The C Is for Crank
Three Houses on 12,000 Square Feet is Not a "Travesty"
Why the outrage over a proposal to add two houses to a 12,000-square-foot single-family lot is misguided.
Environmental activist Roger Valdez, whose new group, Smart Growth Seattle, is funded by a group of developers promoting more housing on small single-family lots, offers a compelling rebuttal to a Weekly piece sympathetic to neighbors who are trying to block a development in West Seattle on the grounds that it's (sigh) "out of scale" with the neighborhood.
The lot, at nearly 12,000 square feet, is currently home to a single two-bedroom house; the developers have proposed adding two more houses, each around 2,900 square feet, to the spacious property.
So, just to be clear: We're not talking about a huge increase in density or apartments looming over anybody's backyard. We're not even talking about the sterile "four-pack" and "six-pack" townhouses that so outraged density opponents a few years back. We're talking about creating space for two more modest homes on a vast, largely vacant, lot.
But instead of highlighting that rather salient fact, much less talking to anyone who supports even modest increases in density in a growing city, Shapiro handed the mike to to an angry neighbor who called the project a "rude, selfish and greedy" attempt to "cram" too much density down residents' throats.
(Comments on the West Seattle Blog have been equally vitriolic, calling the proposal a plot by "greedy developers" to "ruin another neighborhood" and a "travesty.")
Valdez offers this rebuttal:
[E]xisting 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.
Last month, the city council adopted "emergency" legislation barring developers from subdividing so-called "substandard" lots for the development of tall, skinny houses close to existing single-family homes; Valdez has proposed compromise legislation that would developers to build single-family houses on some lots that are now considered too small to develop.
A postscript, for context: The land I live on (a multi-family lot in an overwhelmingly single-family neighborhood) is just 300 square feet smaller than the property where West Seattle residents say three units is too many. The difference: It houses not one, but 17, families.