City tells 2 in-the-works West Seattle microhousing projects that they need Design Review because of court decision

(WSB photo: Planned site of 3268 Avalon microhousing, next to recently opened Footprint Avalon I micros)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 5:30 PM: Two of West Seattle’s three in-the-works microhousing projects face major revisions/reviews because of a recent court decision involving a project on Capitol Hill. PubliCola broke the news that the city sent a letter this week to more than 20 developers of in-the-works projects, explaining that they will now have to go through additional levels of review, including Design Review, if they want to proceed. We found the letter in the online files for two planned West Seattle projects, 3050 SW Avalon Way (here) and 3268 SW Avalon Way (here). Follow either of those links, or read on for the text:

I wanted to let you know about the status of your micro-housing residence project. Approval of another project with a configuration similar to yours was recently challenged in King County Superior Court. Like yours, that project included multiple bedrooms, each with a private bathroom and a counter area, including a sink, which appeared to be suited for food preparation. In a decision issued August 13 and currently under appeal, the judge ruled that each bedroom was configured for use as a separate dwelling unit, and must be regulated accordingly. We have re-examined other similar projects, including your own, in light of that decision. We have concluded that the individual rooms within your proposed development, project no. ——, also must be regulated as separate dwelling units.

If you want us to proceed with review of your project before a decision is reached on the appeal, you must either revise the project to meet code requirements based on the larger number of dwelling units, or else modify the plans so that the bedrooms no longer would be regarded as separate dwelling units.

If you wish to revise the project to reflect a larger number of dwelling units, it will be necessary to add Design Review. Development standards based on the number of units, such as requirements for bicycle parking and trash storage areas, and any applicable density requirements, must be met. Alternatively, you may wait and redesign based on standards for small efficiency dwelling units, currently under consideration by the City Council, once those standards have been adopted.

If you wish to modify the plans so that the rooms are no longer counted as separate dwelling units, you must modify the plans so that bathrooms are shared rather than privately associated with individual bedrooms, or else you must eliminate food preparation areas within each room, including sinks outside of bathrooms, cooking or refrigeration equipment and built-in counters and cabinets.

Additional modifications may be required based on Building Code standards for separate dwelling units. If the project has received bonus floor area for provision of affordable housing under Section 23.58A.014, that approval must be reviewed to ensure continued eligibility based on the change in unit count or any changes to the structure.

Please let us know how you wish to proceed.

The third West Seattle microhousing project in the works, at 5949 California SW, does not have the same letter in its online files. Its permits were granted months ago.

ADDED 4:33 AM WEDNESDAY: The city’s message to these and other projects is also summarized in a Tuesday post we just noticed on the DPD blog-format website.

28 Replies to "City tells 2 in-the-works West Seattle microhousing projects that they need Design Review because of court decision"

  • Diane September 23, 2014 (6:00 pm)

    yay yay yay yay yay yay yay; saw this story on Publicola last night and was hoping it was true, and that you’d dig up the details; thank you

  • Diane September 23, 2014 (6:08 pm)

    note to microhousing developers; you can’t have it both ways; you can’t loophole your way through city hall as “rooms”; and then advertise as “studio apartments”; well, at least maybe not anymore; you got away with it for 2 years and 3,000+ units; thank you King County Superior Court for finally doing what DPD, City Council, Mayor, all the powers that be at City of Seattle would not

  • JanS September 23, 2014 (6:25 pm)

    I’m right there with ya, Diane ! :)

  • John September 23, 2014 (7:53 pm)

    Where do you get your changing figures for unit numbers?
    Yesterday it was 4000.
    Today down to 3000 in the last two years.
    The Seattle Times and DPD report about 1000 in the last four years.

  • David September 23, 2014 (8:08 pm)

    Great news, I still wish 5949 California SW gets the same letter.

  • Rick September 23, 2014 (8:30 pm)

    I’m SO happy about this! I’m all for pursuing greater density, but until Seattle has a reliable, comprehensive transit system, I don’t see how these 48-plus-unit buildings with zero parking are viable in most neighborhoods outside the downtown core and perhaps Capitol Hill. We’re constantly assured by the developers that residents of these “apodment” buildings don’t have cars, but the facts just don’t support those claims.

  • Diane September 23, 2014 (9:12 pm)

    @john; I watched the city council meeting where they quoted 3000-4000+ units, so I just subtracted 1000 for the 20+ developers cited in this story; don’t know the actual # so I went with 3000+

  • Diane September 23, 2014 (9:28 pm)

    has anyone ever seen the plans for 3050 Avalon, with 110 rooms?

  • B September 23, 2014 (9:41 pm)

    Who is living in these units? The rent price is ridiculous for the amount of space you need to share with unknown roommates. I wouldn’t live in these units for HALF what they’re charging.

    Also, I’ll echo that it’s frustrating to see listings for ‘studio’ and ‘one bedroom’ apartments, only to click through and discover one of these.

  • Diane September 23, 2014 (9:48 pm)

    @Rick, re transit, true; but sadly this list doesn’t include the many (100’s?) of very small studios & apts being built along our transit corridor with zero or just a few parking spots; unless they add a LOT more buses, it’s going to be a transit nightmare

  • dsa September 23, 2014 (10:23 pm)

    Finally, good to read some good news on this front.

  • sardine September 24, 2014 (6:50 am)

    It’s too bad that DPD staff aren’t made to pay for all of the vandalism they have allowed to go on this city for the past few years.

  • Michael September 24, 2014 (8:35 am)

    In the decision, the judge states that the DPDs characterization of the development as 8 units because there are only 8 kitchens and common living areas with bedrooms clustered around was “CLEARLY ERRONEOUS”. Why does it take legal action to get the DPD to do it’s job? If it is clearly erroneous, why did it get passed through so easily? There are a lot of answers to that question, just depends who you ask. Perhaps John can shed some light on it…

  • buckwheat September 24, 2014 (8:57 am)

    Too bad it took a judge with some common sense to put a temporary halt to this crap.

  • Rick September 24, 2014 (9:18 am)

    But…but…but…but…never mind. Nothing to see here,move along. And they will, to the next gullible city. + many more adjectives that could be added. Yes John, please explain it to me. Slowly, so I can better understand.

  • pjmanley September 24, 2014 (10:11 am)

    No developer will build 1 & 2 BR Apartments when they can earn 2 to 3 times the profit per sq. ft. on these tiny dormitory spaces. It’s up to the city to regulate, enforce the laws and keep balance in the marketplace. By exempting these from the laws that govern everyone else, government is favoring one group over others, tampering with and infecting the market. I’m no supply-sider, but this is plain as day, foolish, and corrupt as hell.

  • John September 24, 2014 (10:21 am)

    I have no stake or inside line as I do not work for or develop apartments.

    I wish I could shed some light on actions taken with political ambitions, as the mayor and city council pass the rules directing the various city agencies to carry them out.

    It is good to see that the stakeholder aka NIMBY groups have finally realized where to focus their rage. DPD has wrongly been receiving the tirades the elected officials deserve.

    From Publicola
    “Skittish aPodment developers looking for clarity on their own projects, which were greenlighted under the same standard, have been alarmed by cagey responses from DPD culminating with a recent email from a DPD staffer saying: “We will be issuing a coordinated response to all applicants on Monday [today]. I can’t say more at this time.”

    If the projects are put on hold A) look for the microhousing developers to sue and B) look for them to call on Murray—who overruled the council on its ridesharing regulations by creating a task force to hammer out a compromise deal that did away with the council caps—to include aPodments on his affordable housing taskforce.” Publicola

    Apparently the legal appeal is underway.

    No matter what the decision, Seattleites will still be angry; we will continue to demand curb parking in front of our car-less garages, face higher demand and higher rents and higher housing costs with fewer choices. Increasing restrictions have already eliminated hundreds of single family residences.

    Positive change will require civic responsibility and sacrifice on all of our parts.

    I hope you are aware of the irony of your statement as the cranes and developments of big apartments (not tiny dorms) surround your house.

  • j September 24, 2014 (1:10 pm)

    I have no problem with these developments…on one condition.
    “No car/motorcycle/scooter people” need to prove they are “no car people” to qualify for this housing. Run a DOL check twice a year. Also impose penalties if found utilizing a car or other WA State licensed motor vehicle as a mode of transportation (double if licensed out of state).
    I would be perfectly fine with the housing then.

  • jon September 24, 2014 (2:09 pm)

    yeah j, and anyone who complains about parking and traffic should not be allowed to own a car themselves, since their precious car contributes to parking and traffic problems for everyone else.

  • David Trotter September 24, 2014 (6:30 pm)

    So, the court bought the “reasoning” that people should be forced to live in larger spaces at higher prices and that more people should be subsequently shoved onto the streets for the financial benefit of developers.

  • au September 25, 2014 (10:10 am)

    The court didn’t buy anything, a judgement was determined using facts.

    I do not know a single person who has ever complained that their living space was too large. But I will agree that apartments could be configured more sensibly. Its just that microhousing is not the solution. It is/will put too much stress upon an already deteriorating infrastructure. That is a big problem, parking is only one part of it.

    True rent is outrageous in Seattle but it is not due to too big apartments. We have a large influx of IT workers whose income is significantly higher than average. Many high end apartments are being constructed and now lots of very very low end living spaces are being created that aren’t affordable. Where is the place for the average family?(Average meaning NOT pulling in a six figure income) The young couple? The two or three friends that want to share living expenses? What is getting built for these categories of people? Nothing or very little.

    Has anybody ever heard a person lamenting the unavailability of an apodment? I really question this idea that 1000s of people really would like the chance to live in a microhousing unit.

  • John September 25, 2014 (12:35 pm)

    Although you may not know any, so many people have issues with their living space being too large, there is a common word to describe it -“downsizing”.

    Additional space has costs in addition to original construction including taxes, heating, cooling, cleaning, maintenance and furnishing all of that space.

    You might be able to rent a large living space such as a warehouse at a small dollar per square foot compared to a micro but what is the point?

    People do lament the lack of availability of small new apartments. The micro units address some of that demand.

    The free market’s response has already proven that thousands of people have chosen living in micro-housing.

    Publications that have interviewed tenants of micro-housing generally get the same response that the apartments are small but nice and a better choice for these individuals than room-mates or a larger average rent $1400 apartment.

    The true lament is that Seattle is no longer the place for the average family whether buying or renting.

    au asks, “What is getting built for these categories of people?”
    Very little or nothing because these people cannot afford market rates in Seattle. Now virtually the only homes being built for the average family are in the suburbs.
    At least the micro units address a part of the un-met demand.

  • Lindsey September 25, 2014 (4:00 pm)

    “Has anybody ever heard a person lamenting the unavailability of an apodment? I really question this idea that 1000s of people really would like the chance to live in a microhousing unit.”

    No, but I’ve definitely heard people lamenting the availability of affordable housing in Seattle. Many, myself included, would rather live in a tiny apartment in the city than a house in Renton.

  • Thomas M. September 25, 2014 (6:16 pm)

    The lamb of parking is being slain at the altar of “affordable housing”. Where are these people going to park? I appears the developers lie, cheat and defraud their way past regulators to make a big building look like it will only be associated with a few cars. If it gets bad enough, then next micro will be paid parking structures for the cars the people in these units “don’t have”.

  • Thomas M. September 25, 2014 (8:55 pm)

    “yeah j, and anyone who complains about parking and traffic should not be allowed to own a car themselves, since their precious car contributes to parking and traffic problems for everyone else.”

    The point is to avoid making things worse than they are already. The fact is these micro developers are fibbing to the City about how much strain these units will put on public resources. If an audit is ever done, they will be long gone, and we will be left holding the bag, at 3 mph, still driving because there’s nowhere to park.

  • John September 26, 2014 (8:43 am)

    @Thomas M,

    Developers have no need to “lie, cheat and defraud their way past regulators to make a big building look like it will only be associated with a few cars.”

    There is no need for the developers to fib “to the City about how much strain these units will put on public resources.”

    Developers were guided by the city’s push towards density following codes passed by the city council and mayor. DPD is charged to carry out the codes.

    The micros were fully vetted and permitted by DPD.

    Audits have been done, but they usually reveal more parking availability than anecdotes of disgruntled citizens. They show we are not at the capacity where RPZ (permit parking) is needed.

    Even if every micro occupant had a car on the street, it would pale in comparison to the number of cars on the street in front of houses not using their driveway and garage off-street parking.

    I hope the point is to make things better than they are now. That involves some civic responsibility and all of us, not just the newcomers, need to think about our assumptions, adjust and inevitably make some sacrifices.

  • Thomas M. October 2, 2014 (8:28 pm)

    Right. Lobbying and influence have zero to do with political decision making. The developers on these specific properties have been absolutely up front and objective in their estimates. The City is absolutely immune to politicking and has a heart of gold. The city needs to whack developers with developer fees to make these guys cough up the true cost of their builder-grade tenement houses. Besides I have the inalienable right to bitch and rail against excessive growth and intend to keep it up. Once the SHTF it will be too late.

Sorry, comment time is over.