than a science, as the specifics, SDCI reps acknowledged, are not written into the city code.

“How does a building permit establish a separate building site? We intend to argue that (it) is not established (without) clear, firm, unequivocal evidence,” argued Alex Sidles, legal intern from the Washington Forest Law Center, leading the appeal case for Lisa Parriott and supporters.

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SDCI senior land-use planner David Graves was the first witness of the morning, taking the seat at the end of the table where Parriott and her team including Sidles and his supervisor Peter Goldman sat on the left side, with those on the right side including property owner Cliff Low and wife Hyun Ju Low, their lawyer Brandon Gribben, and the SDCI reps. The gallery, which has room for more than 20 onlookers, was full.

Graves wrote the January 2016 “legal building site letter” that Low had requested shortly after buying the property, saying that a 1930 building permit for the house at 3038 39th SW was what they believe establishes the property alongside it as a “building site.” That was their opinion though the property went through “many transfers after that” without any of those transfers breaking this piece of property off separately, Graves acknowledged under questioning from Sidles.

“At no time has the yard ever been transferred separately?” said Sidles.

“That’s correct,” replied Graves.

He also mentioned a utility document called a “sewer card,” saying that while it was “not evidence in reaching our decision,” SDCI considered it “relevant” because of “lines … that appear to depict lot 3036 (39th SW) as independent … (suggesting the) city’s opinion in 1928 that it was a separate site.”

Parriott and supporters have contended that the property’s previous owner sold it for less than it could have gone for if intended to have been sold as a house plus a separate building site. Graves was asked if the property’s value had any bearing on his decision about the separate building site. He said “mortgages” were not among the information that factored into his opinion.

He was followed by another SDCI employee who has written many such decisions, Andy McKim, who said he has been with the department (formerly DPD) for almost 30 years and has been writing building-site-opinion letters since the start. McKim explained that until 1972, the city had no ordinance setting standards for a short subdivision – “there wasn’t a formal process,” so if you wanted to “carve up individual lots … (you would have to) sell off a portion of property so deeds reference (it) or get a building permit for just a portion of larger property.”

He ran through key points of the city’s land-use history, including a 1953 ordinance, and the provision for creating “additional buildable sites that are compatible with surrounding houses.”

McKim also said that sometimes his department is asked for letters to affirm that a particular piece of property is NOT a legal building site, “to lower their taxes.” And he mentioned permits for garages and “accessory structures” typically not being on separate lots.”

Under questioning by Sidles, McKim affirmed that the “historic exception” applies only to “lots of record” that were considered to have been established before 1957. And, McKim said, before 1972, the only way property could be subdivided was for portions to be specifically outlined in permits.

“So your basis for the ‘leftover pie’ theory is your years of working on this?” asked Sidles.

“That’s consistent with what we have done over the years,” McKim replied. Asked if it’s written down anywhere, he said: “It’s not in the building code. … Our view is based on the historic record – a larger parcel was owned, but the owner did not call out the full …lot, so (they) created separate lots in the only way they could have.”

“But the building permit does not say what is to be done with the remaining portion” of the property, observed Sidles.

McKim went into another “leftover pie” case, and the “small lot development” rule changes that took effect in 2014.

Third witness was Bill Mills, who had been leading the questioning of the previous witnesses. He too is an SDCI employee, and said he had written “scores,” probably “hundreds” of legal-building-site letters. One of them that came up in testimony was a letter he had written at Cliff Low’s request about another West Seattle property that Low bought, 3605 SW Willow, in 2014. Mills said that because there was a building permit for the east half of the site, with the west half left at vacant, that was deemed to qualify as a separate building site. (County records show a house was indeed built and sold there in 2015.)

Parriott was called to testify briefly after Mills, because of a question about how she – a civil engineer – had interpreted Low’s survey for the 39th SW property. She said she “found it was lacking in understanding” of such things as the fence lines, “because there has been discussion about adverse possession.”

The next document to be discussed provided a window into the avalanche of paperwork with which SDCI deals – Parriott filed a public disclosure request, and came up with a document from 2013, when the department was working on the revision of the “small lot” rules, and spelling out how many properties would be affected. It was found “in piles of uncollated, uncategorized binders,” as Sidles put it; McKim acknowledged that “my desk is a disgrace, full of paper.” Eventually, it was stricken from the record by Tanner anyway.

After a break, what were in effect closing arguments began with Sidles for the appeal.

“This case really turns on what it takes to establish a legal building lot … They say establish just means ‘create’,” but, he contended, “It’s important to bear in mind that this is an exception to the normal building rule. I think when you are asking for an exception tothe normal process you have an obligation to meet a higher standard … you have to show that it was there and that someone was going to build on it … it’s not enough to say it was separate in some sense.”

The city uses three types of documents to make these determinations, he continued – deeds, plats, and building permits. In the absence of the first two, “it all comes down to what the building permit actually says.” Sidles put a sketch on an easel and stood by it. “The 1930 building permit is for this house, not any other.” The property that is now considered 3036 and 3038 39th – “house and yard … (were) all in a single deed. All we have (with regards to a past permit) is speaking to the southern half. Is this enough? Can you really say, ‘yes, (the owner at the time) was definitely intending to build a house there, anyone can see that?’ We believe the answer is no.”

He recounted the absence of zoning laws all those decades ago, which “began to change in the 1950s … people were on notice at the time of the change that if they didn’t act to protect their rights” — such as considering that they had an “extra” lot they could someday use for a “nest egg” — “a ‘notional’ building lot could be taken away. … Can a 1930 document control our actions 86 years later? Across ample changes, there was (the) opportunity to clarify this lot. At some point you have to say, in the mind of the owners, this was not a legal building lot.” The “historic exception” law, Sidles contended, was to protect the “nest-egg” owners rather than “real-estate developers.” He noted that then-City Councilmember Richard Conlin had specifically cited “developers taking advantage of loopholes” as a reason for the “small lot” changes earlier this decade.

Sidles concluded, “We just don’t know what the owner was going to do … there’s not enough evidence in 2017 to get inside his mind from 1930 and” know what he intended for the site.

Next, for the city, Mills opened by declaring it to be a “fairly simple case” from SDCI’s perspective. Basically, as he recounted, the Hearing Examiner has to give weight to the city, and the burden of proof is “on the appellants to show that a mistake has been committed.” In his view, he said, “the appellant’s own arguments (show) that there’s a building site established here.”

Mills contended that the public records are clear, that “the documents from 1930 are not vague …” and that “to take the appellant’s suggestion that a higher standard should apply … is an impossible standard.” He also argued that with the changes in the small-lot development rules in 2014, “there shouldn’t even be a discussion of this continuing to be a developer’s loophole. There is clear Council intent about developing undersized property.” Overall, he added, “this is a neighborhood of houses built on smaller lots” and this one has room to meet the building standards including required setbacks. “The department’s opinion is that the letter should be upheld – there’s no basis for reversing it.”

The Lows’ lawyer Gribben followed, emphasizing that their view is that the building permit established this as a separate lot. “Just because there’s two possible outcomes does not mean (the decision is) arbitrary and capricious.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Tanner set a deadline for post-hearing briefs of one week after its close – that would be this Thursday (January 19th). After that, she is expected to rule within 15 days – that would be, by February 3rd.

LISTEN TO THE HEARING: The audio is available, in two mp3 files, linked to the webpage with materials associated with the case – find it here. That’s also the page from which Tanner’s decision will be linked once it’s filed.

41 Replies to "'Can a 1930 document control our actions 86 years later?' Ruling awaited in tree-vs.-house case"

  • Over There January 18, 2017 (12:24 am)

    This is ridiculous, it is not a native tree. I thought we were all about density, this would a great location for added density. If the neighbors want to save the tree they can buy the property. This has gone on long enough and they bring straw agreements to aid their cause.

    • WSB January 18, 2017 (3:35 am)

      As reported in our preview last week, they say the owner said no when asked if he would sell.

      • John January 18, 2017 (8:45 am)

        Editor,

        Yes, “they” said they have offered to buy the lot from the owner.  

        What they are careful not say is what they offered for it and whether it was a formal  or qualified offer.  

        Did they present him with a written binding offer including earnest money?

        A buildable lot in this area can be worth upwards of  $200,000 on the open market.  It is unlikely they offered the owner market value or more, (more because of all the additional expense and delay the neighbors have caused).

        As a businessman, it is unlikely that Mr. Low would turn down an offer that would exceed the profit from developing this parcel.  

    • WSRedux January 18, 2017 (5:12 pm)

      You are correct, a Ponderosa pine is native to eastern Washington, not native to this side of the Cascades. A Ponderosa pine this size may well have been planted in the side yard by the owner who built the house in 1930-31, all the more reason to decide he saw this part of his property as a side yard to enjoy, not as a separate lot. Two other factors: he porch on the house intrudes onto the “lot” & the concrete retaining wall in front of the house extends about 4 feet along the front of the side yard. Hardly something the owner would have built only to have to tear it out. 

  • Ponderosa Pine January 18, 2017 (7:41 am)

    That is your opinion, ours is different.  We care about the quality of life in our community, in our crowded schools for our children, in the traffic we drive in every work day, and where we park.  Density without building out infrastructure concurrently impacts us all.  The developer walks away with $400K in profit and pays no impact fees.

    We care about our greenspace, especially after working in cubes all day long.

    We care about city staff following the code and not making stuff up like the “left-over pie theory.”  This theory is not in the code or supported by case law.

    We care about there being transparancy in how our city conducts its business.  There is no documentation on these “letters of opinion,” not in code, directors rules, or policy.  Only deveopers know about these, and bldg permits are issued based on the letters, yet the decisions can not be appealed (all like in our case).  Developers have been allowed to bypass the code and not get a code interpretation (which is appealable) all through the secret back door.

    We care about all of our neighbors who sell their homes never realizing their small side yards were legal building sites, established in the early 1900s.  They unknowingly transfer their wealth from their family to developers.

    And quite simply, some of us cherish that big beautiful tree.   The neighbors did gather funds and offer to buy the property from the developer to save the tree.  He was not interested in selling.

    • AmandaK(H) January 18, 2017 (8:31 am)

      Thank you for your passionate fight to save this tree!  It sounds like everyone involved is doing exactly the right things (legally) to fight this.  And in doing so, uncovering a long known, but hard to prove theory.  Developers have been running this town for years.  Thank you for uncovering the ways in which they skirt the codes.  Thank you for taking this fight public so everyone knows the score.  Fingers crossed that this case will set a precedent for how we move forward as residents when it seems like we are helpless to fight developers.

      • John January 18, 2017 (9:19 am)

        AmandaK(H),

        Just what codes are you referring to that are being ‘skirted’?

        And I am alarmed by your statement, “ we move forward as residents when it seems like we are helpless to fight developers.”

        Please explain?

        • AmandaK(H) January 19, 2017 (2:33 pm)

          Hi John,

          So glad I could alarm you.  That made my day.

          AK(H)

    • wsea98116 January 18, 2017 (12:34 pm)
      …We care about all of our neighbors who sell their homes never realizing their small side yards were legal building sites, established in the early 1900s.  They unknowingly transfer their wealth from their family to developers… -Ponderosa Pine
      Never realizing their small side yards are legal building sites? Every other “small side yard” on that block is 5′ wide. The small side yard in question is 33′ wide. If your neighbors side yards are 475sf, and your side yard is 3,000+sf, or six times larger- you may want to check that out.  Whoever sells it as such or develops it first, gets to keep the money- be it families or developers. 
      I wonder if any trees were removed to build houses on the properties of people who would block this development..?
  • John January 18, 2017 (9:14 am)

    Ponderosa, “The developer walks away with $400K in profit and pays no impact fees.”  The fact that all new development pays impact fees and your (without proof) claim of $400,000 profit are indicative of where you are on the truth scale.  

    Although you do suggest a quite high refused offer of purchase from the neighbors.  Did neighbors really offer Mr. Low $400,000 as you suggest?

     Letters of Opinion have been used thousands of times over decades.  The system is well known, transparent and open to all.  Much is available online, even more available at DPD information center.   For you to claim that his info his hidden is factually outrageous.

    Developers have been allowed to bypass the code and not get a code interpretation (which is appealable) all through the secret back door.”  What rubbish.  Absolutely false.

    • Cass Turnbull January 18, 2017 (10:52 am)

      Methinks the man with protest too much! 

      Developers HAVE been running this town for as long as I can remember. What I don’t understand Is how the get such a lock on our elected officials. The Mayors must all secretly desire that Seattle become big and important like New York City. 

      • John January 18, 2017 (11:45 am)

        Cass,

        To see just who is running roughshod over the city, just take a look at your special interest as a lobbyist for arborists.

        Tree regulations in Seattle have undeniably been swayed in the interest of your industry much to the harm of property owner rights.  We are no longer allowed to maintain or control the trees in our own back yards.  Cass is aware of all of the protection for trees recently enacted.   Arborists are benefiting from them.

        Now trees on other people’s property is being openly accepted as property of neighbors who choose not to have trees of their own as in this case.   There are no other significant trees on this block.

        • WSB January 18, 2017 (12:47 pm)

          There’s at least one other official “exceptional tree” .. on the same property. We noted it in our first story last June.

          As for the rest of the block – would have to go measure trees to verify whether there are or aren’t – but if you browse Google Street View, there are some trees that *look* fairly sizable.

        • wsea98116 January 18, 2017 (12:53 pm)

          John- the term is exceptional tree- which does not mean great, rare, beautiful, well shaped (obviously not in this case), or super awesome- it just means bigger than X inches at the trunk.  

          We have an exceptional tree on our block. We walk carefully past it, so as not to trip on the buckled sidewalk. 

  • alkistu January 18, 2017 (9:52 am)

    Two things are obvious. Our quality of life is dictated by the way we develop our communities and our tree canopy has shrunk at an incredibly fast rate.  Who wants to see an urban desert in west Seattle?  Development for density is intended to slow urban sprawl. Have you been outside the city lately? In Snohomish County? In Pierce County?  The way we are allowing the developers to use this density plan only benefits some very wealthy people and a lot of foreign investors. They are not concerned with how we want our neighborhoods to  look like, feel like.  At least make them pay some impact fees for tearing up our streets, taking away the sun with their high rises, crowding our streets and not providing parking, overcrowding our classrooms and leaving the tax payers to foot the bill. Does this sound fair to the many people who have lived here all of their lives? I have been to many cities that build for density. Vancouver B.C. would be a good study for doing it much better. They do not allow sidewalk to sidewalk development and provide plenty of air space between their high rise buildings. Here we have decided to let development go wild and the affordability of housing to skyrocket.  This lot on 39th was never declared to be divided. It is within inches of being to small to divide, yet we put the profit of a very wealthy developer who has made a fortune off of many other sites in West Seattle over the beauty of a grand tree. Maybe Mr. Low should say thank you to West Seattle for his success by letting us have this tree in our daily view and our presence. How we manage our remaining tree canopy will be the next  battle.

    • John January 18, 2017 (10:21 am)

      Vancouver BC where SFRs cost over $1 million and are being snapped up by foreigners who keep them empty as an example of good housing policy?  

      • WsEd January 18, 2017 (3:45 pm)

        That’s not because of BC’s housing policy.  Their immigration policy is to blame for the rampant foreign (mostly wealthy Chinese) investment in these homes in BC.  Their Entrepreneur Immigration program requires $600,000 in personal wealth that needs to be brought in to the country.  Many do that by buying a home with cash to ensure citizenship for their families.  It’s basically a payola for citizenship program.

        This has nothing to do with housing policy, and is the reason why real estate has gone berserk in BC.  But the rationale development programs for housing made it a desirable target for these foreign investors.

    • datamuse January 18, 2017 (10:51 am)

      Housing in Vancouver has also gotten hideously expensive. While I would agree that they are doing certain things better, one thing they are not doing any better than Seattle is making housing more affordable.

  • Mary Fleck January 18, 2017 (9:53 am)

    SDCI’s practice is flawed and needs to be changed:

    1.  To determine whether there the “historic lot exception” applies, SDCI relies on 1930 permits for neighboring lots even if there was never a building permit for the property at issue.

    2.  SDCI demands that people pay a minimum of $3000 to get the city to issue a land use interpretation (which is required for an appeal).  That fee is exhorbitant and effectively denies people access to justice.  

    • wsea98116 January 18, 2017 (10:41 am)

      A 1930 document/deed/permit etc, is as valid as a 2017 document. The reason the historic lot exception exists, is it would be unfair to deny the owner the right to develop that lot as others have. Whether some previous owners knew about this right is irrelevant. To attempt to block this development, while enjoying their own property, legally developed under the same rules, is absolute hypocrisy.  Whoever thinks the dpd (or whatever they’re called today) is trying to help builders skirt code- has never dealt with them, or built a house!!

      • WSRedux January 18, 2017 (2:26 pm)

        The Historic lot exception was included in the 1957 ordinance as a fix to allow then current owners of property a window within which to develop properties owned or purchased before the new lot size regulations were implemented. I don’t think it was meant to allow someone in 2017 to reach back 86 years or more into the graves of long dead owners and resurrect development rights.

        Development rights allowed in 1930  are valid only if they are still allowed by the current code. That is what this case is about. In this case, the DCI has declared a lot legal not by the very specific criteria in the code: historical deed, permit or plat prior to 1957, but by surmising the intent of the person who owned the property in 1930-31. This subjective process is not written in the code nor does it exist in written form in any DCI manual, etc. Saying it is “customary department practice” does not make it legal. It was ripe to be challenged and I’m not surprised the dept. hadn’t been called on it sooner.   

        • WSRedux January 18, 2017 (2:29 pm)

          correction as to the last line of my post…

          “…and I’m surprised the dept. hadn’t been called on it sooner.”

        • wsea98116 January 19, 2017 (12:46 am)
          No- you are absolutely incorrect. Also, I don’t understand the need to case things in this misleading, wily manner. ” ..Didn’t notice their small side yard was..”
          The lot is over 3,000sf?! in this densely packed neighborhood of tiny old homes on tiny lots, and huge homes wedged in between them,  the subject lot is anything BUT a small side yard. To put this all in perspective- 
          This neighborhood is over 100 years old. For 50 years, the minimum lot size was 2500sf. That means that any pre-1957 home in this area was built when 2500sf was legal. All those cute Tudors, craftsmans, salt boxes, war boxes, farmhouses, colonials- just about anything that’s not rambler or later, are primarily built on 2500, 3200, 4500 and 5000 sf lots. 
          “..The Historic lot exception was included in the 1957 ordinance as a fix to allow then current owners of property a window within which to develop properties owned or purchased before the new lot size regulations were implemented. I don’t think it was meant to allow someone in 2017 to reach back 86 years or more into the graves of long dead owners and resurrect development rights…”
          This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE. 
          There is no window or time limit to develop properties before new larger lot size implementation! If you had a legal lot of less than 5000 sf before 1957, it remains so, and does not expire- whether you develop it or not. If a lot is a lot, it remains a lot. It either is, or it is not- that’s all. There is no need to “reach into graves to resurrect rights”, because the rights have remained, grandfathered. 
          The DCI is absolutely bound to honorably interpret the rules and regulations when making this kind of determination. They would not approve any lot that they do not believe meets the legal criteria. If anyone has any proof that a DCI planner willfully and knowingly approved and permitted building on an illegal lot, I would like to see it. 
          Land use planner David Graves explains how the determination was made, here-
          After reading, I don’t see how they could have concluded any differently. 
  • Dave January 18, 2017 (10:20 am)

    Developers are weasels. Period.

    • wsea98116 January 18, 2017 (11:18 am)

      …Yes, Dave- exactly! Exclamation point!  Thanks for that. Period.

  • West Seattle since 1979 January 18, 2017 (10:55 am)

    Alkistu, things change.  People are moving here because of jobs.  Tell Amazon to stop hiring people if you want people to stop moving here.  As long as people are moving here, more housing will be needed.  Housing shortages cause housing prices to go up and up.  Not building more housing. 

  • John January 18, 2017 (12:00 pm)

    I’ve never fully understood why we have Puget Sound.  Why don’t we just fill it in and use that new space for more housing….same with the Dawamish River and Long Fellow Creek.  Why do we have that golf course taking up so much building space???   Cut down every single tree…top every mountain…fill every river…. continue with no limit to child births….  Heck I bet a person could rent out a nice large Eagle nest after killing the bird.

  • West Seattle since 1979 January 18, 2017 (12:34 pm)

    Let’s just make a law: Anyone here before a certain date can stay.  No one can move in after that.  Every decade when there’s a census, you’ll have fewer people than the last time because of death or moving away–whatever the difference is from the last time, allow that many people to move in.

    Don’t allow any hiring at large companies–if they do hire, the workers will have to live somewhere other than Seattle.  

    No more building while we’re at it–everything needs to stay the same as it was right now.  

    (You know, if they don’t build in Seattle, they will build somewhere else where there are no homes now, probably taking out trees and other vegetation.  People are moving here, and they have to live somewhere. The only thing to stop that is for hiring to stop.)

    • Anonymous Coward January 18, 2017 (1:13 pm)

      I presume we’ll be sterilizing anyone that chooses to remain…

      • West Seattle since 1979 January 18, 2017 (2:00 pm)

        Nope, at the end of 10 years there probably would be fewer net people because of job stagnation and people leaving anyway. :

  • wetone January 18, 2017 (12:55 pm)

      This case backs my prior thoughts and once again shows how SDCI doesn’t follow it’s own established building codes. The tree has little to do with case. A required lot size should control all. Why does SDCI even have a SF5000 zoning requirement ? as they keep allowing requirements to be molded to best fit certain groups Investors/builders when they pay the $$$$$ or as usual out smart the SDCI. The way this city is going it won’t be long before it’s fine to build on 2000sqft lots, a slippery slope folks. All this will play into HALA, ADU and  DADU’s future builds. Allowing more units, less height restrictions on smaller sqft lots.  I would like to know cost to tax payers for (SDCI) defending their  poor judgment once again with issuing the written decision. Either way tax payers will be paying for defending this case since SDCI did not follow their own codes. If SDCI  looses case they surely will be sued by builders costing us more…………

    • wsea98116 January 18, 2017 (2:02 pm)

      Man you don’t get it.. The lots (many developed) used to be smaller.

      After doubling the min lot size, what should be done with all those old smaller lots and houses? 

    • WSRedux January 18, 2017 (2:06 pm)

      The appellant not only is on the hook for the $3235 to appeal this case, but apparently also for the time the planning staff spends defending their decision at the hearing…billed at $315/hr. I believe this is an intentional barrier established by the city to discourage even legitimate appeals. I would like to see how the $315/hr. is broken down….seems a bit steep, probably includes rent for the Hearing room, lunch and bathroom breaks.

      Another interesting point to consider: Whether conscious or unconscious, I think the DCI (Department of Construction and Inspections) has an inherent conflict of interest in making their land use decisions. They are a fee-driven, fee-funded department. The more construction they approve, the more in their budget.  

  • WSRedux January 18, 2017 (1:57 pm)

    Who’s the culprit behind the record, ever increasing housing prices. I urge everyone to read the article on housing prices in today’s Seattle Times. Here are some snippets: 

    “Why is it so expensive to buy a house in Seattle right now? Everyone seems to have someone to blame: Amazonpriced-out Californiansforeign buyers, developers tearing down old homes to build huge new ones. But people in the real-estate industry point to a much broader problem: No one is selling their house. Just 0.4 percent of all homes in the Seattle region were on the market at any given time last year — a lower rate than in any U.S. metro area except the San Francisco BayArea…brokers say homeowners don’t want to sell because they don’t want to have to turn around and buy another pricey home…In other words, just one of every 263 houses and condos in the Seattle area was for sale. That’s more than three times worse than the national average, creating a market heavily tilted against buyers…The number of homes for sale in King County last month hit its lowest point on record: just 1,600 houses were on the market, mostly in the suburbs, down from 7,400 houses six years prior…Seattle’s inventory dropped 13.4 percent last year, the third-most among the top 20 markets…As of this week, there were only 81 houses in all Seattle available for less than half a million dollars, and…Seattle has only about 260 homes for sale under $1 million…biggest impact is on prices. Supply is dwindling at a time when demand keeps rising with job and population growth, and renters keep getting fed up with pricey apartments.” Will building homes ease the crunch? Perhaps a little, but have you seen any new homes priced at 500k? The home the developer wants to build on the side lot with the Ponderosa pine will be priced at 900k…”affordable” – by whose standards? 

    • WsEd January 18, 2017 (4:10 pm)

      OK,

      So now we have seen the real weasels, not the developers, not the land owners, not the DCI, it’s real estate professionals and I use that term loosely.  

      This article reads like a big whine from the real estate industry.  “How are we supposed to make any money if you people with investments in real estate don’t turn over these properties more often.  It’s all about us in real estate, if we can’t have lots of properties on the market then we will feed on the inexperienced buyer and promote bidding wars.”

      What a farce, maybe there aren’t many homes on the market because it ain’t easy to sell and move up when faced with the excise taxes, and let’s not forget the huge commissions these days.  6% on a $600,000 home is $36,000.  If they close on deal a month that’s a lot of bread even if more than half are at the median home price.  Any agent that shows up in a $50k plus car is basically rubbing it in your face.

      I have made several purchases and sales over the course of my life and the only one I have ever trusted in this industry is my own lawyer.

      There has never been an individual that has done less for society than anyone involved in the real estate industry. 

  • What it's all about January 19, 2017 (3:55 pm)

    One again, I have to say we are so lucky to have the West Seattle blog!  I was at the hearing and the summary above is very accurate.  Thank you!

    A few other points to consider:

    1)  The City staff state that before 1972, deeds and permits were used to divide property (i.e. short subdivision).  How then were lots recombined?  Logic would say the same way, deeds and permits.  So the property in question had 4 different owners from 1930 to 1957.  Another 6 owners until purchased by Mr. Low in November 2015.  All 10 owners over 86 years kept as one property – one deed.  By the City’s argument, if one permit divides the lot in 1930, then 10 consecutive deeds over the next 86 years should consolidate the lot.  Unfortunately, the City only considers land use as a one way value – you can divide but not recombine.  Not logical, not good public policy.

    2)  This new, buildable lot was created in January 2016 when the City issued their opinion letter to Mr. Low.  Before that, all the previous owners paid property taxes on one lot.  If this has been a buildable lot since 1930, who is going to pay the back taxes for the past 86 years?  Just look on the King County Assessor’s website – the new lot was suddenly worth $120K.   If the City keeps creating these new, buildable sites, shouldn’t the back taxes be paid?  Otherwise, the rest of us are subsidizing  tax break for years!

    3)  The City staff also mentioned during the hearing that …”this is a neighborhood of houses built on smaller lots.”  This statement is not correct.  Again, take a look at the King County Assessor parcel viewer.  Most of the properties on this lot were two platted lots (5000 sq ft).  Many were later reduced to 4750 sq ft because of the 250 sq ft required for the alley.

    4)  City staff also mention the small lot development rule changes in 2014.  These rule changes promised a “public notice and the opportunity to appeal development to the Hearing Examiner” on small lots less than 3200 sq ft.  I guess the  City forgot to mention in all their press releases that the appeal requires an additional $3000+ fee.  Or maybe they just changed their minds when no one was paying attention?  (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/vault/smallsflots/accomplishments/default.htm)  Google “Seattle Ordinance 124475” and read the second bullet to learn more about what we were promised and what the City is now forgetting. 

  • What it's all about January 19, 2017 (10:23 pm)

    More evidence City staff are not doing what they told the City Council and the public they would do way back in 2014? 

    Read item 4 on page 4.  This is a document prepared by City staff, the same who testified at the hearing, and presented to the City Council and the public regarding the Code change in 2014.  (http://clerk.seattle.gov/~CFs/CF_313652.pdf ).

    “Developing lots under 3,200 s.f. would require a special exception review, a Type II approval requiring public notice and providing an opportunity for an appeal to the Hearing Examiner.  Additional structure height and depth restrictions also would apply to lots under 3,200 s.f.”

    Somehow between then and 2016, City staff decided the public would NOT have the opportunity to appeal to the Hearing Examiner for developing lots under 3200 s. f.  unless they paid for a $3000 code interpretation first. 

    Sneaky.  Some might even say unethical.  Could the cost prohibit neighbors from submitting an appeal?  In some neighborhoods, yes.

    Doesn’t mean a thing unless the public complains to the City Council.

  • wsea98116 January 20, 2017 (12:51 pm)

    When you battle someone to try and control what THEY do to THEIR property and THEIR tree- you SHOULD have some skin in the game. It’s not your tree. This hill was covered with trees that were cut down to make room for your house, and more trees were cut down for material to build your house.  How do you justify all the great trees fallen for YOUR benefit? Whether you win your challenge or not, you will have cost Cliff Low a great deal of time and money, for the opportunity to sit in your house, and look at a spot without a house. 

  • 98126 January 24, 2017 (6:53 pm)

    If he doesn’t want to sell, that is his right.  We do not have to build and build and build so they will come.  Let’s be concerned about the people who have paid taxes and contributed to the city for years rather than doing what is needed to house more.  There are locations outside the city and ample public transportation to bring people in.  Let people spread out rather than over populate the area. Tree’s are a part of the beauty and landscape of Seattle and our landscape has suffered to the extreme for the dollar and the plan of making Seattle the most attractive city to live in across the USA.  Again, be respectful to the citizens who have been here supporting the infrastructure for years and don’t let every tree, other than parks, be chopped down to pile more people on top of one another.  There’s a happy medium and the pendulum has swung way to far to the left for a long time.

  • wsea98116 January 25, 2017 (1:59 pm)

    Common sense and fairness prevail-

    https://web6.seattle.gov/Examiner/case/document/7082

    • WSB January 25, 2017 (2:04 pm)

      You were hitting refresh more often than I was. Thanks for the tip.

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