Monthly Archives: July 2013

Judge Rules for Benchview. Now Developer Can Only Have 2 Houses, not 3

The King County Superior Court ruled in favor of the Benchview neighborhood. 

Result: now the developer can only have two houses – not three houses – on these two lots.

King County Superior Court Judge Spearman ruled that the City was “clearly erroneous” in applying one of the City’s rules in the lot boundary adjustment (LBA).  (See p. 11 of Benchview Decision.)  Judge Spearman reversed the City’s decision to approve one of the lots in the LBA because it is too small to be legal.

The result is clear to us. This means that the set of boundary lines as approved bv the City in the LBA is nullified.  Therefore the LBA is nullified.

We trust the City, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, and the developer will do the right thing and comply with the Judge’s decision.

house straddles 2 sm lots  WSB

The old LBA is nullified. City law says the house under construction now prevents the developer from submitting a new LBA for 3 lots. Now he only has 2 lots. [Photo credit: WS Blog]

The developer can submit a new LBA application, but now he cannot claim to have three buildable lots because of the house currently under construction.  His first LBA claimed that he had three lots, two of which were legal because of the “historic small lot loophole.”  But the house currently under construction sits on both of those small lots, disqualifying them for the loophole and combining them into one lot.  This leaves him with a total of two lots.

We see no law that binds the City to come to any other conclusion.

By having two houses on two lots, the developer will  follow the same rules as the rest of us: one home per lot.  The developers are Dan Duffus and his partners, including JMS Homes, Inc.

REFERENCES TO CITY LAW

See the City’s law which states that a house which straddles two small lots combines them into one standard lot.

Exhibit B, below, from the City’s website of laws shows that the house on lots C and D ties those lots together so they can’t use the “historic lot” loophole.  Duffus’ house under construction on lots 8 and 9 is the same situation.

Advertisements

Our day in court, now we wait. And lobby the mayor

kiro view of residentsBenchview got its day in court on Fri., July 19.

We felt our lawyer Cynthia Kennedy did a fine job explaining our case.  After hearing arguments from both sides for two hours, Judge Spearman said that the case was complicated and had a lot of details, so she could not make a decision on Friday. She will review the information and make a decision “soon.”  WS Blog’ provided “as it happened” coverage of the hearing.

The fact that the judge confirmed this is a complicated case simply reinforces the fact there is inequity in Seattle’s land use laws- the are basic laws we all know, and then there is a tangled web of confusing rules and procedures that only a small number of developers have access to.

Why did we have to go to King County Superior Court?

The City of Seattle says that a decision like the one in Benchview to convert 2 lots into 3 house sites (through this lot boundary adjustment)  is not a big enough deal to require them to inform the neighborhood about it.   If you disagree with a decision like this, you can’t even argue your case before the hearing examiner – you have to raise the money to do a full fledge lawsuit in county superior court!

What’s next?  Lobby the mayor.

If we win, need to make sure the City doesn’t appeal the case to the WA State Appeals Court.  To say the least, it would be disappointed if Seattle tax dollars were used to try to overturn a KC Superior Court decision which favors and protects residents and neighborhoods over one developer.

Please contact Mayor McGinn (Mike.McGinn@seattle.gov) and ask him to promise not to appeal if Benchview wins its case.

Intro: a problem citywide, a lawsuit to stop it in Benchview

Welcome!

Two sets of rules: 1 for homeowners and loopholes for developers

Seattle’s neighborhoods and homeowners have a problem. Developers don’t have to follow the same basic land development rules that the rest of us do.

The Benchview neighborhood of West Seattle is fighting this problem right now. A developer plans to squeeze 3 homes on a piece of land that is only big enough for 2. The City approved this plan by applying obscure, confusing and vague land use rules that 99% of us have never heard about.

Most developers don’t push these loopholes to absurd limits, but a few of them do. These developers build big, out of scale houses on small lots to maximize their profits at the expense of neighborhoods. These neighborhoods suffer loss of property values, less light, less open space and degraded character.

Density where it makes sense

Seattle has a clear plan to accommodate new residents: focus growth in urban centers and villages like Capitol Hill, U District, Ballard and West Seattle Junction. These areas have the advantages of frequent transit, new parks, and shops within walking distance. The developer loopholes will only squeeze in perhaps a couple hundred new homes across Seattle. That makes an insignificant impact on density for the city overall. Heck, one condo in an urban village can have 200 homes in it. But those 200 out of scale homes have serious impacts on 200 neighborhoods. There is no benefit to public, and it’s just not fair.

All we want is for this developer to do what many developers do – build homes that enhance a neighborhood rather than hurt neighborhood character and lower property values.

It’s basic fairness.

About the Benchview Neighborhood