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Council looks for truce on micro-housing

Developers and neighborhood groups have qualms about proposed micro-housing legislation. Councilmember Mike O'Brien hopes to find common ground.
Councilmember Mike O'Brien

Councilmember Mike O'Brien Wikipedia

A workgroup of developers and neighborhood advocates, assembled by Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien, will meet this afternoon to begin discussing how they think micro-housing legislation the council is considering can be improved.

O'Brien chairs the council's planning and land use committee. He decided to convene the group after hearing critical feedback during recent meetings about the newly proposed regulations for the small-sized apartments. Developers say the proposed rules are too restrictive and would quash Seattle's micro-housing market. Neighborhood advocates are concerned about the pace at which the projects are being built, where they are located and the amount of parking.

Also up for debate are Department of Planning and Development guidelines, incorporated into the legislation, for reviewing the design of micro-housing apartment buildings.

Some neighborhood advocates are also skeptical of so-called congregate housing developments, a building classification traditionally reserved for structures like dormitories and retirement homes. They question whether these types of residences should be available for the general public to live in. Regulations for congregate residences are also included in the legislation.

Explaining the creation of the workgroup, O'Brien said, "My hope is that by pulling in some people who are willing to have a conversation, and talk about their concerns, is that we might be able to find some shared values and some common ground." He added: "I have no doubt that there will be policy disagreements at the end of it, but I'm hoping to clarify what those are and frame them up for the council."

A Department of Planning and Development list from the end of February shows 62 micro-housing and congregate residence buildings in various stages of development. The number of rooms in each of them ranges from seven to 230. All together, the planned and completed buildings would add 3,123 rooms to the city's housing market. The list showed that 704 of those units had city certificates allowing for occupants. Square footage for some micro apartments in the projects under development in Seattle would be around 200 square feet including bathroom space — about the same size as four or five pool tables. 

The proposed legislation would change the city's land use code, creating a definition for micro-apartments based on room-size and prohibiting buildings containing the small-sized living spaces in areas zoned for single family homes. The regulations also include minimum-size measurements for shared kitchen spaces as well as parking requirements.

Mayor Ed Murray directed the Department of Planning and Development to forward the regulations to the council earlier this year.

Scott E. Shapiro, a member of the workgroup and managing director of Eagle Rock Ventures LLC, a development firm with six micro-housing projects in the works in Ballard and Capitol Hill, said he is optimistic that many of the concerns raised about the proposed regulations can be addressed. But he does not support the legislation as it stands.

"I think it would greatly reduce, if not eliminate micro-housing in the city of Seattle," he said.

For Linda Alexander, who is representing the Eastlake neighborhood on the workgroup, the added strain the buildings could put on street parking is a key issue. "Parking is a big issue for all of the neighborhoods," she said.

Roger Valdez, director of Smart Growth Seattle, a pro-density organization backed by micro-housing developers including Shapiro's firm, said that the parking issue is being overstated. "These people don't have cars," he said. "If the people had cars, they'd go buy a product some place where there's parking."

The proposed regulations would require one parking space for every four sleeping rooms.

While Alexander, who has been a real-estate developer in Seattle for about 30 years, is not opposed to micro-housing, she does not feel the same way about congregate, dormitory-like buildings. She points to a proposed congregate building on Eastlake Avenue East, just north of East Hamlin Street, as a cause for concern. The building is currently moving through the Department of Planning and Development permitting process and, as planned, would include 113 bedrooms and no parking.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 19, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

How about if we exempt the new buildings that don't have parking spaces from getting residential parking zone permits for the areas that they are in? If the idea is to attract people who don't have or don't need cars then it shouldn't cause any problems.

talisker

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Sounds terrible. No one is going to want to live for long in such cramped quarters, especially if people couple up and have kids, so these will be for the most part high turnover transient housing.

And why should we believe that "these people don't have cars"? Where's the evidence? What if they move in and buy cars, or they have friends who drive and who want to visit? How about when they have a party? Where will the three or four people who could potentially cram into such a small space park their cars if they drive? Can the buyers/tenants be required to sign a binding agreement that they do not have and will not get cars at any time during their tenancy? Given the terrible increase in traffic as people move to Seattle, I'd say anyone who believes "these people don't have cars" is simply delusional. These people DO have cars, and they're driving them.

Supportive statements for this kind of thing are nothing more than fantasy; they don't take into account the real world and will not turn out to be true. And at that point, these places will already be built and blighting the areas where they're allowed.

mspat

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Well now, I imagine they would park in the same places that the friends or partygoers of their neighbors are allowed to park in, don't you? Or are you really just trying to say that you think homeowners are better than the people who live in these types of properties?

As for the residents, early studies suggest only up to 1/3 of residents own vehicles. Again, though, are they not allowed to park on the street like their neighbors do?

Can I REQUIRE that all homeowners park their cars in their garages, which is what they were built for? Or do you just think that some people are entitled to park in the street and have views but not others?

Mickymse

Posted Sun, Jun 22, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Apparently you misunderstand what these units are. they will not be for homeowners, these are rental units.

In concept, we all know and understand the need for low income housing.

my concerns, which others posting here agree with are
- where is a micro- housing completed building in Seattle full of renters so we each can go to that neighborhood and see first-hand how these buildings impact their neighborhood.
- huge concern regarding parking issues
- huge concern about who will live in these homes, and how many of the occupants will have drug, violence,, alcohol, criminal, sex register, young people who want to have big parties in teeny units, etc backgrounds
- the sheer number of units in a basically single family area
- police problems created by more people living together in right quarters who may or may not have 'issues'

For the city to be agreeing to allow so many if these buildings is a great concern, because it is happening so fast, and with very little history to get a sense of what is likely to happen.

The city council should not gloss over these questions, they are legitimate.

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

The city council considers single family homeowners to be their sworn enemies, which is one reason why they were redistricted. It's finally dawning on people here that city government hates you if you drive a car or own a house.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

"While Alexander, who has been a real-estate developer in Seattle for about 30 years, is not opposed to micro-housing, she does not feel the same way about congregate, dormitory-like buildings"

That sounds somewhat contradictory as these are basically the same thing.

The fact that she is a long-time real-estate developer makes this sound like her profit margins will go down if such projects are allowed.

The parking issue is a total red herring.

jeffro

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

@jeffro - why do you think the parking is a red herring? I certainly concur that most people who appeal to living in "congregate" housing will not own a car. But surely some will and some guests will. Street parking will become harder to find.

That said, any increase in density is likely to cause more use of street parking. Congregate housing is but one example. But, I believe, it is real and therefore not a red herring.

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Good question. Furthermore don't even noncar owners have bicycles, motorized scooters; where do those go? in the street of course. Do noncar owners have friends who drive cars? surely not.

kieth

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Like I said above - exempt those addresses from eligibility for RPZ permits. And to take it further, for limit eligibility for RPZ permits for any new housing to the number of off-street parking spaces provided.

talisker

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

With 62 micro housing projects 'on the books' and and increase of nearly 3200 new rooms in Seattle, you can bet parking is a huge concern, in fact, it is the # 1 concern I have, and a rise in crime in the neighborhood locations is the # 2 concern I have.

If people were to project that these units would be filled with elderly seniors, I'd be fairly comfortable with the idea that there would be very few cars. However, if these units will be filled with people between the ages of 18 to 70, I know darned well cars and parking will be tremendous problems. Will sex offenders be allowed to live in these buildings? How about prisoners released from time served? Will these tiny units also have children living with a mom or dad?

62 of these buildings in the works right now is a huge concern, point me to even one example of a project such as this that is built, and running smoothly. I'd like to go walk around the building, the neighborhood and observe first hand how the maintenance of the property itself is, as well as how the parking in the neighborhood is faring.

Perhaps the best solution would be to only allow micro housing along very busy roads such as Aurora Avenue where there is no parking already. Put these buildings adjacent to bus stops and there could be success, but I admit to feeling these are going to be disasters for years to come.

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

The bigotry is just dripping in these comments, isn't it?

Now, we're afraid of "sex offenders" and former "prisoners"? You are aware that sex offenders can buy houses next to where you live, too, right? In fact, I'll guarantee you that RIGHT NOW there are sex offenders and folks wrestling with drug addiction and mental health issues living in your neighborhood. You don't need to have micro-housing for that.

Mickymse

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 7:02 p.m. Inappropriate

So tell us why you're so eager to stuff our neighborhoods with your favorite rapists, lunatics, and drug addicts. Is it because you want to drive out the last few remaining families?

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

About 25 years ago this issue was controversial in my neighborhood. Certain people bought old, big houses and rented rooms. The single-family zoning designation was ambiguous because the traditional nuclear family was beginning to seem quaint and Seattle, ever eager to embrace a trend, decided that these "rooming houses" (which term triggered some other code restrictions) were indeed single family even when a large number of unrelated individuals (all in their 20s and 30s) shared a house and, inevitably, curb parking because the word family was just not meaningful any more. Well, skyrocketing house prices dampened that activity because it became pretty expensive to buy big, sometimes charming, old houses. They were sought after by actual families that happened to have a lot of money. This latest assault on single family zoning is much worse and one reason is that these buildings cannot easily be used for anything else; they can't be converted back to actual single-familly structures. They are a blight and they will stay that way.

kieth

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad we know who is acceptable to live in your neighborhood. Tell us more, though...

Can they be any families? Or do they have to be white, Christian families?

What if I bought the homes and rented them to low-income families? Is that okay, or do they have to be in an acceptable income bracket for you?

Maybe you can start a homeowner's association and control what color they paint the house and how often they mow their lawns, too?

Mickymse

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 7:04 p.m. Inappropriate

You don't want families in Seattle. If you did, you wouldn't be welcoming drug addicts, lunatics, and rapists into the neighborhoods. People with children moving to the Puget Sound increasingly locate outside of Seattle, and I can't blame them at all.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle is deciding whether we want to be affordable or not.

Mandated unit sizes? How Hunts Point. We're talking about people getting their own homes at market rate rather than roommates, subsidy, or the gutter. Which is better?

As for the people who wouldn't themselves live in small units, so what? Other people are clamoring for them.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I sympathize with your argument but, as it stands now, City policy favors high density, including relaxed parking standards, in some areas where there is frequent transit, walkable shopping, the usual buzz, and that makes some sense. Most single family zoning is not blessed with those characteristics and yet, as I understand it, there is no limitation on these perversions of "single family" development. Correct me if I am wrong but I think that is now where we stand.

kieth

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

You are wrong. Planners do though, talk out of both sides of their mouths. a) They are currently not allowed in SF. b) the proposal is to not allow them in SF, and I don't mean San Francisco.

afreeman

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't suggest micros in single-family zones either. But certainly in any multifamily or urban village zone.

mhays

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Editor, please consider banning NotFan. There is no reason such personally hateful comments should be allowed.

sarah90

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 6:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Yep, let's censor everyone who's not the kind of "progressive" who wants to stuff our neighborhoods full of their favorites: rapists, lunatics, and drug addicts. Please, Crosscut, if that sentiment is unacceptable, then ban me. It'll be an honor. Really.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm with sarah90. I don't mind contrary points of view but NotFan is just a broken record of his dislikes no matter the topic. A waste of bandwidth.

Mr_Jones

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 1:23 p.m. Inappropriate

His comments on this thread are so offensive I sent "inappropriate" notices to editor. I suggest doing that every time; that will get the editor's attention far better than posts here. Takes ten seconds.

louploup

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't want drug addicts, lunatics, and rapists in my neighborhood. That's "bigotry" and gets deleted? No wonder Seattle's "progressives" are so thoroughly whacked.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 7 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, you are a typical "progressive" who cannot stand contrary comments. I completely disrespect you, not simply for your viewpoints, but for your oh-so-typical "progressive" Seattle dishonesty. You are not one bit different than the wingnuttiest wingnut on the eastern side of the mountains.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Jun 22, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

And what are you? Tolerant of "contrary comments"? Uh, no...

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 12:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Unlike Seattle's "progressives" here, I have never asked, demanded, or suggested that you and your kind be censored. Quite to the contrary, in fact. I very much prefer that your utter jackassery be published in its full and putrid glory for all to see.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Your comments remind me of http://www.dsphotographic.com/g2/singapore/singaporeZoo/Baboons+-004.jpg.html
Similar entertainment value anyway.

louploup

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 7:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah yes, "personally hateful comments." Not a peep from Sarah90, because like every Seattle "progressive," she's fine with "hate" as long as it's directed at those she hates.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Jun 22, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Shows what happens when we rely largely on private enterprise to solve the demand/density problem - a race to the lowest common denominator (the bottom).

The reality is that we've failed miserably when it comes to preserving affordable housing. Few would choose to live in apodments, if there were sufficient affordable alternatives.

One possibility would be the extension of zoned parking permits into areas where apodments have caused parking squeezes, with a minimum residential-space requirement to get a permit (with only four permits allowed in a typical 16-unit apodment building, for instance). That would at least test the assertion that apodment dwellers aren't likely to own cars.

As to guests and visitors being able to find parking, that could be addressed by a system of temporary permits that can be purchased and printed online.

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 12:43 a.m. Inappropriate

A much better solution is for Seattle's "progressives" on the city council and elsewhere to quit taking payoffs from developers. Yup, corruption. Yup, right here. Yup, among the "progressives." At least I hope it's corruption, because the alternative is gullibility, which is far less respectable or forgivable than a suitcase under the table.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

It is not an either/or universe. There are more than just two viewpoints.

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