Judge’s decision on Capitol Hill development puts brakes on Seattle microhousing projects

Footprint Eleventh is one of seven microhousing developments from the company already built around Capitol Hill

Footprint Eleventh is one of seven microhousing developments from the company already built around Capitol Hill (Image: Footprint)

A King County Superior Court judge’s decision on a Capitol Hill microhousing project has brought permitting for the housing type to a halt across Seattle. In a statement, the Department of Planning and Development said that the judge’s ruling that rooms with “private bathrooms and food preparation areas” inside a planned congregate-style 49-bedroom building at 741 Harvard Ave E near Aloha should count as living units has caused it to “re-examine” other “similar projects” under review around Seattle.

“DPD has concluded that the individual rooms within any proposed development having an identical or substantially similar arrangement also must be regulated as separate dwelling units,” the DPD statement reads.

A DPD spokesperson said 21 Seattle projects already in the planning process were notified of the change in requirements.

CHS reported in August on the judge’s decision to side with a group of neighbors in the lawsuit against the City of Seattle and force the 741 Harvard Ave E project into design review based on the new unit count.

Lawyers representing the developers behind the microhousing project at the center of the case have filed an appeal. City Council land use committee chair Mike O’Brien and the City Attorney’s office had been quiet on whether the city would offer a legal challenge to the decision against it and a company run by developer Footprint Investments.

Beyond the appeal, the developer is hedging its bets just in case it does have to submit the project for review. A filing with DPD indicates the company has begun planning its “early design guidance” meeting with the city — just in case.

The case continues as Seattle moves toward approving updated regulations for microhousing that would continue to allow the most densely-packed type of congregate apartment buildings to still be built in core areas of Central Seattle around Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District as well as areas like the University District.

It also appears that judge’s decision dovetails with the new microhousing regulations that will be voted on in October. Those include a new rule that aPodment-style units must have two separate sinks — one in the kitchen space, one in the bathroom. Make sure to wash your hands.

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21 thoughts on “Judge’s decision on Capitol Hill development puts brakes on Seattle microhousing projects

  1. Excellent. I have no serious objections to micro-housing, but I have issues with the way these projects were being permitted through a loophole that should have been questioned years ago. This should never have gotten as far as court.

  2. This is fantastic news. Like JayH, I have no problem with high density, affordable housing like apodments, but skirting the design review and other permitting and regulatory processes by exploiting a loophole wasn’t right.

    Perhaps the up-shot is that rather than shoehorning these developments in without review in order to make a quick buck, developers will look at creating a more diverse mix of units on these types of infill parcels. We need more than just efficiency studios to have a healthy housing market.

    • To have a healthy housing market we need fewer apartments at all. Soon Capitol Hill will be nearly all foreign-owned and leased. Whatever happened to condos and townhomes?

      • Townhomes on Capitol Hill cost 700k so only a few can afford them. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of condos after the 5 year (or whatever it is) liability window expires for developers and the new apartment buildings convert.

        This is great news. Common sense says these are apartments. Its the marketing that says they are not. We all know marketing is often just a lot of blown smoke.

  3. Great news, but I wish it would have come a couple of years ago. If it has a separate lease, it is a unit. DPD was asleep at the wheel and let developers exploit this loophole for far too long. Much of the damage, especially the Apodments by Calhoun is already done. Wait and see what they look like in 10 to 20 years. They will be slums.

  4. This news is most welcome. It sounds like Seattle will now have a de facto moratorium on apodments….at least until the new regulations are passed and take effect. There are already too many of them, built using the loopholes, which now will hopefully be closed.

  5. Great news! One more step closer to reasonable and realistic regulation of microhousing. Every time these things have come before the courts, the judges have rejected DPD’s bogus logic that individually leased rooms in micro buildings aren’t actually dwelling units and shouldn’t be treated as such by the code. Bravo, King County Superior Court!

    I have no objection to the existence or creation of micros per se. Like every land use, there is a right place and a wrong place to build them, and if we do permit them (I think we should), we need to be honest and realistic about how we count units, density and impacts on surrounding neighbors.

    • Bravo! also to the residents of the Harvard-Belmont Historic District who took legal action against the proposed apodment just south of Aloha. We owe them a huge thanks for taking the time, and the money, to do this, as otherwise there would not be this decision by the Superior Court.

  6. While affordable housing is desirable, the apodment approach is flawed. The tenement style development currently rent at $1300 a piece with no parking and shared kitchens. A two bedroom apartment with parking and laundry is $2500.
    The neighborhood subsidizes them with lack of sun, parking, burdened utilities, blocked sidewalks from garbage receptacles. In the case of 741 Harvard, the DCF valuation of the building is over $15M, while the property cost $700k. Quite a windfall for developers. That is why they contribute heavily to campaign funds.

    • As much as I dislike apodments, David, I’m not sure your rent figures are correct. I have seen advertising signs on some of them which say the rent is “$700 and up.” However, on a square footage basis, these units are very expensive.

  7. Seconding, thirding, etc. other commenters: I don’t object to microhousing; I object to the permitting laws around them and the idea that apodments are the only way to provide affordable housing in Seattle.

  8. So you’re basically telling the people who want to live in a micro housing project to F off. Nice work Capitol Hill. The best solution is the let the market decide what should be built under zoning regulations, and obviously the market is very strong for this type of housing.

    • Nah, that is only one slender POV. There are obviously other considerations that must be balanced. People who are absolutely in heat for an Apodment can go ahead and get on a waiting list, just like other people waiting for housing. I hate living next door to an Apodment because the tenants are incredibly immature, like junior high school kids who don’t even know how to use their garbage containers and they create a constant stream of arrogant car-drivers and car-idlers outside the building. The developers have also overbuilt the lots in a hoggish way that can best be described as American Take, Take Take.

      • Pilly, you misread the article. the problem is the developers did not follow the zoning regulations and the city approved it. so what we get is a 6 story building in a 3 story zoned street on what is now a single story duplex, the developer paid $700k for. his financial model says the constructed building is worth $15M based upon the rent he can get for 50 units of inferior housing. BTW. there is NO parking here now. the street is clogged half the day from Cornish student parents dropping off, and on weekends for DAR weddings and Harvard exit movies. adding a bunch of cars stops all access to those facilities all want to use.

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