Followup: Benchview neighborhood wins key ruling in lot-split fight

(UPDATED FRIDAY MORNING with comment from City Attorney’s Office – scroll down)

(WSB photo taken tonight: Original house at right, under-construction house at left)
8:52 PM: King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman‘s ruling is in, following last Friday’s hearing (WSB coverage here) on the Benchview neighborhood’s fight over boundaries for three potential home sites where one house had stood for decades. We’ve just downloaded the court documents, after getting e-mail with this link to the neighbors’ report on the ruling. While Judge Spearman ruled for the city on two technical points, she ruled against the big point the neighborhood had challenged – the configuration the city had approved for the “lot boundary adjustment” to create three building lots on the site at 55th and Manning, shown in this graphic enhanced by neighbor David Allen:

We’re going back through the court document for more details and will add to this followup.

ADDED 9:31 PM: Here’s the 13-page ruling (PDF); embedded, below:

Judge's ruling in Benchview neighborhood challenge to city-approved lot split

Do note, this case was NOT a lawsuit – it was a challenge brought under the Land Use Petition Act.

From the ruling – the two points on which Judge Spearman sided with the city: One, that it was proper for the city to say the “historic lot exception” applied here; though only one home sat on the corner for 60 years, the land technically was four lots, platted at 2500 square feet. The city had already ruled that one of those lots could not be considered separate because part of it “is needed to satisfy the current rear yard requirement for the existing house.” Two, that it was OK for the owner/developers’ application to have been treated as a Lot Boundary Adjustment case that did not require more public involvement.

The point on which the neighborhood won involves a deck whose presence, as the judge sees it, consolidates three of the four “lots” into one because it juts over the line, and therefore requires the city to change its calculations for the minimum allowable lot size. As a result, one of the three newly boundary-adjusted lots is too small, the judge ruled.

The question now is whether the city will challenge the judge’s ruling. We’ll be seeking comment tomorrow. We originally reported in January on the neighborhood’s concerns.

ADDED 1:23 AM: We asked Benchview’s Dave Allen for comment:

We are thrilled that Judge Spearman made a key ruling in favor of the Benchview neighborhood. By reversing the City’s approval of part of the lot boundary adjustment, the rest of the LBA falls apart and is nullified.

We trust the City will comply with the judge’s decision. The developer can submit a fresh LBA application. But according to City law, the house he is building on the property now disqualifies him from claiming three total lots. Now he only has two.

Two houses on these two lots has always been the fair and reasonable solution. Now it’s the law.

ADDED 10:03 AM FRIDAY: As promised, we contacted the City Attorney’s Office. From spokesperson Kimberly Mills: “We are considering the judge’s ruling. As always, the options include doing nothing (accepting the ruling), seeking reconsideration from the judge, or appealing to the Division One of the Court of Appeals. We have not yet resolved which option to pursue.”

15 Replies to "Followup: Benchview neighborhood wins key ruling in lot-split fight"

  • Amanda July 25, 2013 (9:58 pm)

    Wow! More power to the people. Well done neighbors, well done!

  • JanS July 25, 2013 (10:10 pm)

    funny…I lived a block and a half away from there for 20 years, and never knew it was called “Benchview”…

  • Diane July 25, 2013 (11:56 pm)

    was the bench there 20 yrs ago? it’s actually pretty funny that a neighborhood would be named that because it has a bench with a view

  • Cami July 26, 2013 (6:49 am)

    One for the neighborhoods!

  • 33Pete July 26, 2013 (7:27 am)

    David Allen deserves serious kudos for this one. He is a neighbor’s neigbor and was a key member of the team that spearheaded this charge. Way to go.

  • Cowpie July 26, 2013 (7:30 am)

    I’m a bit lost. I see a new house being built. Does this mean they can’t build a third house? Or does that house under construction have to come down?

    • WSB July 26, 2013 (8:14 am)

      If the ruling stands – can’t build a third house.

  • miws July 26, 2013 (7:35 am)

    I don’t recall hearing of the “Benchview” neighborhood either, as a nearly 55 year lifetimer here, until the recent articles on this.


    I thought that it was perhaps a recent nickname for the area, since I believe it’s near the oft-stolen neighborhood bench(?)



  • enough July 26, 2013 (9:30 am)

    Congrats neighbors! Thank you for standing up.

  • thugbee July 26, 2013 (12:52 pm)

    The name “Benchview” is not an officially recognized name for the area (Genesee Hill). It was coined after a “bench” was placed on the nearby bluff for all to enjoy the “view”. Neighbors bought the bench and maintain the viewing area. It is just one example of the friendly West Seattle spirit of the “inhabitants” and serves as a neighborhood symbol and gathering spot for potlucks, street celebrations, and rallies calling for justice.

    (It’s also the starting point of the little-known “Benchview One-Lap Kids Parade” on the Fourth)

  • Jason July 26, 2013 (5:11 pm)

    I hope the developer builds the two houses, and then builds the biggest ungodly looking additional ADU “cottages” allowed on each lot, just to spite the neighbors. Tired of the whiners.

  • Mike July 26, 2013 (7:34 pm)

    These whiners are upholding the law your city and lobbying developer groups are trying to skirt past.

  • Mike July 27, 2013 (12:15 pm)

    Just so Jason knows, the developer cannot legally build ADU’s to the property anyhow: “The home must be occupied by one or more owner(s) of the property as a permanent and
    principal residence. The owner may live in
    either the main or accessory unit and must
    have a 50 percent or greater interest in the
    property (SMC 23.84A.028).”

  • Jason July 31, 2013 (6:44 am)

    Maybe then, Mike, the developer can “buy” the houses himself and some friends, build the ADU’s right away and then immediately sell them.
    “Upholding the law”? Ha! So, can I assume they never exceed the speed limit anywhere, never overstay a parking meter, always signal a lane change 100 feet before, come to a complete stop at every stop sign…
    Are the whiners searching for other developer violations and attempting to stop them elsewhere in the City?

  • WSRedux August 5, 2013 (6:50 pm)

    No one is whining here except Jason. The neighbors disagreed with the DPD & developer’s interpretation of a complicated set of rules in the Seattle Municipal Code. Sometimes these disagreements go beyond the Hearing Examiner level & end up in court. The DPD & developer lost a key part of the case and the project may have to be scaled back. Just as with any other investment, there is risk in real estate development…no guarantees of profit, nor should there be. In this case if the decision stands, it seems like a win-win: 2 houses for the developer (larger lots = higher price, so he should at least break even) & for the neighborhood, 2 homes that are more in scale to their surroundings. Oh, also the city expands its tax base, which is what drives the city and DPD, not intelligent, rational planning.

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