Dan Duffus Development Sparks 'Pissing Match' (and Police Call) in West Seattle

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Another neighborhood is up in arms over a backyard development on undersized lots, one that is linked to the king of such projects, Dan Duffus. This time the furor comes from West Seattle's Benchview neighborhood, where a property that long held one house is now slated for three.

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That controversy has gotten so heated that one of the developers involved in the project, Ron Day, says he resorted to calling the police this week. The brouhaha comes despite emergency legislation enacted by Seattle City Council to respond to such neighborhood battles, and amid an ongoing city review of new, permanent regulations.

The source of the controversy is a zoning code loophole that allows developers to build on lots smaller than regulations allow if they qualify as "historic," that is they are demarcated in decades-old property and tax records. Often times, nobody knows about these lots until developers scour through the old records. The hidden lots are usually contained within a larger parcel that has long been treated as one property.

That's what happened with the Benchview property, 3650 55th Ave. SW (pictured above). After many years in the home, the elderly woman that lived there passed away and the property went up for sale. According to King County property records, Day bought the 1,700 square-foot two-bedroom for $860,000. As became clear, one of the most valuable things about the property was its land, an expanse of 11,500 square feet--more than twice the minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet in single family neighborhoods.

"We all expected some day another house would be built," says David Allen, the Benchview block watch captain. When curious neighbors checked city records to find out about plans for the property, however, they learned of a request to split the land into not two but three parcels, justified on the basis of the historic lot loophole. Two new houses would be built by another developer, JMS Homes, one on a lot of 2,8000 square feet and one on a lot of 3,780 square feet.

Dan Duffus tells SW that his company, Blueprint Capital, financed the deal. Indeed, the company's webiste already advertises the speculative homes . Both are listed as offering 2,900 square feet of living space and are designated "under construction."

"They could have built an extra house on this lot and made money," Allen gripes. But, he says, "to cram a third house... is so rude, so selfish and so greedy." Concerned about declining property values and blocked views (the neighborhood sits on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympics), neighbors have fired off letters to the mayor, council members and the city Department of Planning and Development.

"It's a big, fat pissing match," says Day. He adds that "one neighbor came over and threatened" one of his workers yesterday, resulting in a call to police. He declines to elaborate, but Duffus says that the neighbor asked the worker if he had a green card.

Duffus also says that Day and JMS Construction offered to sell neighbors a "view easement" over the property, which would preserve their vista of the mountains and Sound. The price: $200,000. The neighbors declined, Duffus says.

The neighbors learned yesterday that their petition to DPD, requesting that permits for the development be denied, is not likely to be granted. A letter from the agency said that, although its review is still in process, the project "appears to meet applicable code standards."

City Council's emergency legislation mainly affects lots that are even smaller than the Benchview ones. That's why Allen says that the legislation "does not go far enough."

Perhaps his neighborhood's lament will be taken into account as DPD considers new small-lot regulations to propose to council. But Duffus, and like-minded developers, are trying to get their voices heard as well. They've formed a new advocacy group called Smart Growth Seattle, which pitches "fresh land use codes" and "infill development" as a way to accommodate a growing city.

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