Last night, the Capitol Hill Precinct Advisory Committee held a small forum in a meeting room at Seattle Central University on aPodments—an issue that has been particularly resonant on Capitol Hill, where many single-family residents have been up in arms over the microhousing developments, which multistory buildings with five or six small apartments on each level, clustered around a central communal kitchen.
The developments are controversial, in part, because under current city design rules at the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), each story counts as an individual unit, a designation that exempts them from requirements to notify neighbors and go through design review.
Additionally, there has long been an inconsistency between how the city's Office of Housing and DPD counted units, so that a building with 56 individual microapartments, for example, would count as 56 units for the purposes of getting low-income housing tax exemptions from OH, and as seven units for DPD's permitting purposes. The city has since addressed that inconsistency, requiring microhousing developers to report the same number of units to both DPD and OH. Meanwhile, the city council is considering new rules that would require microhousing to go through the regular design review process.
But the participants at last night's forum didn't spend much time talking about any of that. Instead, the pro-aPodment side, represented by microhousing advocate Dominic Holden of the Stranger, and the anti-aPodment side, represented by Central District resident Bill Bradburd, Capitol Hill resident Dennis Saxman, and Capitol Hill resident Carl Winter, spent the first hour-plus of the forum shouting past each other and at the audience.
It isn't clear why the panel was so stacked against aPodments (two city representatives, Mike Podowski of DPD and Miriam Roskin of OH, were on hand to explain what the city was doing to address concerns, although residents and anti-microhousing panelists shouted at them too). But the makeup of the panel and the structure of the forum, which consisted largely of audience questions (from an audience that seemed overwhelmingly against microhousing) and responses from the panel, made for an unwieldy (and shouty) discussion. (I left after a little more than an hour; Bradburd tells me the discussion became somewhat more civil after that point—"a great session, and only occasionally wild.")
At any rate, the format certainly produced some great quotes (if no consensus).
Addressing Podowski, Bradburd accused the city of "disinformation, misinformation, obfuscation, and dissembling" about how many aPodments will eventually be built. (Podowski responded that the city has permitted 48 microhousing developments under the old rules, and is waiting for direction from the city council about how to proceed in the future.)
Holden, playing devil's advocate (and attempting to get the anti-aPodment room on his side), said aPodment developer Calhoun Properties has "done a piss-poor job of PR" by failing to respond to allegations that aPodments bring unsavory people into neighborhoods. And he accused the city of "malfeasance" for failing for so long to count microhousing units the same way for tax credits and design review.
However, he added that "A lot of people believe that people who can't afford to live in Seattle need to be banished to the suburbs"—an argument Saxman disputed, claiming the he met someone who lives in an aPodment who makes $75,000 a year.
A representative of Reasonable Density Seattle, an anti-microhousing group, told the panel, "I didn't hear anyone talk about the quality of the tenants. ... We're not opposed to that form of housing; we're opposed to the way they're being slammed into our neighborhoods."
And Jeffrey Cook with the Capitol Hill Community Council said his opposition to microhousing "is not about class warfare. I am a poor person. As an artist, I work three jobs to afford my part of the basement condo I live in [but] if these kinds of buildings and developments want to be taken seriously in our neighborhood, they have to play by the same rules that everybody else has to play by"—a comment that prompted Holden to accuse Cook of "not knowing the zoning in your neighborhood."
At that point, with the tiny room heating up, it was clear there would be no common ground. My last note before leaving around 7:30: "Shouting, talking over each other."
PubliCola is hosting a forum on microhousing and density at 6:00 next Tuesday at the JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous in Belltown (2322 2nd Ave.), emceed by Q13 Fox political correspondent C.R. Douglas. We promise no one will throw eggs or rotten tomatoes.