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Mapping Capitol Hill microhousing — 15 buildings, 500+ units, 2 reviews

Say what you will about density and the future of Capitol Hill — apodments are pissing a lot of people off.

“When we put the signs up, neighbors wanted more,” a representative for Reasonable Density Seattle told CHS about their effort this summer to scare off would-be microhousing developers from the neighborhood on the backside of 15th Ave E. City Hall, watch for a letter from the community council, soon.

City Council president Sally Clark has said that the next step in looking at microhousing in Seattle might be for the city to simply catalog and quantify just how much is being built — both via the infamous zoning loophole and within the city’s review process.

With help from a roster provided by the Reasonable Density group and some of our own elbow grease, we’ve mapped the projects that we know about on the Hill. Let us know in comments what we’ve missed and we’ll add more as we find them.


The loophole
Seattle’s zoning restrictions in residential areas are based on the number of dwelling units — unit occupancy and building size aren’t considered. The loophole has allowed developers to bypass the Design Review Board and environmental review as these buildings technically come under the dwelling unit threshold for many residential zones on Capitol Hill.

For instance, in lowrise, multifamily areas, design and environmental reviews are triggered for building proposals larger than 8 units (the residential swath from 10th to 15th between Denny and Roy is almost entirely zoned LR3). In areas zoned mid-rise, review boards are triggered at 20-unit proposals (Most of Capitol Hill west of Harvard, aside from Olive and Denny corridors, is MR or LR3). Environmental review is also triggered in LR3 and MR zones for 30-unit proposals within urban centers or station areas.

We’ll also have more about microhousing’s issues and the Reasonable Density group as well as a growing wave of neighborhood activism suddenly stirred awake around the Hill. We’ve already showed you the signs and were the first to explain to many on the Hill exactly what was happening around them as developers take advantage of loopholes allowing the creation of 40-unit apartment buildings on parcels that previously were home to single family homes. There are examples on the Hill showing how high-density development can be done in smaller, less intrusive ways. But the trend rolls on. And, unlike the emergency moratorium enacted to stop the construction of the “tall & skinny” homes some say are plaguing other parts of Seattle, the is nothing in the works, yet, to help solidify Capitol Hill’s lowrise-3 zoning to prevent developers from continuing to add aPodment-style microapartments to the area’s housing pool. There will probably be more to add to the map soon. And, like we said before, dense, denser or densest, they’ll still be pissing people off.

A view of Capitol Hill’s land use zones. See the City’s full map here (pdf) (Image: Nicholson Kovalchick)

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3decadesonthehill
8 years ago

McGinn and the city council are giving Seattle to developers as fast as they can without concern for the people who actually live here. Time to start electing our council by districts so they’re accountable to somebody besides big money.

dpt2
8 years ago

How about it is time to stop electing idiots like McGinn. While he may be accountable to big money, he was elected by a bunch of idiot liberals on Capitol Hill. You get what you pay for.

CapHill Designer
8 years ago

So a bunch of nameless NIMBYs living in single family homes in the densest neighborhood north of San Francisco feel that they get to decide what density is “reasonable” for our neighborhood. It’s pretty clear that they already believe that Capitol Hill is beyond “reasonable density”.

Don’t be fooled. This isn’t an effort to close “loopholes” and ensure design review. If it were, why include projects that aren’t apodments and are going through the full design review process? This is little more than a group of wealthy property owners who feel that we already have enough poor people on Capitol Hill. They feel threatened by the “type” of people who can only afford $600 a month rent. They’re afraid that these newcomers will take all of the onstreet parking, which they believe they already own.

Are apodments perfect? Absolutely not. But these NIMBYs pose a far greater threat to the future of Capitol Hill than a handful of boarding houses. Reasonable people should take a much closer look at the real motives behind groups like “Reasonable Density”.

Charlus
8 years ago

What exactly does the acronym NIMBY mean, anyway, besides “somebody I don’t like for reasons I can’t articulate?” If it has something to do with backyards and what goes there, then let me ask you this: is it OK if I stop by YOUR backyard every day to drop off some old leaking drums of toxic waste? How about excrement? Dead bodies? If you respond “no” – as would any reasonable person – then can I jump up and down and call you NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY?

Here’s the point: people in a democratic society have the right to voice their concerns about what happens in their neighborhood, and to engage in an articulate dialogue with city officials and their neighbors about what the ground rules are. Grabbing hold of the first half-witted acronym within reach is hardly the basis for such a dialogue.

Facts do matter sometimes as well. How do you know that “this is little more than a group of wealthy property owners who feel that we already have enough poor people on Capitol Hill?” Really? Did they say that? If they’re so wealthy, why wouldn’t they just move a few blocks north into the single family neighborhoods which Councilmember Conlin has shown will be protected forever from the blessings of density? And have you heard any of these folks say that they’re opposed to affordable housing and diversity? I sure haven’t, and I wouldn’t have any time for them if I did. As far as I can see, they just want the City to apply the same process – Design Review – to these sorts of buildings as all other structures have to go through before being constructed.

So here’s how the standard smear tactic goes: call people NIMBY (whatever the hell that means), label them rich snobs, attribute to them some non-specified “agenda”, and make them out to be opposed to having any more of “those” people on the hill. Nice try, but folks are on to your game. Think of something a little more creative next time, alright?

genevieve
8 years ago

yeah, cause Nickels wasn’t beholden to developers at all [/sarcasm]

Alan
8 years ago

227 Boylston Ave. East
30 unit aPODment (was a single family 1901 house turned into a duplex, demolished 2 weeks ago)

CapHillinvestor
8 years ago

Awesome comment, Charlus. You hit the nail on the head.
Thank you. I’d be curious to see if cap hill designer is a real person or an
Apodment plant. If you’re willing, man up and lets meet for coffee some night to discuss face to face.

Snarky Amber
8 years ago

There are plenty of renters – not just wealthy property owners – living in this area who also object to these developments, and the reasons have nothing to do with class. For me it has everything to do with the fact that these buildings make the neighborhood I love uglier and detract from its character; and, less trivially, it will further limit the already grossly limited parking in our neighborhood. Why is that not a valid concern? The fact is, many of these microhousing developments do not have dedicated parking and will rely on street parking. While certainly not every resident of an “apodment” will have a car, certainly enough of them will to raise serious issues for those in the neighborhood who already have to park several blocks away from their apartments on a regular basis. Call me a NIMBY if you wish, but it’s incredibly reductive to say that objectors are solely concerned with not letting the “wrong” type of person in our neighborhood. I am all about more affordable housing in Capitol Hill, but it has to be well thought out and done without shady, loophole-seeking practices to avoid a proper development/design review process.

jseattle
8 years ago

Thanks much and apologies for missing this one in our update — a commenter had mentioned before http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2012/09/10/council-closing

jseattle
8 years ago

Not to gang up on designer, but just want to be clear CHS decided to include projects that have been part of the design review process to be as complete as possible with the roster.

The group’s list also mixes them in, however
http://reasonabledensityseattle.wordpress.com/micro-apartmen

CapHill Designer
8 years ago

Thanks for the clarification Justin.

So in other words, people like Charlus who believe that this group “just wants the City to apply the same process – Design Review – to these buildings” have been mislead.

And to answer Charlus’ question about NIMBYs; no, a person that objects to a use that is ILLEGAL in their backyard is not a NIMBY. However, a person who objects to a development that meets both the letter and intent of the land use code is in my opinion a NIMBY.

caphilldenizen
8 years ago

No one has a right to a parking space in front of their house or apartment. The streets belong to all of us – they aren’t there to serve as your personal dedicated parking stall. If you want a personal, dedicated parking space you are perfectly free to either buy a home or condo unit with off-street parking or to go and rent a space at a parking lot. Or, to buy yourself a bus pass. Otherwise, you can join the rest of us who acknowledge that living in a city means you might have to drive around for a while to find a place to park. You don’t get to live in a city and then complain that its not the suburbs.

The sheer entitlement that reaks off these “reasonable density” folks is astounding. I’ve seen them in action at community meetings – they are completely classist, shrill, busybody NIMBYs – and their call for design review for the “loophole” micro-housing units is just a smokescreen. If it wasn’t, then they wouldn’t be including microhousing projects that go through design review on their lists. And when you bring it up to them, they try to change the subject. They’ve also called for outright bans on microhousing as well as rolling back the zoning code to decrease existing height limits.

sovietbot
8 years ago

I’m with you CapHill Designer. What exactly is “Reasonable Density” anyway and who gets to define it? Frankly, I’d prefer to see density minimums, not maximums in our neighborhood. I’m glad to see these homes providing some infill density. While some of these developments could be more attractive, I feel the same way about many single family homes as well. And I’m not entirely convinced that the design review process guarantees great architecture.

chr
chr
8 years ago

I personally like the apodments and I love the fact that they don’t include parking. Most of the historic apartment buildings in cap hill don’t have parking and people get around fine. I lived with a car and street parking for 3 years in the hill before I got rid of my car. Obviously the demand is there for more dorm like living and it’s nice to see something other that posh condos and townhouses. I live near the ones on John and 14th and I think they blend into the neighborhood okay. I personally hate to see historic buildings torn down and would like to see more community voice in development and protections for character buildings, however I personally like the apodments. It makes sense to me that they need a design review, but they fill a nice need for more affordable housing and maximizing density.

Bax
Bax
8 years ago

I guess because I had many years of seeking out inexpensive places in NYC, developing manipulative skills to the point that I never paid over $700 in Manhattan (Greenwich Village or East Village) until I left in 2004, I always had an outdoor garden.
In Seattle, my first and current apartment has a 400 sq ft garden and the large 1 bedroom apt is 800 sq ft., AND its in a fantastic area by the Lowell School. I just wheeled and dealed the landlord to the point where he had to agree to MY terms.
I know its not a conventional way to get a good rent, but being sly, offering trade or just downright lying to the owners does help. Now I’m locked in at $900 for the next three years. The other 14 apartments all go for $1400 or higher, most without outdoor space. I can be a real prick when negotiating a lease.

joanna
8 years ago

1510 23rd Avenue
Description from Zillow: This 1720 square foot multiple occupancy home has 2 bedrooms and 1.0 bathrooms. It is located at 1510 23rd Ave Seattle, Washington.

calhoun
8 years ago

You continue to miss the point regarding no parking spaces at apodments. It is NOT that people feel entitled to a free, street parking space in front of where they live. It IS that they just want some parking availability within a couple of blocks of where they live, and apodments will be making that much more difficult if not impossible. Yes, a person can rent an off-street parking space, but that gets expensive.

And by the way, I don’t use street parking…I’m lucky to have a driveway at my small home.

calhoun
8 years ago

Charlus: great comment! I agree with you completely. The acronym “NIMBY” is thrown around all too frequently. It usually is used as a derogative towards an opinion someone disagrees with, even if that opinion is reasonable and well thought out.

caphilldenizen
8 years ago

– And YOU continue to miss the point. You have no – ZERO, ZILCH, NADA – right to have convenient access to public street parking near your house. If you have to park 5 or 6 blocks away – tough toenails. Welcome to living in an actual city and not the suburbs. If you want easy street parking, you are free to live in Kent or Bothell or the Rainier Valley but that might involve living next to working class brown people. Here, we live in the most dense neighborhood in Seattle – Cap Hill actually looks (unlike the majority of Seattle) like an actual city neighborhood. And in actual cities like San Francisco or New York or Chicago, you don’t the right to a convenient parking space on the street unless you pay for it. Instead, what you have to do, is drive around for 15 minutes or park 5 or 6 blocks away. Woo hoo – big, frickin’, deal – I’m so oppressed and inconvenienced.

You don’t get to have tons of goods & services, transit, etc. nearby without also living in an urban area. Deal with it, quit the bitchin’ and moanin’, and stop trying to shove your suburban sensibilities down the rest of our throats. The rest of us put our big boy pants on in the morning, you can to.

Jules James
8 years ago

Are we an honest city? Or a corrupt city? Apodments themselves may be good, bad or neither. But apodment developers calling 40 units 8 units is a for-profit lie. For City Hall to be fooled by this falsehood once is acceptable incompetence. But after once, we are no longer an honest city. The basic premise of Seattle’s Lowrise zoning code is predictable unit count.

Charlus
8 years ago

No disrespect intended, but CapHill Designer is still a bit slow on the uptake here. So if the City Council were to change the Land Use Code and make it legal to put a nuclear waste dump behind his house, he/she would be proscribed from offering any objection for fear of being labeled (heaven forbid!) a NIMBY!!! An odd sort of reasoning, that.

The question doesn’t hinge on whether something is illegal or legal, but on whether it is wise or unwise, whether it is respectful or disrespectful of previous commitments to the neighborhood, and whether it derives from thoughtful and unbiased public policy or from shady backroom deals with powerful constituents like developers. Mayor McGinn has a long track record at this point of making all sorts of unwise things legal, and will soon be turned out of office as a result. Because he’s made them legal, does that mean citizens can’t object? Really?

In the original comment above, CapHill Designer labels Reasonable Density “a bunch of nameless NIMBY’s living in single family houses”. Really? I just happened to take a stroll down Malden Ave today. I counted 2 single family houses with signs in front of them. The rest of the buildings with signs were apartments in various states of repair, duplexes, 4-plexes and condos ranging from old to new. But who needs facts or logic when there’s a moronic acronym ready to hand to save one the trouble of thinking and looking?

Give credit where it’s due though. Using the same dumb-assed acronym 3 times in 2 short sentences: that takes talent. Of a sort. It’s energy-efficient, too, as it avoids taxing all those neural pathways in the brain.

calhoun
8 years ago

So, I guess you are saying that Seattle should emulate those other “actual cities” by encouraging policies that make life, including reasonably convenient street parking, as difficult as possible? Great goal of yours!

CapHillCW
8 years ago

Existing height limits for L3 zoning have been 30′ maximum for decades. They were only recently changed, within the year if I recall, to allow for a 40′ maximum on some building classifications. This increase in height is fueling the construction of these buildings by making the economics of doing so much more lucrative.

And in the interest of moving this argument move forward, what exactly do you call these buildings? What should they be called? “Apodment” is a registered trademark so only buildings built by one developer, Calhoun Properties, can technically be labeled that. Other developers are constructing these types of buildings which are not being subjected to Design and SEPA reviews. If they are not “micro-housing” then what are they? Do tell.

CapHill Designer
8 years ago

CapHillCW:
Technically, the height limit for townhomes is still 30′ (plus 5′ for a pitched roof). The 40′ height limit is only applicable for apartments (where each unit is counted as a unit, not a “room” within a unit). The economics of these types of projects really has not changed with the revision of the code. The impetus was, and always has been, an effort to shorten the permit application time from the typical 18 months with full Design Review to as little as 4 months. Despite what opponents would have you believe, the “loophole” is not being used to build projects that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed, it is merely to get them out of the ground as quickly as possible. Here’s a link to DPD’s handy cheatsheet: http://www.seattle.gov/dclu/cms/groups/pan/@pan/@plan/@proj/

As for what to call these “pods” – DPD makes it clear within Director’s Rule 6-2012 that they are to be referred to as Boarding Houses.

Jupien
8 years ago

I beg to differ with CapHill Designer when he says that “the economics of these types of projects really has not changed with the revision of the code”. Not so. Any sort of upzoning that allows a developer to utilize a given piece of ground more intensively changes the economics of a project substantially. If you can build 4 1/2 stories where you formerly could only build 3, developers have much more incentive to come in and raze existing structures and replace them with much larger ones. Ditto when you ease setback requirements and Floor Area Ratios. That’s why we’re starting to see a rash of projects where older, lowrise apartment buildings and rental houses are being bought and demolished, and their tenants put out on the street. If long-term renters think they’ve got no dog in this fight, they’re sadly mistaken. They’ll be the first to go.

Another small correction: the term “boarding house” seems to be specific to the Building Code, not the Land Use Code. That’s why in permit applications you’ll see these structures referred to variously as “apartments”,”townhouses” and “boarding houses”. In other words, the language is all over the map, and perhaps intentionally so. Not very reassuring.

SWP
SWP
8 years ago

Two more for you:

One with about 30 housing units and 10 micro-offices in planning at 1811 20th Ave: http://web1.seattle.gov/DPD/permitstatus/Project.aspx?id=628

And one in construction at 18th and Howell (under two permits). Hard to tell how many beds:

http://web1.seattle.gov/DPD/permitstatus/Project.aspx?id=629

http://web1.seattle.gov/DPD/permitstatus/Project.aspx?id=627

SWP
SWP
8 years ago

Sorry, 18th and Olive, not 18th and Howell.

caphillres
8 years ago

I don’t have on opinion on this issue because I don’t know the background, but I think it’s clear that disrespect IS intended when you call someone “slow on the uptake”, and accuse them of using a “moronic acronym … to save one the trouble of thinking and looking” and “using the same dumb-assed acronym 3 times in 2 short sentences.”

Reasonable discourse would allow for differing opinions and perspectives.

Neighbor
8 years ago

caphilldenizen, I don’t think anyone who lives on Capitol Hill truly expects street parking in front of their residence(and if they do, I agree they need a reality check).

But in all seriousness, what are the residents supposed to do? Delusions of grandeur aside, Seattle is not NYC. One lightrail line does not a transit system make. Unless you get lucky and score a job on a bus route, the average Cap Hill resident needs a car to get around on a daily basis. And the car does need to go somewhere. I’ve lived on the Hill for 10 years, and in all that time I’ve gladly walked a few blocks to my car in the morning. I understand this is the price I pay for living in a dense neighborhood. But when ALL the parking is gone, what then? It’s already gotten so I have to park about 12 blocks from my residence on a regular basis, and most of the apodments aren’t even open yet. Once they fill up, I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Go carless? That means spending about four hours on the bus EVERY WORKDAY (vs. 40 min. in the car). Yes, the six-mile commute takes four hours round trip because, like almost every trip that’s not directly north/south, it requires a transfer. I know I’m not the only one with this problem.

Let’s take a step back. Is this really the vision we have for quality of life in our city? The message I’m getting from the city council (and people like you, quite frankly) here is that they don’t give two hoots about the average person. I love capitol hill, and I wanted to invest in living here, so I bought the unit I could afford. Unfortunately that price range didn’t include a $600,000 town house with its own parking spot. So I guess the only people who are welcome in our neighborhood, are people at the extreme high end, and the extreme low end of affordability? That would be unfortunate, I think.

I want suggestions for solutions that include an acknowledgement of the reality that greater density requires greater infrastructure, including greater, not lesser, transit capacity. Simply doing away with parking requirements and removing street parking and waving our magic wand and “wishing” the cars away is only going to reduce transit options without solving anything. And no one benefits except the developers who are happily lining their pockets while the council turns a blind eye.

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[…] fall, CHS mapped 15 microhousing projects built, under construction or in planning stages around Capitol Hill — all but two without the […]