City Council member Richard Conlin has a message for neighbors who are furious with developers building big houses on tiny, backyard lots. "The heat is on," he wrote to Tangletown resident Peter Krause in a Tuesday evening e-mail.
As our story explained, some builders--many of them financed by prolific developer Dan Duffus-- are using a loophole in the zoning code that allows them to erect houses on lots that fail to meet minimum size regulations. Most of these "lots" were not considered lots at all for decades, but were part and parcel of somebody's back or side yard. But in some historical document--a tax record, perhaps--fhey are recorded as separate, small lots. If developers can find the records, the city usually will grant them a building permit.
Krause and residents of other neighborhoods affected by Duffus projects have been complaining to Conlin and other city officials for months. To neighbors, the projects are sunlight-blocking, privacy-invading monstrosities that ruin their bucolic backyard experience. To top it off, they are offended by the modern style of many of these new houses, which in their view don't fit in with the historic character of their neighborhoods.
Conlin, chair of the council committee that deals with land use, is sympathetic. In his legislation, he calls such projects "out of scale and incompatible" with their surroundings. The proposed ordinance would require lots, historic or no, to be at least half as big as required by the minimum size regulation (5,000 square feet in single family neighborhoods). And even some of those lots, if they fell below 3,750 square feet, would have a new height restriction.
As emergency legislation that would take immediate effect, three-quarters of the council needs to approve it. Conlin, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, tells Krause that "councilmembers are supportive, but Duffus had already told us he will fight it."
Duffus did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. But an e-mail he sent around the real estate community expressed outrage:
This is the largest taking by City Council since the 1988 Small Lot Ordinance, it is without due process. The fact they are calling it an "Emergency" is a farce in itself in that that same code has been in effect for almost 25 years now pertaining to Small Lots.
Who this will affect? Consumers who buy these homes. Builders who build these homes and most importantly, the Senior Citizens who currently own a majority of the current legal lots in the City of Seattle.
Meanwhile, Conlin neighbors are gearing up for the next offensive. Today, the city councilmember is to meet with a handful of small-lot opponents--including Krause and former city councilmember Sue Donaldson, who lives near a Duffus project in Laurelhurst --to discuss potential permanent changes to the zoning code. Krause says he believes Donaldson's presence "should give our little effort a big boost."
Find Conlin's ordinance on the next page.