Developer Forced to Dismantle His Illegal Garage

Developer finally has to follow (at least some of) the same rules as everyone else.

garage demo 1The developer is currently destroying the new garage he built onto the original house at 3650 55th Ave SW.  As described in this earlier post, the developer built a garage that blatantly ignored his city permit, which required the garage to be totally underground.

The City is requiring that the developer modify the garage to make it completely underground because the above ground garage put the property over the limit on lot coverage rules.  (City law requires that single family houses can only cover a certain percentage of the property so there is space between houses.)

The developer is building a new garage, which needs to be about 3 feet lower than the illegal garage.  Dismantling the illegal garage and replacing it with a garage that follows the rules is estimated to cost tens of thousands of dollars.

All this would have been avoided if the developer followed his own building permit.

The developer group that failed to follow the simple rule of building the garage underground is the same developer group that orchestrated the complex web of loopholes which allowed them to build 3 houses in a space where everyone else in the neighborhood is limited to 2 houses.

Also, if the developer had not used loopholes to shrink the lot on the corner to make room for the third house, then his above ground garage would not have exceeded the lot coverage rules.

Council Members’ Vote = Residents Will Care Less about their Neighborhoods

These out of scale houses prove that in Seattle, developers matter more than great neighborhoods.
People naturally don’t care as much about these degraded neighborhoods, so Seattlites will become more isolated, cynical and insensitive to their neighbors.

***

Seattlites are going to care less about their neighborhoods.  And the city the live in.

One of the best parts of Seattle used to be the neighborhoods.   Each had their own character and charm.  The single family areas had grace and harmony, and different architectural styles complemented each other because builders tried to fit new homes into the neighborhood with some sensitivity.  These homes honored and conveyed an ethic that neighbors are considerate to each other.

Neighbors considered each other when remodeling their homes, worked together and helped each other.  Neighbors became your trusted, and often best friends.  Your neighborhood was an extension of your home, the place of rest and refuge after a long day.  It was a place you loved.

Seattle leaders used to value that, so they created a plan to accommodate the new homes where they make sense – in urban villages where you can walk, shop and take transit.

As these areas became more dense, it became even more important to have quiet, green spaces with trees, open air and sunshine for everyone to enjoy.  Parks and single family neighborhoods filled that need.  A rejuvenating and soothing walk or bike ride through our single family neighborhoods were good for the soul.  They were an extension of our park system.

That is going away.

Thanks to certain City Council members, many more neighborhoods will look like Benchview, with out-of-scale, 3 story skinny houses crammed on very small lots.  (btw, Council members don’t think a 3,200 s.f. lot is very small.)

These houses are like billboards constantly reminding  neighbors and visitors:

In Seattle developers follow different rules than everyone else.  Neighborhoods are not communities, they are just resources to extract maximum profit without considering  how you affect anyone else.  

Visitors get that message right away.  It’s embarrassing and frustrating for us Seattlites to explain to visitors why our neighborhood looks like it does now.

Rather than a place of solace, your neighborhood becomes a nagging reminder that Seattle is for developers, not for communities.  When this happens, people become less attached to their neighborhoods and they care less about them.  People start moving away.  Our strong communities become weak.

That former, wonderful Seattle is dying.

That original, sweet soul of Seattle neighborhoods is like Pike Place Market.  We love it, care about it, and will joyfully work hard to make it better.  But the neighborhoods we loved are being replaced – piece by piece –  by the equivalent of a suburban shopping mall, places that we don’t really care about, feel no connection to, and wouldn’t bother to put any energy into making better.

On May 6, the city council land use committee voted unanimously to give developers almost everything they asked for.  If the entire City Council rubber stamps this vote – which is likely – then expect more neighborhoods across the City where people care less and less about their neighborhoods.

Here’s a picture of what Benchview tried to stop.   Dozens of neighborhoods fought the same battle, and hundreds of residents told City Council they want development and density that is appropriate and thoughtful.   But CM O’Brien and Clark led the charge to let developers keep doing this type of thing to our neighborhoods.

There is still time to stop this.  Contact City Council members before they take a final vote on May 19.

photo

Developer’s Latest Plan Won’t Make Garage Legal

The developer built an illegal garage on the corner lot which exceeds the lot coverage allowed for the parcel.  (See previous post)

The entire roof of the garage is above ground, so according to City law, it counts as lot coverage.  This is a problem for the developer.

Now the developer has submitted an application to “add additional retaining walls and return grades to original elevations along East and West sides of bunker garage.”

This won’t change the fact that the garage is above original ground level.

Click to see p. 5

Click to see p. 5

p 2 of site plan floor is 325.53

Click to see p. 2

The  developer’s original plan for the garage (approved by DPD) shows that the top of the garage is at least two feet above ground.  P. 2 of this plan states the main floor of the house has an elevation of 325.5′ while p. 5 states the ground level is 323′.

Garage roof is just a couple inches below floor level of house

Garage roof is just a couple inches below floor level of house

This photo shows that the top of the new garage is just an inch or two below the level of the floor of the house, so the garage is at least 2 feet above ground.

The developer could bury the whole garage under a pile of dirt, but that won’t change anything.  What matters is the entire top of the garage is above ground – the original height of the yard is 323′ and the top of the garage he built is at least 325′.

As our last post said, the only way to make this garage legal is to remove it, or expand the yard by transferring land from the developer’s adjacent property.  That would make it illegal to build the 3 story house the developer is trying to build on the adjacent lot.  That is a problem for the developer.

Developer’s Illegal Addition Allows DPD to Stop Third House

Will DPD Finally Use the Law to Protect the Neighborhood?

DPD has another chance to use city law to stop the third house and protect the neighborhood, but DPD plans to do neither.

Illegal Garage Gives DPD Power to Stop 3rd House

Several months ago the developer built a garage addition on lot A.  (Lot A was created in the lot boundary adjustment (LBA) which used loopholes to carve 2 lots into 3.)

"Garage has no new lot coverage" - developer

Developer said garage has no new lot coverage

The developer’s plan approved by the City shows an underground garage and states that it does not count toward lot coverage.

BUT that’s not the garage the developer built.  Much of the actual garage is several feet above ground, and 100% of the roof is above ground. This means the garage does count for lot coverage (see section D.9. b.  part 3 and 4), and lot A needs to be bigger than it was permitted under the LBA.

Day Garage elevation v2

Developer’s drawing says roof will be at ground level

Therefore, the City can revoke the LBA permit under SMC 23.76.034 A because the developer “developed the site in a manner not authorized by the (LBA) permit.”  This would eliminate lot B and the third house. This law also gives DPD the option to suspend the LBA permit while the illegal garage is resolved. This could result in the 3rd house shrinking from  3 stories to 2 stories.

DPD has no plans to use one of these options to protect the neighborhood.

Actual garage – entire roof is above ground.
This would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

DPD Did Nothing About Illegal Garage for Months

In Sept. a neighborhood resident told DPD Director Sugimura that he thought the new garage counted as lot coverage.  Dir. Sugimura told him that she would look into it, but DPD did nothing until a resident filed an official complaint in November.  Over three months after promising to investigate the garage, DPD issued a notice of violation (NOV) that the garage was not built according to the permit.

DPD gave the developer a deadline of Jan. 16 to comply with the NOV.  He failed to comply by the deadline and started building the third house on Jan. 14.

Based on our past experience, we fear DPD will allow the 3rd house to be built, and then it will impotently allow the illegal garage to stay.

Neighborhood Districts Sent a Message – Stop Ignoring Neighborhoods.

It’s frustrating. The developer builds an illegal garage and DPD does nothing for months.  DPD can stop the third house, or at least pause construction until the illegal garage issue is resolved, but DPD fails to protect the neighborhood.  Again.

The voters sent a message to DPD and elected officials when they approved neighborhood council districts last fall: Seattlites are fed up with the rich and powerful getting what they want while the concerns of Seattle’s neighborhoods are largely disrespected or ignored.

City Approves 3 houses on 2 Lots; Mayor’s Office Fails on Promise

KIRO DPD revises permit

Benchview story starts at 1:07.

Aug. 30, 2PM, Fri. before Labor Day:

DPD announced it will revise the developer’s permit (which we say was dead), allowing 3 houses on 2 lots.

It would appear Benchview has lost.

The Mayor’s Office promised that before DPD makes its decision it would fully explain why they can’t revoke the erroneous permit per city law 23.34.07.

DPD and the Mayor’s office failed on this promise.

DPD basically said “we have to revise the developer’s permit.”  They said city law 23.34.076 doesn’t count here because the judge told DPD to revise the permit.  This is false; the judge gave DPD a choice of “revision OR OTHER PROCESSING.”

DPD made no reference to any rule or law which required them to ignore their option to revoke the permit.

DPD can not expect residents to just take DPD on their word without any real explanation, especially since DPD made multiple errors issuing this very permit in January.

The neighborhood emailed the Mayor’s Office and DPD to remind them of the commitment to hold on their decision until they can explain it, and to point out  (again) where DPD’s position ignores key facts. This West Seattle Blog article includes DPD’s incomplete explanation and the n’hood’s response.

DPD’S TIMING OF NEWS FITS A CLASSIC MANIPULATION TACTIC

DPD chose to announce the bad news of the n’hood’s defeat on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend when people are on vacation and paying the least attention to the news.  Releasing bad news Friday afternoon is a well-known public relations tactic to minimize your opponent’s ability to get the word out about your bad news.

Whether intentional or not, this comes across that residents and neighborhoods are adversaries of DPD.  While developer fees fund most of DPD’s budget (a structural bias which should be eliminated), DPD is still a city department, and should serve the public, not try to outmaneuver them.  The timing of DPD’s announcement comes across as trying to manipulate the news cycle by minimizing media coverage of DPD actions which hurt residents and n’hoods.

Many n’hood residents were away on vacation when DPD announced their decision.  This included the secretary of the N’hood Association, who sent this email (See 2nd half of articlebefore losing cell reception while on a family camping trip.

Benchview is weighing its options…   It’s not over.

Mayor’s Office Says it Can’t Help, then Promises Explanation Prior to DPD’s Decision

We received very disappointing responses to our requests for help from the Mayor’s office.  The Mayor said elected officials can’t get involved in a land use decision.*

The Deputy Mayor did not even respond to our emails until our fourth try in August.

On Aug. 28 the Deputy Mayor promised that he would have DPD provide the n’hood with a clear explanation why they can’t revoke the permit per city law.

Here’s a follow up email from Benchview.  Here’s a follow up email from Benchview confirming the promise.

* We are bewildered by this statement, since the DPD director regularly meets with elected officials to discuss land use issues, and the Mayor can fire the DPD director.  Also, the Mayor was certainly involved in land use issues around building a basketball arena with a billionaire Chris Hansen. 

City Claims it Can’t Help N’hood; Plans to Revise Dead Permit

Aug. 27:  DPD announced that they have no choice but to revise the developer’s (dead) permit.   This means Benchview would lose: the developer would get to build 3 houses on two parcels.  (For everyone else in the n’hood it’s illegal to build 3 houses on this amount of land.  This sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.)

Specifically, DPD said it must review the developer’s proposal to revise the (dead) permit, and DPD believes it will be approved.

Many residents contacted DPD and the mayor’s office pointing out that DPD can help the n’hood.  DPD’s letter denies this is true, but provided no real explanation.

Note:  Some posts on this blog/website include some lag time.  Residents fight to defend their neighborhoods on their volunteer time (while balancing family time, vacations, etc.)  In contrast, staff of the Dept. of Planning and Development and developers are paid professionals working on this issue.   ‘ Just another example of the inequity between residents and developers in Seattle.