Judge: Microhousing bedrooms count as ‘dwelling units’ in Capitol Hill project, must go through design review

The proliferation of microhousing throughout Capitol Hill and Seattle may have hit its first major snag after a judge ruled that at least one of the dorm-style projects must go through a public design review before construction can begin.

On Wednesday a King County Superior Court judge reversed the city’s characterization of a proposed microhousing project on north Capitol Hill after a neighborhood group filed a complaint against the city, arguing the bedrooms should count as stand-alone dwelling units.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 10.11.11 AMThe proposed 49-bedroom building at 741 Harvard Ave E near Aloha had been characterized as having only eight “dwelling units” because the dorm-style bedrooms were clustered around eight shared kitchens and living spaces. Each bedroom will now count as a separate dwelling unit, meaning it passes the dwelling unit threshold for going through a public design and environmental review.

In her decision, Judge Laura Gene Middaugh wrote the Department of Planning and Development’s characterization of the microhousing project as having only eight dwelling units was “clearly erroneous.”

“The fact that the developer designed a communal area that allows, or even encourages, residents of an adjacent dwelling unit to interact, does not change the fact that the individual units were designed, and can function, as independent living units,” the judge wrote. 

Harvard District Neighbors was the neighborhood group behind the complaint. In an email to supporters, group member LeRoy Laney said the ruling was a major win for current Capitol Hill residents.

“The judge ruled that the city’s interpretation was clearly erroneous,” he said. “We may not be finished, we don’t know, but we can certainly take this pause to stop and celebrate a victory to the people.”

The project is being developed by 741 Harvard Ave E, LLC, a company connected to Footprint Investments, which as developed several microhousing projects on Capitol Hill. Footprint founder Jim Potter passed away in May following a short battle with cancer.

It’s unclear what the ruling will mean for future microhousing developments and ongoing efforts to regulate them. The decision comes as the City Council considers revamping zoning and planing codes to better address the burgeouning microhousing market. At the very least, the decision will likely be cited by microhousing critics as proof that new projects need to be more tightly regulated.

Ever since microhousing entered the Capitol Hill lexicon, some residents have bemoaned the fact that buildings full of the tiny, cheap spaces can pop-up in single family home neighborhoods without going through a design review process. The reason is the dorm-style buildings can lump up to eight bedrooms into one “dwelling unit.” According to the city code, if a building has under a certain number of dwelling units, it does not have to go through a public design and environmental review — the common venue for neighbors to voice concerns about new projects.

33 thoughts on “Judge: Microhousing bedrooms count as ‘dwelling units’ in Capitol Hill project, must go through design review

  1. Jeez. It’s about time the DPD and their New Urbanist Taliban handlers got the smack down on this issue. It has been evident to most people all along that these are NOT 7 or 8 unit buildings. Sadly these people had to spend thousands of dollars to go up against the City who until 2012 or so I thought had our best interests at heart. Truth is that they DO NOT care about the people who are here only the ones who are coming and the “housing crisis???”

    It is important to point out that microhousing is happening in LR neighborhoods and NOT single family neighborhoods as the author states. LR neighborhoods have always been a mix of apartments from all eras mixed in with a few single family houses most of which have been converted to duplexes or apartments of some sort. Very very few true single family houses exist in the LR zones on Capitol Hill.

    I am a single family homeowner and also operate a business out of my house. Next March the buildings next door are being demolished to make way for a 68 unit apartment building. On the other side of me the Roxborough apartments is planning a 21 unit addition. At the end of the block (18th and Denny) a 31 unit apartment building is getting ready to break ground. I am totally cool with all of it because myself and my neighbors have been involved with the process of what will be built in our midst and interfaced with the owners and architects in a completely civilized and productive way. A 50 unit building is a HUGE project. And who wants to live next door to the eyesore that is pictured here? No design review was needed in that case. Obviously.

    Can’t wait to read what Roger Valdez spews about this decision!

    • The present use of the lot for this 50 bedroom abortion is a triplex. Very dated and very run down and totally out of character with the rest of the high-end homes and apartment dwellings around it.

      Walk 3 doors down the street and you have a 1908 single family home worth over a million and across Aloha from that is another turn of the 20th century home with tastefully done larger scale condos with it. Next to that, a couple more hundred year old mansions.

      a 49 or 50 bedroom apodment is NOT appropriate in this block.

      • Thank you for demonstrating that opposition to microhousing is driven by purely elitist, classist NIMBYism. So only rich people should live in Capitol Hill? Guess we can’t have those poors moving in next door to million dollar mansions.

        • no YOU are the one proving how pathetic you are. ALL I said is that the apodments are NOT appropriate on a block that’s within the Harvard Historical district. Put all of them you want south of Roy Street you want. They’d be grouped with like buildings and could easily replace poorly maintained older buildings.

          People like YOU are the problem, fuckhead. There’s nothing NIMBYish about wanting to preserve the historic characteristics of the neighborhood.

          • Again, by your limitations, that historic district is only for the wealthy. That’s the only outcome of what you describe.

        • I’m really getting tired of the claim that those who question how apodments are being approved and built are all “elitist, classist NIMBYS.” We are NOT opposed to lower-income people living on Capitol Hill, but we ARE opposed to the ugly and cheap buildings going in everywhere, and want the regulations to be tightened so that they must all go through design/environmental review, and provide at least some parking. Unscrupulous developers are laughing all the way to the bank as they selfishly exploit the current land use regulations.

          • If you are getting tired of it, then stop being a NIMBY. That’s all these Capitol Hill Coalition types are – NIMBYs.

          • Also opposed to the whiny, simpering types on the other side who for some reason feel they should feel entitled to live anywhere they want? Hey, I think Broadmoore is really nice, so how bout a developer buys a big single-family home in Broadmore and slaps up 8 or 16 dorm rooms? If the neighbors complain about all the street parking being clogged up by new residents who (supposedly) don’t have cars, find beer bottles on their lawns, and have to listen to noisy fights from the new neighbors, they’re just being NIMBYs. Because times are different now– nobody just starting out should have to watch their pennies or live in a lesser neighborhood,they’re all entitled to live wherever they want now. The hell with what the NIMBYs say.

        • Typical New Urbanist response when they don’t get their way. Drag out the NIMBY BS and throw a little temper tantrum. After all YOU know what is best for EVERYONE. Right? Heaven forbid anyone should have a different opinion. Talk about EW behavior.

          Imagine how many apodments would fit on the half acre lot that the white house by Volunteer Park sits on. You could house tons of people there. Those rich people have no right to be taking up so much space! Time for them to go! we have a crisis here!

          Maybe mommy will make you your favorite mac and cheese and you will feel bettew.

  2. Not only is the building pictured unattractive but Sound Mental Health has taken over the leasing of this building. Sound Mental Health will be housing 60 mentally ill clients in this building. If you have been wondering why there is an increase of mentally ill people in the neighborhood now you know.

    • I live nearby and have been wondering about this building which was permitted (I thought) as the typical townhouse/microhousing thing.

      I walk by often and have noticed that block is full of shifty looking characters just walking up and down smoking and acting strange.

      On two occasions I have seen the police hauling some one out of there. A neighbor of mine was assaulted and pushed down on the sidewalk by one of the residents as well because she wouldn’t give him a cigarette-cops came and arrested the guy

      . All of a sudden in that block several nearby condos and townhouses are on the market. Makes sense to me now. Not only is the building hideous but the residents are kinda dangerous too. (or so it appears)

      And all around it the rents are skyrocketing and long time residents are being displaced. Go figure.

      Owner is “Simply Believe LLC” but that was all I could find out about it.

      • When this was first posted on the blog there was a picture of the building at 18th and Olive Street. Now for some reason that picture has been removed. It is the building at 18th and Olive Street that is housing for mentally ill clients of Sound Mental Health.

  3. Lets hope they all go through a design review process, not just this project. Its not just their design that is awful, they are driving up the price of rents in conventional apartments. Enough is enough.

    • Bingo! I have been saying the same thing for years. When the micros first came on in the $5-$8 per square foot range the average rent of a Capitol Hill apartment was $1.25-$1.75 per square foot. New buildings have always been more expensive to rent but the average older apartment seems to be in the $3-$4 range now in just a few short years. Obviously a lot of residents have left because they couldn’t pay the increase.And I think that micros are to blame for this.

      Capitol Hill is no longer our home. It is a commodity for a bunch of people most of whom don’t live here and never will. You can be sure they would freak out of their buildings were going up next door to them!

      • I’ve seen landlords interviewed on TV stating aPodments are around $5 sqft so they are raising prices of their apartments to narrow the gap. This is a huge increase! And its fact that rents are rising because of them. It’s not just the techies with deep pockets of cash that are driving up rents. People need to place their misguided blame of techies and place it where it belongs, on landlords. (I’m not a techie).

        People blame greedy developers well its greedy landlords who are saying “me too”.

        I’m a 16 year hill resident/homeowner and want to see more people invest in the hill (people, not developers) rather than rent a cubicle as a stepping stone in life. aPodments are awful in every possible way.

        • Rents are going up due to demand regardless of what some schmuck on TV says who has no clue how markets work.

          It’s basic economics. The number of people moving to Seattle is happening at a faster rate than the number of new housing units coming on-line – due largely to the tech sector. Supply isn’t keeping up with demand so prices (rents) are rising. We are also coming off a period where rents were flat or falling for several years between 2008 – 2012, so we have a bounce back effect as well on top of that now that economy has recovered.

          • ha ha. more econ 101 supply and demand nonsense.

            in reality, real estate is not fungible, and just making “more” doesn’t bring down prices.

            Ballard has an excess of apartments now with vacancy rate approaching 10%. yet rents continue to rise.

            micros are priced purely at “market”. these sleezey developers (and there are only a few, mostly tied to the gratefully dead Potter), that are pricing these just below the market rate for a studio.

            As other landlords see that a 150 sqft unit goes for $800, they are raising there rents.

            Micros are creating an upward spiral.

            I have a question – why aren’t these leased for a year? because they are only temporary hotel-like housing for most tenants until they can find a REAL place to live.

  4. Huge thanks to the judge who handed down this sensible decision! But the big question is: Does it apply only to the proposed apodment at 714 Harvard E, or will it serve as a precedent for future developments? It seems to me that it should do so, as it would be absurd for other neighbor groups to litigate this issue repeatedly for every new apodment….not to mention that most such groups would not be able to afford the legal costs.

    The best outcome would be that the City Council integrates this decision into their revision of the land use codes, so that it doesn’t continue to be an issue for years to come.

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  7. This is FANTASTIC! Finally, the DPD is called out for allowing these ridiculously ill conceived apodments (affordable housing? I call B.S.). The judge sez “… characterization of the microhousing project as having only eight dwelling units was “clearly erroneous.”. Finally words of wisdom! Now…where/when does the DPD get sued/stopped for the damage done? It’s obvious the DPD is failing to meet the needs of Seattle and they can’t follow clear direction, let alone make sound decisions; it’s time for an overhaul.

  8. Also, if they get a separate mailbox, they are a separate unit ! How does one “dwelling unit” get eight separate mailing addresses? We have to stop this madness, it is ruining ALL our neighborhoods. It is WAY MORE density that planned. It is like living on FRAT ROW.

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