KING 5: What’s the Big Story?

Last Friday KING 5 news went out to JMS Homes’ site on 55th and Manning in West Seattle to talk with neighbors and JMS about the project. When Linda Brill the reporter asked me what the big story was I said, “there isn’t one.” I pointed to Bill Richmond the developer of the project and said, “this is just another day at the office for Bill.” Why does such straight forward project attract so much attention? It’s because things are changing in the neighborhood, and change is difficult. But if Seattle is going to grow smart, we’re going to have to learn to change together, and doing that is the big story.

I’ve already covered the facts of the project; it’s smaller than it could have been under the code, it will create a smaller view impact than if the site was fully built out, and there will be three homes on the site rather than two. And the project fits entirely within the “emergency” legislation passed last year.

But let’s take a look at the language in the KING 5 segment. It’s a short piece, but it covers a lot of ground.

Greed or financial responsibility?

One of the neighbors says Bill is greedy. It’s hard to understand how that could be when JMS could have gotten two big houses on the site with more square footage. There is a difference between greed and profit, and it’s unfortunate that the neighbors can’t tell the difference. When developers buy land, they have to meet the basic financial obligation of creating a return on the initial investment, often made with the help of other investors. Creating more value by creating more homes isn’t greed, it’s financially responsible.

Smaller houses on a big lot

The report starts out talking about the “problem” of big houses on small lots, but later in the report you’ll hear about the “ample lots” that prevail in the neighborhood. Remember this lot is already 12,000 square feet. And the houses aren’t big houses, but two smaller houses being built next to the existing house. You’ll hear the reporter say more than once the phrase “three small homes” or “three small houses” which is more accurate than the tease or the headline.

“Knitting together all these loop holes”

The word “loophole” gets thrown around a lot in discussion about development in single-family neighborhoods. There are many senses of the word, but the best definition of what I think the neighbor means is from Wikipedia:

A loophole is an ambiguity in a system, such as a law or security, which can be used to circumvent or otherwise avoid the intent, implied or explicitly stated, of the system.

That’s the opposite of what’s happening here since the developer is actually following the intent of the legislation passed last year, reducing the height of houses so that they fit within the new requirements. And as for “knitting together loopholes,” I would just have to refer that to the metaphor police.

No code change

At one point the reporter suggests that the developer is requesting a “code change.” Strictly speaking a code change is a change to the underlying rule itself, which is very different than submitting a permit to build or a request to sub-divide property. And code changes require a vote of the City Council; the Council isn’t voting on this project.

Which way is the view?

Um, this one is a bit hard to bring up. Take a look at the final image of the famous and eponymous bench of the Benchview Neighborhood.


The bench faces the water and the project site is behind it. You can see the clutch of neighbors talking to the reporter in the background. The view from the bench is going to be just fine.

Neighborhood Density

Finally, Bill points out that he is creating neighborhood density, efficiently creating a housing option for more people in a smaller footprint. It’s only two additional houses, but that’s two families that might have the option of living in Seattle rather than somewhere else, having to commute to work from the suburbs. It’s a small contribution to sustainability, but one that’s worth it even though it means change for the people already living there. That small contribution should be the big story.

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