The C Is for Crank

The Small-Lot Menace

Once again, the Seattle Times misconstrues what's happening on small lots in single-family neighborhoods.

By Erica C. Barnett September 25, 2013


The C Is for Crank

The Seattle Times reports, again, that tall, skinny houses on so-called "substandard lots"—lots smaller than what's allowed under current single-family neighborhoods—are actually, literally, in people's backyards. 

The headline: "Green Lake Neighbors' Appeal on backyard house rejected." 

The subhead: "A federal judge has rejected an appeal from Green Lake neighbors that a three-story house in the backyard of an existing bungalow violated their property rights."

The lede: "A judge has rejected a Green Lake neighborhood’s challenge to a three-story home built in the backyard of an existing bungalow." 

The problem: The house isn't in the backyard of anything. It's on a separate piece of property that's approved for development as a so-called "substandard" (AKA small) lot under old rules that predate the city's zoning code. Very few lots in the city meet the definition of substandard. 

And it no longer matters anyway. In response to neighborhood concerns, the city has passed (and extended) a moratorium on small-lot developments. The particular "backyard" development the Times is writing about is exempt from that moratorium because, among other things, it was already built before the city adopted the moratorium.

Obviously, the Times is no fan of small-lot developments (or aPodments—the paper has run several stories giving the mike to opponents of the small, affordable units). But it simply isn't accurate to imply that developers are literally invading people's backyards, tearing down their fences, and taking over property that they own.

Obviously, that would be illegal. These "side yards" and "back yards" are owned by somebody else—in the Green Lake case, a property owner a couple of doors down from one of the homeowners who sued to stop it on the grounds that it constituted his "backyard."  

Look, you can have a legitimate beef with a development that you think is out of scale with a single-family house. But the Times' anti-development reporting is misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

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