Pollet to O’Brien: Stop Single-Family Home Building

polletState Representative Gerry Pollet, a Democrat from Seattle’s north end, introduced legislation to mandate notification of neighbors when a new home is being built in a single-family zone. Fortunately, Representative Pollet’s bill, which only had one other sponsor also a north end legislator, died in the State Legislature. Pollet’s efforts aren’t really about notice, but trying to please his well heeled north end constituents, with lots of money to hire lawyers, who don’t want anyone else moving into their neighborhoods.

Here’s what the opponents of single-family housing say about notice:

Worst of all, because no notice is given to neighbors, many miss out on their only opportunity to protest or stop the construction of a backyard / side yard house: a LUPA lawsuit. (Under state law, LUPA lawsuits must be filed within 21 days of a backyard / side yard house project being approved. But, how can citizens be expected to file a LUPA suit within that timeline when they’re never notified?)

Representative Pollet knows this isn’t about participation or democracy but about the appeal. If noticing these neighbors meant they came over and brought fresh baked cookies that would be one thing, but the notice is intended to provoke a lawsuit against, ironically, the City of Seattle which would likely be unsuccessful anyway. The intention is to stop new housing, pure and simple. 

If some neighbors want to know what can be built in their neighborhoods the best thing the City Council can do is pass the 80 Percent Rule, a proposal we’ve been advocating for over a year. The 80 Percent Rule would:

  • Allow the development of lots that are 80 percent of the average block face facing a street;
  • Limit the height of proposed new homes to 22 feet;
  • Include set backs for front, side, and back yards; and
  • Have a lot limit of 2000 to 2500 square feet.

This proposal would allow everyone to know exactly what can be built and what can’t long before anyone even seeks a permit. The 80 Percent Rule is a pragmatic and sensible response to a complicated code that confuses builders and neighbors. Making it easier to understand helps everyone — unless all you want to do is stop new homes from being built.

And what about Representative Pollet’s quote in the KIRO Story that ran last night?

“These are monstrosities, they ruin neighborhoods, they literally destroy the value of the houses next door,” said Pollet.

Representative Pollet is wrong on three counts. First of all, if the 80 Percent Rule passed, houses would be much smaller than the allowable 37 feet tall than is currently allowed in single-family zones. The idea that new infill developments are monster houses is absurd, especially when you ask, “Compared to what?” Usually infill homes are smaller or the same size as surrounding homes. We did a study of what our homes would like under the 80 Percent rule compared to what is already doable under existing code in single-family neighborhoods. Our houses are smaller and perfectly in scale.

Our houses are on the right, existing code allows the house on the left.

Our houses are on the right, existing code allows the house on the left.

Second, where is the example Representative Pollet can point to of adjacent houses actually losing appraised or market value from new construction – any new construction? We’d love to see those examples. He might have to wait until the interim because it’s going to take a long time to find any post real estate bubble drops.

Third, some neighbors want to exhaust the hard working builders trying to increase housing choices and options for people who want to live in their neighborhoods, bogging down new homes with process and appeals. Some neighbors want to protect their real estate investment by keeping new people out, a strategy that, in the end, will only hurt their investment.

And lastly, I’d love to see Representative Pollet call an actual person’s house a monstrosity to their face. It’s easy to call people’s homes (homes they’ve worked and saved to build) names when you’re way down in Olympia.

The City Council should protect the  rights of people who want to build new homes and  access to housing choices for people who want to live in our city, whether it is in small-lot housing in Green Lake, microhousing in Ballard, or an accessory dwelling unit in the Rainer Valley .

If they want transparency, upset neighbors should support the 80 Percent Rule which would make the land use code in Seattle easier to understand and more predictable for them and builders creating places for people to live. Using the legal process to bog down builders will costs jobs, increase housing prices, and create a poisonous atmosphere for new people moving to our city.

Let Councilmember O’Brien know what you think about this issue and e-mail him at mike.obrien@seattle.gov.

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