Meet the Harvard Ave Neighbors mounting a fight against microhousing

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This probably isn't the first Capitol Hill triplex you'd choose to start a legal battle over (Image: King County records)

This probably isn’t the first Capitol Hill triplex you’d choose to start a legal battle over (Image: King County records)

Lawyers and money: neighborhood activists in Capitol Hill are deploying a classic arsenal in their fight against local microhousing. At issue is how to count the number of units in a microhousing building and, as a consequence, whether a proposed project at 741 Harvard Ave E. is subject to design review. In the wake of a summer ruling that effectively stopped the project — and others like it — the Harvard developers are fighting back with an appeal that could put the development back in motion.

To keep that from happening, the Harvard Ave Neighbors group has lawyered-up to prevent the project from skipping the review process.

Organizer Larry Nicholas says at question is whether wealthy developers with “an unending amount of money to throw at a project” are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

Tiny apartments are still apartments, he maintains, and the impact of dozens of new residents on the neighborhood’s infrastructure — trash and parking, for instance — won’t be mitigated by semantic fancy-footwork around the definition of a dwelling unit.

“There’s legitimate concerns about the impact of adding this much density,” Nicholas says, pointing to already-extant problems in the neighborhood’s sewer system.

In August, Harvard Ave Neighbors successfully argued in King County Superior Court that, contrary to a prior decision by the Department of Planning and Development, the number of “dwelling units” in a microhousing building should be determined by individually-rented bed-‘n-bath rooms, not by the number of communal kitchens. Consequently, the developer who hopes to erect microhousing a block north of Joe Bar will have to complete a design review to assess the building’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood. That review will cost the accurately-named developer, 741 Harvard Ave. E., LLC and Footprint Investments, a pretty penny ($250 per hour to the city) and give neighbors a platform from which to voice any and all objections.

Unless, of course, the developer wins on appeal.

Nicholas says that Harvard Ave. Neighbors raised and spent about $55 thousand for prior court costs, mostly out of their own pockets, and have so far raised about a sixth of the $30,000 they think they’ll need to win this new round of litigation. The window for submitting appeal briefs is from November 26 until January 26, after which the court will set a date to hear oral arguments.

In the August ruling in the Neighbors’ favor, Judge Laura Middaugh found (PDF) that since the Seattle Municipal Code defines a “dwelling unit” as “living accommodations independent from any other household,” micro-units are individual “dwelling units” even though the building would also include eight communal kitchens. (She also noted that the developer had used different unit counts for tax classification and permit classification.) Her ruling means that 741 Harvard Ave. E., if built according to the plans that DPD approved, would be legally comprised of 49 units rather than eight.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 3.41.39 PMGuess how many units a new residential building can have without triggering a design review… eight. So at stake in the appeal, which could take up to a year to resolve, is whether the four-story, $1.5 million project at 741 Harvard Ave. E. would be subject to a potentially costly and turbulent design review. As for precedent, the case might take a back seat to the finally fully baked microhousing regulations taking effect in Seattle that leave room for the most-densely packed type of microhousing only in parts of Capitol Hill and the Central District.

Nicholas also has several NIMBY-flavored arguments against the development, bemoaning the erosion of old neighborhoods and decrying the expansion of housing for yuppie singles. (In fairness, DPD’s original approval did construe the project as a “multifamily structure.”) “There’s all this incentive for ‘Housing, housing,’ [but] what about the people that live here?” Nicholas asks. “What about the people that have invested and are paying the taxes and are invested in the community?…We’ve put half our worth into our homes, and these developers are putting up these monstrosities.” With Seattle’s population exploding, there’s mounting pressure to increase housing, fast. But, Nicholas says, “Do you need to put them all on Capitol Hill?”

“If critics want to call us NIMBYs, that’s fine,” he said. “But we gathered, and our voice was heard.”

It appears the developer is ready to hedge its bets. According to a DPD spokesperson, Footprint has recently submitted new plans which, their court appeal notwithstanding, would go through design review. A representative for the company did not reply to requests for comment.

In the meantime, the Harvard Neighbors are looking for more people to get involved in their legal fight. You can contact the group at Harvardneighbors@outlook.com.

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72 thoughts on “Meet the Harvard Ave Neighbors mounting a fight against microhousing

  1. The author of this article writes: “Organizer Larry Nicholas says at question is whether wealthy developers with ‘an unending amount of money to throw at a project’ are subject to the same laws as everyone else.”

    My own response to Larry Nicholas would be that to question whether wealthy neighbors with “an unending amount of money to throw against a project” are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

    Do wealthy neighbors have the right to prevent housing for less wealthy people in their neighborhood, when the site is frankly an ideal one for micro housing construction that would meet a critical urban need?

    I am a neighbor of 741 Harvard Avenue East. The construction of micro-housing at this address, currently occupied by a rundown apartment building, seems appropriate. In a few years the North Broadway Extension of the First Hill Trolley as well as the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station will give this neighborhood easy access to mass transit. A micro-housing solution for 741 Harvard Avenue East would provide ideal housing to employees of nearby hospitals, theaters, restaurants, stores, and so forth.

    Some of my neighbors who oppose this development have repeatedly complained about parking. Since I live in one of the expensive condominium projects on the same street, I know that a third of the parking spots in my own building are empty at any given time, perhaps because many of the owners are actually wealthy, out-of-state investors who maintain a Washington State residence to avoid state income taxes in other states where they do business.

    My own condominium association has rules that prevent renting out these excess parking spaces, but I have noticed that the neighborhood around Broadway and Roy has many large apartment buildings that rent out excess parking spaces to non-residents at reasonable monthly rates. If some residents of a new micro-housing development want to keep a car, why not let the marketplace solve this problem?

    Although I am not a real estate investor, except indirectly through REITs in my retirement account, I know from my own background in business that investing in new construction for low income housing is financially not feasible without incentives or subsidies, since other investments present better opportunities. Most housing for the poor comes from the trickle down of housing that was originally constructed for others. Micro-housing is perhaps the single housing solution that the private marketplace has for providing inexpensive housing that is affordable to single moderate income residents of Seattle.

    As a wealthy individual who has worked for many years to be able to afford to live in such a nice neighborhood, I welcome the arrival of diversity in the form of new housing. The proposed housing at 741 Harvard Avenue East, like nearby micro-housing units, will be managed and maintained professionally. Most of the problem buildings in my neighborhood are either single family homes or rundown apartment buildings that are privately owned. Let’s welcome the arrival of new neighbors, and let’s not place a stumbling block in the way of developers who are meeting the needs of ordinary people of Seattle.

    I know that my neighbors on Harvard Avenue East are generally wealthy professionals and investors to be able to afford such property. I am surprised that some of them resort to silly populist rhetoric about rich developers, when they are frankly rich people who are trying to keep less wealthy people from encroaching on their swanky neighborhood.

    Although I am not a real estate developer, I have respect for developers as professional investors who are meeting a critical need in our society. Nobody wants to live in subsidized low-income housing, least of all the poor. Micro-housing, except for some property tax abatements, is market rate housing. Let’s have some respect both for the builders and the people that live in this housing. We need housing in Seattle for the ordinary people who provide so many vital services to us in our neighborhoods.

    I don’t believe that Larry Nicholas speaks for all of his neighborhood. I know that there are others like me in the Harvard Avenue East neighborhood who are sympathetic to those who work in Seattle’s restaurants, theaters, and hospitals and make it possible for us all to enjoy a great urban lifestyle. These ordinary people should have the right to find affordable housing options in nice neighborhoods that are near their places of employment.

    Sincerely,

    Neighbor of 741 Harvard Avenue East

    • Hey Neighbor,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’d love to talk to you more about your views on the microhousing project. Shoot me an email at caseyjaywork [at] gmail.com if you’re game.

    • Thank you, Howard, for your comments supporting diversity of housing and people on Capitol Hill.

      The wealthy neighbors haven’t just created problems for this project; their lawsuit has been interpreted broadly (and wrongly in our opinion) to include projects already in the permitting process. We considered legal action against DPD but opted against it — it would be too costly, a money problem Mr. Nicholas et al doesn’t have.

      That means projects in the process of being built now will have additional rent raising costs added to them.

      The real story here is a cadre of angry, wealthy neighbors making life harder for people with less money in order to preserve their own wealth. Unfortunately the City (DPD and CIty Council) has taken their side rather than people trying to make ends meet.

      If we had more neighbors with compassion and a view for the future and others like the one displayed by Howard, our city would be a different place.

      • oh BS, Valdez! The only people these neighbors are making if difficult for is people like YOU who think you can manipulate the system and rent out substandard ROOMS as single apartments in the name of screwing higher than appropriate rent from people who can’t afford it!

        This particular project was originally supposed to be 49 units. That’s 49 INDIVIDUAL LEASES and 49 individual City Light accounts.

        There IS no “excess” parking as Howard alleges. I know, I live around the corner. If the HOA prohibits renting out your own supposedly excess parking, that’s not the problem of the neighborhood.

        If, after an APPROPRIATE Design Review, this project is qualified to proceed, then, so be it. But the Developers just need to follow the same rules as the Gatsby and other real apartment buildings or they need to build something else.

      • There is no “excess” free parking, but nothing in the world is free. There are several apartment buildings within two blocks of 741 Harvard Avenue East that lease out parking. If these buildings no longer have spaces available, they can raise their rates. Let’s let the market for parking places work, and stop pretending that parking should be free. People who expect free parking can choose to live further from central Seattle.

      • Those who live in microhousing, presumably, are lower income, and are probably spending way more than the 30%-of-income figure that is adviseable for rent. What makes you think they will have money left over to spend on pricey private parking? They won’t, and instead will park on the streets, aggravating an already critical situation.

      • Setting aside the bigger questions of microhousing’s desirability and focusing instead on the specific subject of this lawsuit, I’m genuinely curious about something:

        What is the argument for why these units are not “dwelling units” and should be counted so differently than other apartments?

        If each occupant has his/her own key to his/her own room for sleeping and storing stuff, isn’t that its own “dwelling unit”?

      • Your statement: The real story here is a cadre of angry, wealthy neighbors making life harder for people with less money in order to preserve their own wealth.

        You are either acknowledging that the apodments will have a negative impact on property values or you are saying a polarizing statement to get the neo-liberals up in arms; either way, it is not a good way to establish a framework for an logical discussion.

        To ignore the fact that this sort of development will have lasting changes on the community fabric seems odd and is off putting – especially since you are someone who worked as a Neighborhood Development Manager for the City of Seattle.

        Before anyone takes stock in what Roger V. has to say, I think it is a good idea to look at the sponsors for Smart Growth Seattle are:

        Blueprint Capital REIT, INC.
        Eagle Rock Ventures LLC
        Footprint Investments
        Master Builders Association
        NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Association
        Touchstone
        Vulcan Inc.

        Why are we to believe these private for profit businesses (developers and developer associations) want to concern themselves with the plight of low income people finding housing in the City of Seattle?

      • Good question. Our sponsors care about poor and working people because as employers and job creators they depend on creating opportunity. They also build housing, and working people are their customers. Our members and supporters depend on a healthy, growing, and sustainable economy that gives everyone a chance–whether they have lived here for years or just moved here.

        The angry neighbors with money to burn understandably want to protect their wealth and the money they’ve invested in their property. Nothing wrong with that by itself; but in this case it’s damaging a housing type that benefits working people, making it harder to find and more expensive.

        If you live in a house or work in a office someone took a risk to build it and manage it; I am proud of the work that our members and sponsors do everyday to meet the needs of people in our city as we grow.

      • Apodments are a repeat of America’s history with tenements, over-crowded and left to be rundown by unscrupulous landlords.

        Don’t be fooled by populist ideals coming from developer’s mouths. These are unsavory business people.

      • It’s really hilarious that developers of microhousing claim to do this because they care about making housing more affordable and to have a more “diverse” neighborhood. That’s just bs. They are doing it to make a ton of money, pure and simple.

      • Rare is the landlord who raises rents only because of increased costs (I had one, bless his heart); typically they are investment companies and individuals who get the maximum return by raising rents as high as they can get tenants to pay. That’s what the market means.

        Mr. Valdez, please quit repeating the lie that design review and any civic obligation that costs developers money will translate into rent increases. Rent is driven by what tenants are willing to pay.

        What you decry is a dent in the developers’ profit.

    • HAHAHA. Ok. “Neighbor” Howard. Next time leave your full name, “neighbor.”

      I actually DO live in the neighborhood. And I know Larry (who is a Therapist with two kids, btw). To characterize him as “wealthy” compared to the billionaire developer groups and banks who stump for these developments is laughable. What an idiotic tactic.

      Most of the people organized in this neighborhood are not wealthy. They are people who’ve lived here for many years and care about this place.

      As opposed to the carpetbagger developers who just want to exploit the neighborhood for a quick buck.

  2. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but as one of the “ordinary people” I’d just like to say that I hope my wealthy neighbors and the wealthy developers are able to come to some resolve. That said, thank you both for caring so much about me in my continued effort to serve you both.

    Does anyone need their shoes shined?

  3. I’m a low-income person who has lived on Cap Hill for 20 years and I am against micro-housing. I am all for affordable housing but I am also for housing that is livable. I recommend that anyone interested in the issue go tour a building or two as I did this past summer. These micro-units felt like jail cells to me. They really only profit developers and are not a good long-term solution for lower income people that want to live in the city. Why can’t we provide low income housing that is actually livable? How you ask? Rent control.

    • Mimi, rent control is an interesting idea, but the same people we have here who are trying to manipulate existing regulations to fraudulently build the apodments are the same type of people who collect their rent i their rent controlled buildings and put NO money into them.

      It’s a GREAT idea, but it’s not a silver bullet for the issue either, sadly.

      • Yes Critter, unfortunately the rich control everything. But still, I’d take a slightly run-down rent-controlled apartment over a brand new pod any day.

      • Yes, but that’s a matter of your personal taste. As an empty-nester with kids in college I look forward to the downsizing & cost saving of living in an apodment. I like that they’re small as are the rents. Just because you do not doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of the very young or the old (like me) who’d like to live in one.

    • I don’t think rent control is achievable in the foreseeable future. It exists in a few places like New York where it was imposed during or right after WW2 when there was much greater societal pressure on landlords (and business in general) to be “patriotic” and make housing affordable to returning vets. The real estate lobby today is much more powerful and much more conservative in its public stance.

      The ultimate answer is to create enough housing in the public domain, either publicly-owned or nonprofit, that can be deliberately kept affordable, available to anyone who needs or wants it. A hundred CHHIPs and Bellwethers need to bloom, in other words. In the near term, microhousing fills an undeniable need, although it does change the character of a neighborhood in negative ways as well as positive ones. Stricter rules on such developments are probably needed.

      • Exactly, and it is likely to stay that way until a Democratic super-majority is elected in both chambers of the legislature. Even then, repeal won’t be a sure thing. Whatever its merits, rent control has often created distortions (e.g., NYC swells in $900/mo. 3BRs) that over the years have discredited it in the public mind. The only thing that will realistically bring rents down in the present market is more public-domain affordable housing, both public and nonprofit. The more of this gets built, the greater the downward pressure on privately owned rentals will be (except maybe those at the upper end).

  4. Who are you to decide what is livable and for who? If i wre single I’d be perfectly happy in a 120 square foot studio. I have a friend living in a 90 square foot studios in manhattan. He loves it. Like me, all we need is a place to sleep, make a simple meal and create excrement. Single men are simple people, if these three needs are met a lot of single men will be fine.

    • Sorry, but I don’t buy your friend’s alleged square footage. That’s a bedroom, not a studio. There’s no possible way there’s a closet, bath and means of food prep in a 10 x 9 room. There’s physically no room for a bed if you have that.

      • I lived in an apartment in Taipei that was about 4 feet wide-max and maybe 12 feet long. No kitchen, stand up shower above the toilet, very common on that side of the great pond. Would i have liked a bigger place? Sure thing but I was right in the city and a 2 minute walk to the subway.

        Affordable housing only comes with less demand or more supply.

        Seattle has been great on saying no to budget options. .that just increase pressure on pricing.

      • “Affordable housing only comes with less demand or more supply.” The people in rent-controlled apartments in L.A. and New York might disagree.

        Also, the cost per square footage in micro-housing is so high that it is actually pushing up the prices of other rental housing in the area. It creates barely livable or IMO unlivable housing while creating a more expensive rental market. Lose-Lose.

      • not true at all. Seattle turned a blind eye to these 165sf apodments because they were sold on the Kool-Aid and told they were affordable. I know plenty of people now who can’t afford an apodment, and are staying in their 1950s vintage run down apartment because it’s still a better option and it’s cheaper than even the apodments.

      • Exactly– all this bullshit about “affordable” flies out the window when you see the teeny-tiny apodments being crammed into these new bldgs are renting for$800 or more, easily. $800 for a space that sleeps one person like a sardine isn’t addressing low-income people.

      • “Affordable housing only comes with less demand or more supply.”

        Where? Where has this miraculous lowering of rents happened with more inventory?

        I’ll tell you: Nowhere. There is no major growing city on the planet where rents go down when housing stock is added. Nowhere.

        The only things that lower housing costs are economic contraction and government interference in the market. That’s it.

        Seattle. New York. San Francisco. All have been adding more and more housing stock for decades. And yet rents always – AWAYS – go nowhere but up.

      • Yep, Todd Christensen is right. The ONLY time I saw rents go down in Seattle was during the 2008-2009 economic crash when people were deserting their pricey apartments in droves. Rent will only go down when people start deserting city centers. And that simply won’t happen. What is happening is the usual thing. You gotta keep driving up profit margins, at all costs. So, developers want people to get used to 150 square foot broom closets, and they’re charging more or less the same rent as they would for a normal sized place.

        Enough is enough. There should be rent control, but NOT on normal sized places, which should be dictated by the market. But for these pseudo-apartments, there’s gotta be a rent cap so they are, like, ACTUALLY affordable to low-income folks. It’s a travesty to charge that much per square foot. Cap it at $600 or whatever. Otherwise, EVERYONE’S rent is going up.

      • Put a cap on Apodment rents OR tie it to income restrictions, and see how fast they sour on the idea that’s supposedly predicated on “affordability”.

      • Sorry Todd, you couldn’t be more wrong. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you can’t simply make up your own facts.

        And the simple fact is that time and again, housing has been proven to act the same as every other commodity. When supply outpaces demand, prices either decrease or rise more slowly than they would otherwise.

        Here’s a link to an easy-to-read report (with colorful graphs) that shows how this very simple concept has been reflected in the Seattle rental market.

        http://www.duprescott.com/productsservices/articleinfo.cfm?ArticleId=656

      • Unfortunaly I can only reply to my self this low in the thread but Hannah posted a link.

        —Hannah,
        I read most of that link and literally nothing in it supports that rents will or ever have trended down (other than through economic contraction of market inference like I said). Nothing. Did you read it?

        Quote from Rent Trends:

        “Rent trends
        Rents rose 3.3% in the region over the past six months and are 7.5% higher than they were a year ago. Rents are higher in all five counties than they were six months ago.”

        It does support what an awesome investment building apartments in Seattle is, however.

        If youre so right and I’m so wrong please name a GROWING major US city that has LOWER rents today than it did a decade ago?

        Please go ahead. it should be easy.

      • And BTW Hannah –

        “When supply outpaces demand, prices either decrease or rise more slowly than they would otherwise.”

        You didn’t think about what I said.

        Supplies ONLY outpace demand when there is economic contraction. Developers only build while a city is growing.

        The housing market is often inversive to what we think of as typical commodities fluctuations. It is fairly unique in this. Because when a city has a contraction people leave so there only appears to be more stock. It is not an effect of building new stock. but of vacancy rates. Nobody builds when vacancy rates are high.

        As for “rents rising more slowly hey would otherwise” uh… they still RISE.

        We need to LOWER rents. Get it? That will only happen with government interference.

        Relying of market forces to quote -unquote Stabilize rents is what we are doing NOW and is a losers game that plays right into the hands of the same monopolistic banks and property management companies that create unlivable cities in the first place.

  5. I live very near this project and I say go ahead. People want more affordable options but no to increasing supply? Sorry you can’t have it both ways. I consider anything west of Broadway to be open game for higher density housing if not there… Where?

    And yes I am a evil tax paying home owner.

    • But how is a $45-60 per square foot “affordable?” That’s insane.

      I’m all for actual affordable microhousing. But this is a scam. It’s so developers can charge maximum rents on teeny-tiny footprints AND get breaks for being “affordable.”

      Most of these places are charging $800 -$1000+ for around 200 Sq. Ft. And rents are STILL going to go up so in five years it will be $1200 for 200 square feet? Nothing about aPODments in Seattle is “affordable.”

  6. I hate to break it you Wes, but the world is not made up of single men. There are plenty of other low income people (women, families, elderly, disabled) who have a legitimate need for housing. Micro-housing might meet the needs of people who just sleep and sh@t but some of us want real homes.

    • Sadly, Mimi, some people have no conscience or are so blinded by their own greed and corruption that they can’t see that they indeed are the problem.

    • Mimi,

      Let’s suppose that I were a money manager whose job was to reinvest the savings of working people in assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, and energy resources in order to earn them higher returns for their retirement. That’s what an investment manager does.

      While I respect that low income people want large apartments too, I would not be able to find investment opportunities that are feasible for creating such housing in desirable areas of central Seattle. To invest in such housing, I would be forced to choose neighborhoods further from the city that require longer commute times. I would not even be able to obtain financing to build such homes in central Seattle.

      Fortunately, micro-housing gives me an opportunity to invest in Seattle and meet the needs of a more diverse community. It’s not for everybody, and people like you who want a bigger home but can’t afford it near downtown may have to choose a suburban city or even Yakima.

      Micro-housing may not be for you, but it is obviously popular with some people and meets a need. I note that the projects in Capitol Hill are very popular with residents. Let’s not create barriers that prevent our hypothetical money manager from investing the retirement savings she manages in more affordable housing.

      Howard

    • Yes I realize that Mimi. There are women who chose to live in these apodments too. They were not forced to live there. I’d rather have a tiny apartment for $800 that’s new and clean than a smelly 400 square foot apartment with stains all over everything in a poorly maintained building. Once again who are you to decide what is livable and for who. As it is my wife and I share 500 square feet and we are fine. And to the person who said $60 per square foot is ridiculous, where the hell did you get that number? That translates to $12,000 a month for a 200 square foot apartment. I think you meant $4.50 to $6.00 per square foot which would be $900-$1200 per month. So it’s expensive, but still within the upper range of what market rate apartments are going for.

      • I think Todd means $45-60 per year, not per month, but it is confusing because he’s clearly talking about monthly rent in the 3rd paragraph.

      • It’s flattering that you think I am so powerful but I’m not deciding what is livable and who can live there. I am expressing my opinion on the subject, you know, free speech? I hope you get some help for your anger management issues.

      • Also, just using my freedom of speech. Just because I disagree with you does not mean I’m angry. However, throwing around irrational statements and claiming someone has anger management problems because they disagree with you is a clear sign of anger. Now let me express my point again; if someone wants to spend $900 a month to live in a 200 square foot studio, what’s the problem? They’re not being forced to live there.

      • but Wes, assholes like you ARE forcing them to live there. A developer builds these slums, then charges such high rent and that drives the price up elsewhere in buildings where landlords see that some body can get $1000 for 200sf or less, then they jack the rent on their studio or 1 bedroom that’s larger and older.

      • Great now I’m an asshole for having a different opinion. No, absolutely no one is being forced to live in one. Even though I’m ok with them I don’t live in one. Guess what I found another option, and under $900 a month for 500 square feet. Washer and dryer in a unit that’s less then 3 years old. Apodments are not the only low income option. I agree there should be way more options, but why is it so hard to accept apodments as part of the solution. Can’t believe people are calling me an ass hole and saying I have anger management issues for saying we need to have as many ways as possible for low income people to afford living in seattle. If you eliminate apodments you eliminate one of those methods put more pressure on the very limited other options we have for low income residents. We should build more apodments, more government subsidized apartments , let developers build higher or get a tax break if they include low income units in a development, we should convert some of the homes around Capitol Hill into small apartment buildings. Limiting the options for low income residents helps no one.

    • And there are women (like myself) who like the idea of a newer building (my days of drafty, mildewy apts with great windows are done) and a very small space, for very litle rent compared to a full sized apartment. Rent under 1K and I can walk to work? Sounds good to me.

  7. Good, I hope the “Neighbors” win. All these comments arguing for and against micro-housing are missing the point: this fight is just to force the project to qualify for DESIGN REVIEW. How can you possibly be against that?

    Sure, that will slow it down. But it’s not like they’re banning the project altogether. It *should* be more work on the developers to get these things built, because unlike the neighbors, the developers don’t give a fuck how ugly it is or what the effect is on the area.

    • The problem with Design Review is that it increases the cost of building multi-family housing, and thus increases rents, yet it doesn’t provide any benefit to the city. It allows the same people to say the same things we’ve heard them say before, but it doesn’t improve the quality of what gets built. Hearings are often scheduled at hours of the day when it is impossible for working people to attend. The voice of the people who need housing doesn’t get heard.

      It’s fine within reason for a city to have building codes that mandate new construction of high quality, since this benefits the whole community. Uniform Building Codes are easy to interpret and they protect the community as a whole. The problem with Design Review in Seattle has been that it is completely unpredictable. By delaying construction, it adds cost to multi-family housing with little benefit.

      It’s tragic, but Design Review in Seattle is being used as a way for affluent people in single family homes to stick it to less affluent people who would like affordable housing options. Those who oppose dense apartment construction often could care less if such housing were built in other parts of the city.

      Do the affluent single-family homeowners who sometimes block multi-family housing construction in Seattle wish they were living in Baltimore, Cleveland, or Detroit, cities where entire neighborhoods are being abandoned? The economic vitality of Seattle insures that their homes in Seattle are valuable, yet some homeowners fight against affordable housing for newcomers who are needed to keep the city growing and vital.

      • “The problem with Design Review is that it increases the cost of building multi-family housing, and thus increases rents”

        This might be true IF we lived in a fantasy land where the property owners were determining rent by thinking, “gee, I wonder what a fair return on this would be. That’s what I’ll charge.”

        In reality, demand is determining the rents, not the cost to build. The property owner is going to charge as much as people are willing to pay either way. If it’s cheaper to build, that just means they’ll profit more, and let’s be honest, the rent will be the same.

      • You’re right, Brian. The only effect of Design Review is to result in the developers making only a lot of money, instead of a ton of money. Poor things.

      • Howard – you seem to be enjoying towing the line and demonizing neighbors and ordinary citizens who have organized to demand that the developers of 741 Harvard comply to existing city codes regarding design review and SEPA process. We are not evil, self-consumed, angry, or any of the other accusations that you throw our way. We are not trying to stop ANY development of the property. We are simply demanding that ANY development that is done on that property go through the same process as any other building that is being built. We have done that through the legal system.

        You represent a group of developers who are looking to skirt any costs that minimize your profits and you are couching your argument (and name calling) under the guise of affordable housing. This is false (and you know it). The developer of 741 Harvard applied for two different incentives as a way to build as big a building as possible for the least amount of money thereby attempting to take advantage of any loopholes that existed. We gathered and our voices were heard and we put an end to that. Call us what you will but the bottom line is that we are a group of neighbors, friends, citizens that demand that the existing laws be followed and your group is unhappy about that because it means that you must follow those laws.

        Spin it as you will but this is about following the law as it is written, not by us but by our elected officials. Our case was never about low-income housing on our block. Our case was never about rent or parking. Our case has been from the outset about a developer abusing the system, taking advantage of a broken system and a group of neighbors standing up against that. Our case, from the outset was about a code interpretation – WHAT DOES THE CODE SAY? We didn’t start out in court, we started out requesting a code interpretation and we won. We challenged the DPD to correctly interpret the designs that were put in front of them and we won.

        Spin it as you will but this is not about affordable housing. This is not about parking. This is about following the law.

  8. I do not agree on caving to micro-housing developers who say people who want affordable bigger apartment should move out of the central neighborhoods near downtown. I also do not agree that micro-housing developers should be able to create so many units with no parking and then declare that anyone who wants to be able to park (currently allowed with a street permit) should pay for parking or move to a cheaper neighborhood with easy street parking. The micro-housing developer should not get to decide the size of an affordable apartment and parking for current residents of the neighborhood.

    • Parking is expensive and unprofitable or every limited on a square footage basis in Apartments/Condos, should builders just make parking for everyone and eat the costs?

      I don’t see why a builder should have to make any parking, if people want parking, parking will developed but maybe a car for everyone is not feasible for central areas of Seattle anymore.

  9. Apodments are a repeat of America’s history with tenements, over-crowded and left to be rundown by unscrupulous landlords.

    Don’t be fooled by populist ideals coming from developer’s mouths. These are unsavory business people.

  10. Good grief, where do I begin? First and foremost, I have lived in this neighborhood for the past 22 years and to classify me as one of the “wealthy neighbors” makes me both giggle and choke! Believe it or not, we are most assuredly NOT all wealthy residents on this block. In fact, I live in what I believe Howard euphemistically classified as “one of the rundown privately owned apartment buildings.” I have had a Co-op apartment in a building that was constructed in 1959; it is my home and I love it. Although I laughingly refer to the building as a fine example of East German architecture, it is saved by lovely big trees and the HOA in our small complex endeavor to care for it, as well as keep it clean and landscaped.

    Furthermore, it IS presently a very diverse neighborhood by virtue of the apartment buildings on our block. There are only 2 (count ’em, Howard, TWO) single-family homes remaining on the block of Harvard Avenue in which 741 is located. These 2 homes are owned and lived in by families with children, genuinely nice people who certainly don’t throw their money around. The remainder of all of the buildings on this block are multi-unit buildings. We are NOT all wealthy; the vast majority of the people on this block work hard at their various endeavors regardless of whether they own a unit, an entire apartment building, or rent an apartment in one of those buildings. As I previously stated, I have lived in my place for a couple of decades now and I know of what I speak because I know and like my neighbors. Although there are wealthy people in our neighborhood and some on our block, they have never, ever struck me as “NIMBY’S” — which the author of this article had the audacity to call those of us who find this potential aPodment project objectionable.

    That label (NIMBY) also does not fit Larry Nicholas. He is a very decent guy who genuinely cares about his neighbors and I resent his being called names because he has had the courage to fight for something he believes in. He stated some very, very real concerns for everyone (regardless of whether or not they are “ordinary people” [isn’t that what you called them, Howard?] or wealthy) because of infrastructure concerns. If you walk the block of Harvard Avenue in question, with the exception of a couple of brick apartment buildings and the two lovely old homes I mentioned, the vast majority of the buildings were constructed on what were once single-family plots. I hasten to point out that major improvements in both the sewer and water systems are going to cost ALL of the people who now live on Harvard Avenue. This includes those “ordinary” people who may become tenants of any new aPodment complex because their rents will have to be raised in order to compensate the owner for increased property taxes. How will this provide affordable housing for ordinary people? More like crash-pad accommodations for wealthy people who need a place to stay overnight while holding a job in Seattle but possessing a primary residence elsewhere.

    As I said, I like and I speak to my neighbors — and I include my neighbors as not only those who live on that particular block of Harvard Avenue but also everybody who may reside in the apartment buildings on my walk to shop at QFC (this includes several people who reside in the subsidized housing complex next to the Harvard Exit as well as the Joule, etc.)

    I think, above all else, I simply found this article offensive. I felt it was not only presented in a biased manner (i.e., that the author already had his mind made up with respect to how HE felt about aPodment construction rather than writing the piece objectively) but I also found it very poorly written.

    • Seems to me that a street with mostly apartments and other multi family housing is perfect for this development, though I think it should be subject to design review. Also, can you provide more detail about the need for sewer upgrades? Has the city stated this will need to happen? And even if it is true, are these costs borne by the entire community or just the new development? I used to live in a new construction townhouse and each owner in the complex was responsible for paying a “sewer assessment” over a 10 or 15 year period, but I don’t believe any of the neighbors outside of the townhouse complex were responsible for an additional sewer assessment. Perhaps this development is different. I’ve never heard the sewer upgrade argument, so just wondering if this is legit.

    • Kat,

      When I was referring to the neighborhood and its neighbors as a wealthy neighborhood, I meant the area further down Harvard Avenue, which has high end condominiums and stately homes that are part of a historic preservation district. I know there are some residents of the Harvard-Belmont district contributing to fight 741 Harvard Avenue East because I have received their solicitations.

      The 700 block on which you apparently live has a mixture of apartments and condominiums of various vintages and economic values, as does much of Capitol Hill. Because the North Broadway Extension will stop only a few steps away near Broadway and Roy, it is an ideal neighborhood for micro-housing.

  11. Howard,

    Would you advocate throwing out design review for all proposed new construction in Seattle or just for projects such as this one? Certainly such review adds to construction costs for every project, so why should these types of projects be the exception? Submitting a project to design review is troublesome, but it seems the least you can do when placing a new project in an established neighborhood. I just don’t understand why the rules should be different for those building micro-housing. And please don’t say its to ensure that low income housing is available, blah, blah, blah, because design review will not prevent building such as this one. Who knows, if the develepers pursued these projects as if the rules everyone else abides by actually applied to them they might find that opposition begins to lessen.

  12. Bottom line: Apodments are driving up prices for ALL apartments by overcharging per square foot for a high-demand area, simply to increase their profit margin, NOT to address some “housing shortage”. They then characterize anyone opposed to this plan as waging class warfare against the poor or engaging in NIMBY. So enjoy your $1000/month 400 square foot palatial estate while you still can. It’ll be up to $1500-1600 soon enough as Apodments are now determining going rate of per square foot value.
    Solution: Price caps and/or income restrictions on micro-apartments. That’s the REAL solution to help lower income folks afford housing on Cap Hill.

    • other solution: The residents of any building built without parking are ineligible for the RPZ permits. RPZ expands to BOTH sides of the street and changes from “4 hour parking without permit” to “NO parking without permit” like in Fremont and Eastlake. That reduces the cars us nay-sayers don’t want, and forces more people to buy a permit rather than just juggling their car to the other side of the street.

      These jerks trying the BS line that we demand free parking are ignoring the fact that I PAY to park on my own damn street.

  13. so what else is new in seattle, moneygrubbing greedy homeowners restricting supply to drive up housing costs for everyone for their own selfish benefit

    • The money grubbing greedy homeowners who have been in their homes 20 yrs but now pay nearly $500 per month in property taxes to hang on to it, plus the mortgage, fund much of what you enjoy with those property taxes. Don’t paint every property owner with the same brush. You might be one yourself some day.

  14. Pingback: What We’re Reading: Even Tacoma Joins the Development Boom | The Urbanist

  15. Howard – you seem to be enjoying towing the line and demonizing neighbors and ordinary citizens who have organized to demand that the developers of 741 Harvard comply to existing city codes regarding design review and SEPA process. We are not evil, self-consumed, angry, or any of the other accusations that you throw our way. We are not trying to stop ANY development of the property. We are simply demanding that ANY development that is done on that property go through the same process as any other building that is being built. We have done that through the legal system.

    You represent a group of developers who are looking to skirt any costs that minimize your profits and you are couching your argument (and name calling) under the guise of affordable housing. This is false (and you know it). The developer of 741 Harvard applied for two different incentives as a way to build as big a building as possible for the least amount of money thereby attempting to take advantage of any loopholes that existed. We gathered and our voices were heard and we put an end to that. Call us what you will but the bottom line is that we are a group of neighbors, friends, citizens that demand that the existing laws be followed and your group is unhappy about that because it means that you must follow those laws.

    Spin it as you will but this is about following the law as it is written, not by us but by our elected officials. Our case was never about low-income housing on our block. Our case was never about rent or parking. Our case has been from the outset about a developer abusing the system, taking advantage of a broken system and a group of neighbors standing up against that. Our case, from the outset was about a code interpretation – WHAT DOES THE CODE SAY? We didn’t start out in court, we started out requesting a code interpretation and we won. We challenged the DPD to correctly interpret the designs that were put in front of them and we won.

    Spin it as you will but this is not about affordable housing. This is not about parking. This is about following the law.

  16. @Casey Jaywork

    Are there any new developments regarding this project? I saw that there was some sort of hearing or something back in December.