Blaine residents say ‘not in your backyard’ — Council shuts down small lot tall-n-skinnies

Backyard site of a future 3-story tall-n-skinny behind 1905 Blaine St. Image: Montlaker

Montlake’s spirit of civic activism is alive and well.

After Blaine residents learned of the subdivision and backyard development of a house on their street last spring, neighbors organized a campaign to prevent “absurdly large houses on small lots” going up all over Seattle. Yesterday, their efforts paid off — the City Council voted 9-0 on emergency legislation introduced by Richard Conlin aimed at stopping the practice until a permanent solution can be found.

The small lot subdivision at 1905 Blaine Street (previous post here) and its new backyard neighbor 2114 19th Ave E (another post here) are already permitted by DPD. “We knew all along that we would most likely not be able to completely stop any construction there,” said Erin Miller, of the Blaine Street Preservation Association. “We know this will not necessarily help our individual neighborhoods with what has already been approved but we hope our actions can help stop this from happening someplace else.”

While residents from several Seattle neighborhoods testified yesterday before the Council vote, Montlake residents led with no less than five speakers. Miller’s testimony mentioned 700+ signatures collected by their group and a request for audience members to stand up in agreement with their position. Just about the whole room stood before the Councilmembers.

Backyard developer Dan Duffus objects to his “affordable and sustainable” tall-n-skinny homes being banned by the City Council. “The fact they are calling it an “Emergency” is a farce in itself in that that same code has been in effect for almost 25 years now pertaining to Small Lots.”

Richard Conlin, sponsor of the emergency legislation explained:

The emergency ordinance is a rarely-used procedure in which the Council can act quickly to provide a short term fix (stopping problem activities) while it considers legislation for a long-term solution; in this case, land use standards that make sense on very small single family lots.  Emergency ordinances are defined under State law, and expire after one year.

The emergency ordinance brings these lots into conformance with other lots under the City’s land use regulations by preventing development on lots that are less than 50% of the square footage defined as a minimum size in the underlying zoning.  It also ends the use of historic property tax records as a basis for qualifying for minimum lot area exceptions, and allows development of lots with an area up to 75 percent of the general minimum lot area of the zone (i.e. lots up to 3,750 square feet in an SF 5000 zone), but only up to a limit of 22 feet in height (2 stories).  Owners of existing houses on small lots retain the right to renovate, replace, or expand their houses.

This is a big win for Seattle’s single-family heartland. A line is being drawn between areas where dense urban growth can occur and where single family zones are to be preserved. However, development pressure will continue to increase in Montlake as UW Station opens in 2016 and (if) biking and walking improvements to 520 are made. While Montlake lacks a neighborhood plan to manage its growth, the efforts of Blaine residents reflect the spirit and will to manage growth not just in their own neighborhood, but in others as well.

Ironically, after yesterday’s victorious City Council meeting, residents returned home to bulldozers behind 1905 Blaine. The permit was issued last Thursday.

2 thoughts on “Blaine residents say ‘not in your backyard’ — Council shuts down small lot tall-n-skinnies

  1. Thanks for the great article. Most of us who have been working on this will be continuing to work on the new legistlation to be sure that this city is thoughtful of communities. Thank you to everyone who came to the city council meeting. It made a difference. Feel free to post suggestions or comments concerning what you would like the legistation to look like on the Blaine Street Preservation page on facebook. These will be shared with the committee.

  2. Pingback: DPD’s small lot development forum to discuss residential D-word | montlaker

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