First city comment on the townhouse “micropermitting” report

The first city official we pinged about this (see earlier report) was Council President Richard Conlin — and he replied tonight:

Thanks for the message. I am very familiar with this problem — we caught a developer on Greenwood doing this a couple of years ago, not for the design review purpose, but to evade sidewalk construction requirements. When we reported it to DPD, they were able to enforce the requirement by telling the developer that both parts of the project had to be permitted together. I wasn’t aware that it was as widespread as your story indicates, I thought the one we found was an isolated instance.

Since DPD did take corrective action on the one we found, that suggests that it is not the law that needs to be changed, but rather that something in DPD’s procedures. I’m wondering if there were complaints made on any of these projects and if DPD responded in any way. It may be that a Councilmember intervening might be necessary, which would be unfortunate, as that should not be required, but it is a path that can be taken.

Council President Conlin, you may recall, had some interesting comments about development — “McMansions” in particular — during his appearance last week before the Alki Community Council (WSB coverage here). One other note — we sent the “micropermitting” link from earlier today to our favorite citywide news blog, Slog, thinking they might be interested since Slog and parent publication The Stranger pay closer attention to development issues than many other citywide news sources. They posted a followup late today; if you haven’t seen it yet, that link is here.

13 Replies to "First city comment on the townhouse "micropermitting" report"

  • David Foster January 26, 2008 (7:14 am)

    Mr. Conlin, with all due respect, if you thought the project you cited was an isolated case, then you are not “very familiar” with this problem.

    Scores of projects are being permitted this way. Please, take leadership and put a stop to this!

  • Jen January 26, 2008 (7:53 am)

    Bravo for bringing this issue to the attention of all of us who live amidst these awful townhomes. Many of us who make a living in real estate are pained by the direction new construction is and has been going in West Seattle and throughout the city. I may make a living listing and selling property but I have to live next to these (usually poorly built) eyesores just like everyone else and frankly I’m sick of it.

  • Alvis January 26, 2008 (10:10 am)

    The city also needs to stop letting builders routinely get away with developing on sloped property and measuring height limits from the highest part of the slope, usually an alley, instead of measuring height limits from the street level of the slope.

  • tb January 26, 2008 (12:48 pm)

    @1: agreed…with all due respect mr.conlin, if you think there are only isolated incidents of this (seriously??), i suggest you take a quick look around! it is so hard not to notice. please do something.

  • ‘Micropermitting’ - the zoning loop hole that lets you build more » Smarter Neighbors January 26, 2008 (1:50 pm)

    […] was interesting to note in a follow-up post on (props to WSB on the active follow-up, you’re kicking the Times butt […]

  • candrewb January 26, 2008 (2:48 pm)

    Mr Conlin, also with all due respect, your explanation is weak.

  • Vlad O January 26, 2008 (6:18 pm)

    I’m glad that Richard Conlin is finally showing some interest in this issue. When our community appealed to both the Mayor and City Council about the piecemeal permitting process for the 13 unit townhouse at the 7200 block of California last year, we didn’t get any reply from Richard’s office. We did get some interest from Councilmembers Rasmussen, Steinbrueck and Clark, although they were content with DPD’s broad claim that “piecemealing” was a normal process (it isn’t). The Mayor’s office did little except to issue a statement by a spokesman that everthing was normal (again without addressing the very specific legal issues that were raised). And so it goes…

    Kudos to David for keeping this issue in the light, I think he is right that what is needed is a legal action against the city. The current administration is complicit in allowing our communities to be destroyed by developments that do not get the proper scrutiny under both city and state law. It needs to be held accountable.

  • m January 26, 2008 (6:53 pm)

    ok great, so what is the next step and who is going to do it?

  • acemotel January 26, 2008 (9:45 pm)

    Conlin’s willingness to acknowledge and address the problem is a good step in the right direction. I would rather not criticize and alienate potential allies.

  • Ginger Rodgers January 26, 2008 (10:58 pm)

    Maybe the issue here is the difficulty of enforcing the SEPA and Design Review threshold requirements. A question for the land use permitting sages among us: Could a developer just spin off a number of entities to hold each portion of the project and develop it as a number of separate projects, each of which does not meet the threshold?

  • Renee January 27, 2008 (11:17 am)

    We have a similar problem in Pinehurst where a developer is putting in 24 townhouses in an L3 zone, but does not have to go through either SEPA or design review for the new construction.

  • Todd January 27, 2008 (2:11 pm)


  • Brittani Ard February 12, 2008 (5:41 pm)

    To clarify… L-1 and L-2 never trigger Design Review, so most of the developments would never go through Design Review. If DPD can reduce permitting timing then we would not need to avoid Design Review/SEPA. Right now it takes almost 1 year to get a permit on a 6-Unit site. With Design Review that time is at least doubled. Those additional holding costs increase the final sale price, thus making affordable housing harder to achieve. Instead of just beating up the developers, try focusing on DPD to make permitting a quicker process. The majority of my clients will agree that Design Review is not a bad thing, the time it takes to go through Design Review is the problem. Also, with the changes to the Multifamily Code that are on the Mayor’s desk right now… things like setbacks, front porches, useable open space, reducing the requirements for that awful 5′ fence on the street are all being addressed. We as a development community are looking forward to being able to design something better. We have been constrained by the current code. It is DPD, not use that requires that 5′ fence, or private “unusable’ open space, or that same craftsmen style to keep it under the current 25’ height limit (thus not allowing for a modern-flat-green roof design). They also don’t allow us to put a porch in our front yard. These are all things that we want to see, that we want to build. I understand that there are builders that have no regard for the neighborhood, but as a whole, we are decent, hard-working people. So please stop just blaming the developer. There is a way for developers and neighbors to create an amazing city… this constant back and forth bashing… is never going to achieve that.

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