Fact Check: Proposed West Seattle Homes Are Neighborly

There is something about land use and housing that provokes a lot of interest and emotion. That’s especially true about new housing in single-family neighborhoods. New housing in any neighborhood means change, and change isn’t always easy to accept.

A project in West Seattle that will add two new homes where there is only one has sparked a lot of comment and discussion over at the West Seattle Blog. Some of the comments aren’t, well, very neighborly.

Some of the concerns expressed in the comments make sense, though: if something is really great, especially a neighborhood, why change it? Why introduce uncertainty into something we already like?

Part of the answer of course is that Seattle is a growing city, with lots of new people moving in who need places to live. Some of those people will want to live in single-family homes, maybe even in West Seattle. These new homes at this property will help meet that need in the city rather than in a sprawling suburb.

Let’s consider one commenter’s concern about the new project:

That is a ghastly proposal. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should! Case in point: we added a floor two years ago to our house, and the city said we could go up 13 feet. That would have made our house tower over all homes on our block. To be neighborly, we kept the rise to only 8 feet. Result? No grumpy neighbors. And an healthy conscience.

But let’s look the facts about the project that is being proposed and see whether it is excessive or a project that actually is smaller than what the code allows.

The project is not, as the Seattle Weekly declares, a “Dan Duffus Development.” The project is financed by Blueprint Capital, sponsor of Smart Growth Seattle, but the property is owned by JMS Homes. That owner and the contractor, All Day Construction, offered to sell the neighbors a view easement over the existing one story home and over one of the two new proposed homes. Offering this kind of easement is not required by the code, but the neighbors declined.

Also important is that the owner is not demolishing the existing home, but preserving it, and building one 22 foot two story home with about 2000 square feet above grade (which is within the limits imposed by the “emergency” legislation passed last year. The second home is three stories and below the 30-foot height limit with about 2800 square feet above grade.

As for the commenter’s worry that the site is being maxed out creating the “grumpy neighbors,” existing code would allow demolishing the old house and the construction of two 5000 square foot homes. That would have an even bigger view impact than what is proposed and be more than twice the square footage. Rather than max out the site with two big houses, the project holds back, allows more views, and supports three homes on the site instead of two; that’s sustainable, efficient, and neighborly.

Call it growing pains: the frustration and anxiety created by new people moving in next door, new construction, and the loss of views. That’s the kind of change that can make people upset, but the truth is that this project isn’t as big as it could be but it does create homes for two more families in what in a neighborhood that people obviously love.

Emotion aside, the project really isn’t excessive at all, but meets the standards of legislation intended to help make new development more predicable and fit into existing patterns of development.

Image from Google Maps

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