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Capitol Hill microhousing meeting frustrates loophole opponents

This week a meeting was held on Capitol Hill to discuss the future of aPodments in the neighborhood but it did little more than leave many attendees bitter and displeased.

“We need more organization,” shouted one. “Check CHS Blog,” came another.

CHS has covered the issues around microhousing housing with more frequency if not more depth than any other media outlet in the city. We’ve had a lot to say about the projects — both good and bad. Monday night, it was all about the bad.

“All they want is more density,” a woman said as Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin, and Diane Sugimura of the Department of Development heard complaints from the community at the December session of the East District Council — an advisory body attached to the Department of Neighborhoods. The meeting drew more people than the Cal Anderson Shelter House could hold and saw hands fly up anytime the two city reps spoke.

“We have no plans at this point to put a moratorium on,” Conlin said to the crowd adding that the council will have to adopt legislation in order to create a moratorium but that he personally “is not ready to do that at this point.

The Capitol Hill Community Council and other community groups have called for a moratorium on the developments until the projects are subject to a more stringent review process. Currently, a developer can build a “four-unit” apartment building divided into multiple dorm-type studios without the need for more stringent design or environmental review. Opponents cry foul — proponents say this is exactly the kind of affordable housing areas like Capitol Hill need.

As the meeting was winding down and most had voiced their opinions, Conlin asked, “What is the concern here?” effectively churning up shouts of “loopholes”, “density”, a need for design review among a swath of other issues.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Carl Winter with Reasonable Density Seattle told CHS after the meeting. He said the meeting was, “a lot of stalling,” and that “more aPodments” are bound to come without the moratorium. RDS recently started a petition to drive for a moratorium.

We asked Winter about what the meeting accomplished. Here is Reasonable Density’s response:

Yes, the positive… Residents’ interest in stopping these projects is on the rise, dramatically so. There were over 100 concerned and upset citizens at this meeting, that’s a big positive. Neighbors are forming groups to get the word out and to educate people about this issue and this is having an effect. Earlier in the year neighbors had no one to turn to, no one that would listen to them, that’s not the case anymore. There is strength in numbers and in neighbors linking together to address this common concern. This tide will rise and as a result our goals will be realized. If neighbors want to voice their disapproval of these buildings and the process that is allowing them to be built in neighborhoods not designed to accommodate them they can sign a petition which is posted on our website:  A final positive, Conlin mentioned he might bring this issue, and our moratorium, to a full City Council session in response to a suggestion from the audience to do so. We intend to hold him to that comment. 

Unfortunately there is also the negative… Some damage to our neighborhoods will already be done since many of these projects are built or currently under construction, 19 buildings at last count on Capitol Hill alone most of them in Low Rise (LR) zoned neighborhoods.  Low Rise Zones were not created nor envisioned to accommodate such dense structures.  Doing so is bad urban planning and defeats the intended purpose of these zones as transition areas. Another negative… Many got the sense that the director of the DPD, Sugimura may not be as interested or qualified as she should be. She demonstrated a surprising lack of knowledge.

Hearing the two of them speak in person was much better than getting the standard brief email reply which is about all neighbors have gotten out of them for the last six months. Please continue your coverage of this issue, residents need to know what is going on in their neighborhoods. 

At this point, it’s not clear what comes next. The push for a moratorium doesn’t seem to have picked up any momentum at City Hall and the opponents of the current process around microhousing haven’t yet shown an appetite for attacking the problem through formal or legal challenges.

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37 thoughts on “Capitol Hill microhousing meeting frustrates loophole opponents” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I think those who attended this meeting, who were almost 100% anti-apodment, are a good barometer of opinion on Capitol Hill. If any pro-apodment people were present, they did not make their opinion known.

    Just a clarification: City code actually allows apodment developers to specify up to 8 “dwelling units” in their permit applications in order to avoid design review, and each of these typically has 8 separate apodments, so there can be as many as 64 people living in a “8-unit boarding house.” This loophole is a travesty and needs to be closed NOW.

    Richard Conlin has dug in his heels on this issue, and if a moratorium is a possibility it needs to be pushed by another Council member. He also did not seem at all enthusiastic about bringing this up in a Council hearing format. In addition to his stubborness, the other glaring thing at this meeting was DPD Director Diane Sugimura’s appalling lack of basic knowledge about apodments….for example, she expressed difficulty in knowing how many of these things have been built on Capitol Hill, even though this information could be easily attained by her staff, as it has already been done by “ReasonableDensitySeattle.”

    It is very frustrating that these key City officials are not taking seriously the concerns of the vast majority of Capitol Hill residents. They are certainly on the developers’ side.

  2. It’s no surprise that people who have a good deal of money are mad about sharing space with people who have less money. aPodments cater to folks who want to live on the Hill but can’t afford to shell out $1k per month for a studio. This bugs the people who own expensive homes nearby. Liberals with money get to hide their classist hypocrisy on this issue by pretending that it’s about the property owners making money off of these, instead of the fact that they simply don’t want people with low incomes on their block.

    Also, the notion that the opposition to aPodments represents some consensus on Cap Hill is just silly. The measure of public opinion isn’t which side has the most people screaming. Most sane people who think that these buildings are OK aren’t going to take the time to show up to a meeting to say “hey, no problem.” Good policy, not elitist outrage, should be what carries the day.

  3. I was unable to attend the meeting, but I did send a letter to Conlin, Burgess, and Sugimura expressing my support for Apodments and similar structures. I live two blocks from one such development and less than one block from where another is planned, and I just don’t see the problem. Very small apartments without parking spaces aren’t out of scale or out of character for Capitol Hill: they preserve the tradition of the Hill as a neighborhood that welcomes young people, newcomers to Seattle, and working-class individuals.

    I certainly support “closing the loophole” by making this type of development explicitly legal without design review.

  4. I was also there and figure I should comment before the New Urbanist Taliban gets on here and criminalizes single family home owners and anyone else that dares to disagree with them.

    This is not about the concept of micro housing or who is going to live in them. It is about the sneaky deceptive way in which these places are built. The developers KNOW this and I’m sure are delighted that they have effectively silenced anyone that might question their intentions. These are BIG buildings. Just walk by the one at 116 13th Avenue. It is a monster. The house next door (120 13th East) is owned by the same developers. Presumably they will be tearing it down to build the same thing. A half a block away is a completed Pod project. Perhaps a distance requirement would help maintain a better density balance??

    Micro housing is happening in other big cities as well but WITH proper public input. Because of this I think they are better recieved than these snakes we have building them here in Seattle.

    What really makes me mad is that these politicians are supposed to be working for us and that is clearly not the case. They could care less about the citizens of Capitol Hill.

    Speaking of the Taliban where were YOU when this meeting was happening?

  5. I challenge any opponent of microhousing to name a single upzoning proposal in their neighborhood that they have ever supported. I mean a real proposal, not an imaginary one that increases height limits everywhere except within a 1,000 foot radius of your house.

    I also challenge them to name a single concrete way in which microhousing has damaged their quality of life.

    I feel like there’s a useful analogy between the opposition to microhousing and the opposition to marriage equality. I don’t see why I would have the right to stop other people from making an agreement that doesn’t affect me, nor why I’d even want to. You don’t have to get gay married, and you don’t have to live in a microapartment.

    The fact is, Seattle is becoming a more desirable place to live, and that’s a good thing. We can channel that growth into designated areas, which means that we have to *provide* designated areas. Or we can ignore it, in which case people will take advantage of these loopholes because there’s literally nothing else they can do.

  6. Well, actually that time is long overdue.

    Can our community help come together to support a candidate in opposition to him next time his seat is up? This defender of the status quo and ineffective representative of our people has overstayed his welcome.

  7. Matthew, it’s cute that you think that folks that live in these dense units won’t bring their cars to park on the already impassible streets of this hood, it’s really cute.

  8. “the vast majority of Capitol Hill residents”

    Exactly what data do you have to support this claim that you speak for a “vast majority”? Your 100 shouting people? Current population of the hill is what, 40,000? With this kind of unsupportable hyperbole, how can you expect us to take anything else you say seriously?

  9. Man, no one has called me cute in years. I love it!

    PublicVoice, I’m no fan of loopholes. If the issue is the loophole, then will you be satisfied if the loophole is eliminated by making the construction of Apodments explicitly legal in their current form? If you write that petition to DPD, I’ll gladly sign it. It sounds like that’s what you’re saying and also not what you’re saying, so I’m confused.

    How do I join this Taliban? I already have a beard.

  10. Not too challenging intellectually to respond to Aleks’ challenge: I’ve been heavily involved in the push to close the microhousing loophole, as well as the in fight against Regulatory Reform, and I had no problem at all with the rezoning of major arterials like Broadway and Pike/Pine to allow building height of 65′. I’m hardly alone in that respect. Nice try, Aleks, but do try getting your facts straight next time before you start opining.

    And we see Aleks trotting out yet another slur in lieu of an argument: he’s comparing us to the bigots who opposed gay marriage. That’s a real gut-buster considering how many of the folks calling for microhousing units to be counted properly are themselves gay, and could certainly see the analogy he tries to draw if it in fact existed and were worth discussing. So add this to a growing list of ad hominems, starting with the idiotic “NIMBY” slur (that’s the N-word of the land use wars, isn’t it?). We also heard a couple of new ones at the East District Council meeting, during which the current vice-chair of that organization compared us to the racists and upper-class bigots who used exclusionary zoning to keep people of color and working class families out of their neighborhoods. Keep going, you guys: every time you insult us like that, you only make us stronger. Can I pay you guys to keep getting the neighborhood fired up so we can keep turning out 100 people at meetings ?

  11. Couldn’t agree more. These folks definitely do not speak for me as a Capitol Hill resident and I hope they haven’t convinced any officials that they do. I’m trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with (1) density and (2) affordable housing for those with low incomes, and it all leads me back to one thing, that those shouting so loud about this simply don’t want low income people next door.

  12. Aleks –

    First, equating the civil rights of gay people with the rights of developers to build apodments anywhere they like is stupid. Sorry.

    Second, you appear to be against any urban planning, period. Centuries of experience run counter to your beliefs.

    It is important to understand that zoning exists for a reason. Apodment developers have been leveraging a loophole that shouldn’t exist. It is ludicrous to allow a developer to split up units in a limited multi-family zoning area by a factor of 8 times what the law had intended.

    Third, I’m all for taking Conlin out of office unless he is more responsive to his constituents.

  13. @ Aleks Bromfield

    I accept your challenge.

    You ask for an example, I can provide it.

    Check the house on the corner of E. John St and 13th Ave E. That home was owned by the same woman for over 40 years. She and her husband, now in their 70’s, had plans to live out their lives in it. Apodment towers, three of them, were built surrounding this house. One tower is 10′ from the east side of the house. All of the towers are more than 15′ higher than her home. She told me she no longer felt comfortable using the bathroom of her own home since so many windows from one tower had a clear view of it. The result… She and her husband moved out. The house is vacant and for sale. Who will buy this house? I will guess that another apodment tower will soon be placed there.

    It’s not that difficult to find examples of how current residents are being negatively impacted by the construction of these buildings. All you have to do is ask one living next door to them.

    Clearly these buildings can have a place in our city and on Capitol Hill. Put them in MR, HR and NC zoned areas where their intense density and overwhelming size will be accommodated. If you want them built in LR zoned areas limit them to three stories and 24 units so they can be assimilated there. Mandate a distance requirement so that entire areas are not covered by them. Subject them to design review so neighbors feel included in the process of their construction and SEPA review so neighborhoods will know if existing infrastructure can absorb them.

    There is nothing wrong with density or trying to find ways to increase it. However, increased density has its drawbacks so you better get it right when you do it.

  14. Mark, you’re an idiot.

    a bit of historical fact. the studio apartments of the 1920s were built to accommodate people who couldn’t afford big apartments and houses in the ‘hood. This 165sf stuff these developers are cramming into the neighborhood are not safe, they’re not appropriate and they don’t belong. You want to live in a dorm, go live on campus.

    The average ‘apodment’ is SMALLER than the typical dorm room. These things are being built in other cities at 250-300sf. here, it’s the typical developer-driven abuse of the system with at least one council member in bed with them.

    There are standards for living developed by health departments all over the country. They don’t call for a heck of a lot of space per person. Public housing is built on those lines. Take a look at the size of a single person apartment in Seattle Housing Authority property. They’re pretty damn small.

    apodments need to go, period.

  15. Calling microhousing developers “snakes” (see Public Voice’s comment above) is immature, nonproductive, and simply false.

    They are business people. They are (predominantly) local. They are employing many people. They are paying a lot of state/city/county taxes. Loophole or not, they are working within their legal limits. Period.

    As a homeowner directly next door to an aPODment in construction, I’d love to see the current design/neighborhood review process applied to these structures. Other than that, I see them as part of the landscape in the urban density guidelines for which Seattle appropriately voted.

  16. I heard that jseattle is friends with the developers putting in 40+ units at 422 11th Ave E, and knew about the project for awhile. If this is true, and there is zero coverage here on the blog, then I’m going to start questioning your claim of your microhousing “coverage with more frequency than other media outlets.”

  17. @ CH property owner: I did not claim to be speaking for all of Capitol Hill. My point was that, if there really was significant support for apodments (except for on this blog), then at least some of those people would have found time to come to the meeting (which was well-publicized in advance) and speak up with their opinion.

    I guess you’d have to commission a poll to settle this issue, but to me it seems quite obvious that a sizeable majority of neighborhood residents oppose apodments, or at the very least want a moratorium until changes are made to close the loophole and to limit the number of these that can be built.

  18. No. When people buy homes, they also buy-in to the home’s zoning. If someone buys a home in an area that is zoned single family, they expect it to be single family. If the property is in an “LR3” neighborhood, they expect it to be somewhat higher density multi-family, but in the form of duplexes, small apartment houses, row houses, condos – that kind of thing. There are greater density zones as well, and that’s where apodments should be built.

    High density housing should be in high density zones. Period. This loophole is exactly that – a loophole, and it is a loophole that should be closed. You can go crying about the need for high density, NIMBY, how the upper classes are repressing the lower classes – that kind of crap. However, the city has a zoning system which is a kind of covenant with the property owners. The city is violating it, and the Department of Planning and Development and the city council are abdicating their responsibilities by turning a blind eye to the practice. Zoning is an urban planning technique that aims at creating a city where many different types of people will want to live. You just want a city where only people like you will live. Grow up.

  19. It is NOT a matter to attempting to adopt an exclusionary attitude regarding the construction of these aPodments. The area of Capitol Hill in which I reside is a mixture of houses, condos, rentals, you-name-it. The fact of the matter is that all of my neighbors, regardless of whether or not they own or rent, are EMOTIONALLY invested in the area. In fact, it is someone who is a renter who cares for our traffic circle (and has for the past several years); both owners and renters are familiar faces to me when I am out raking leaves and they are walking their children and their dogs (I love animals and I know the name of every dog within a 3-block radius); and I haven’t a clue as to whether the neighbors with whom I regularly speak own or rent, nor do I care because the result is the same: ALL of these people LIVE in this neighborhood. They do not camp nor intend to spend only a couple of months in temporary housing until they move on. THAT is what concerns me in addition to buildings that are much too tall for the surrounding neighborhood and which do not provide adequate parking in an already congested area.

    I most especially do not appreciate being dealt with dishonestly and that is how I feel after having attended the meeting referenced in this article. I walked out of there feeling as though Director Sugimura and Councilman Conlin had asked what the definition of “is” is. Their unintentionally amusing definitions of a kitchen in conjunction with their initial denial that they could not distinguish an aPodment from an apartment building in the various proposals submitted (later clarified as being unable to determine the difference ELECTRONICALLY — Hey! How about looking at the physical project plans submitted prior to providing approval?) was truly amazing.

    Bottom Line: It makes far more sense to me that the Planning Department and the City officials open aPodment construction to neighborhood input (regarding height, parking and/or bicycle access, pedestrian traffic, and building design in order to fit into the surrounding neighborhoods). That way, a lot of the quite justifiable anger currently directed towards the rampant construction of these microhousing aPodments because they are being pushed down our throats would be negated and countered.

  20. The thing that gets me is the concept of a shared kitchen for approximately 8 rooms per floor. At 150 sq ft for some of these rooms, these places are only going to be crash pads, at best. Can you imagine what sort of filthy dirty messes some of those kitchens are going to end up being? Gross.

  21. Reddog: Your comments are pretty typical of the anti-apodment movement. Unfortunately, they are also 100% wrong. In most cases, the land use code actually results in LESS density for apodments than for standard apartment projects (1.4 FAR vs 2.0 FAR). The difference with apodments has to do with the design review process and SEPA, not density. Are you misinformed or simply a liar?

    It’s claims such as yours that cause the adults in the conversation to ignore groups like Reasonable Density.

  22. Proponents of apodments like to claim that they help address the issue of affordability in our neighborhood. But these structures don’t really address the needs of anyone except a select group: able-bodied single people. Why able-bodied? From the pictures I’ve seen, you need to climb a ladder to get into the bed. I’d venture to guess many seniors would not be up for that (or anyone with impaired mobility of any kind). Why single? How could you live in 500 square foot space with a partner and child? That would not work. Being young(ish) and single myself, I recognize I already have more options than the average person: renting a shared house with friends, etc. Mine is not the demographic most in need of affordable housing solutions.

    Also what is the evidence that these places will stay affordable? What’s to keep the developer from jacking up the rent as far as it can go? Take a look at San Francisco and places like that. You’ve got people paying more than $1,000 for tiny units like this, and then you’re right back where you started.

    In the meantime, no one is asking: where are the resources going to come from for the increased transit capacity and other infrastructure that this sudden explosion of density will demand? The answer is: the tax payer. Meanwhile the developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

    I’ve been in places where zoning is either very week or doesn’t exist. They are not pleasant places to live, and they are not especially affordable either. What you have here is a GIANT give-away to developers. Period.

  23. @ More Housing please

    I’m not convinced Reddog is misinformed or a liar. However, you might be both. We have yet to find a reference for an apodment, or for that matter any form of micro-housing, in Seattle land use code. The classification does not exist! Yet the statement you make suggests this information is available and that values are assigned to them. Will you please enlighten the anti-apodment movement as to where in code we can find such information so we can educate ourselves and join the adult conversation you allude to?

  24. Response to More housing please…

    Your argument spends more time laying out personal attacks than it does the facts of the matter. Use of personal attacks is widely understood as representing the refuge of someone who has a weak argument, and is trying to obscure that fact. That is my general observation. My more specific observations are as follows: (1) you compare microhousing to larger units, but not to the smaller units that a number of them have replaced, such as single-family residences, a type of construction once widely praised and purveyed by real estate developers, and from which they made a lot of money. One of the main arguments of Reasonable Density has been that low density housing is being replaced with higher density housing: since the FAR for single-family dwelling units is 1.1, not the 1.2 or 1.4 provided for townhomes, the replacement of a single-family residence by microhousing results in an increase in density, in most cases substantial. If you had wanted to be fair and accurate, you would have mentioned this. (2) the average FAR figures you mention ignores the multiple exceptions that apply to them, exceptions that microhousing developers are proficient in applying for and obtaining. Having viewed a number of the plans for this invasive species, they certainly appear to have much greater FARs than 1.2 or 1.4. Some are at least 5-6 stories tall, and many are permitted as apartments, which gives them the FAR that you assert is greater than that for microhousing. Many of these developments have been permitted as apartments. (3) one exception has to do with portions of a story that extend no more than 4 feet above existing or finished grade, whichever is lower, excluding access… I expect that is why a number of these developments have units in the basement. In sum, your argument ignores realities on the ground, ignores significant exceptions to the general rules, and consists predominantly of personal attacks. I assign a ratio of informative argument to attack of 1(possibly):5, giving you a Fair Argument Ratio of 20%, not discounted for partial truths and false arguments. For anyone who wishes to consider these arguments in light of the Seattle Municipal Code, see Seattle Municipal Code 23.45.510 Floor area ratio (FAR) limits.

  25. Your description of developers is mostly correct…but you forgot to mention that their primary motivation is to make a ton of money for themselves, and this on the backs of long-time neighborhood residents. They could care less about what we think and about the negative impacts their apodments are having, as long as money keeps rolling into their pockets.

  26. Shredder: You cite the correct section of the code, but you obviously didn’t read it or failed to understand it. There is no shame in that (unless you’re an architect or urban planner). It’s complex stuff, even for the professionals. What is shameful is when someone makes claims about the code that are blatantly false.

    Reddog claimed that developers are abusing a loophole which is allowing them to build to a higher density than otherwise would be allowed. His claim is factually incorrect.

    Claims such as his may fool the readers of a neighborhood blog and whip those people into a froth, but they don’t fool the professionals who truly understand the situation. This is why you shouldn’t be surprised when you receive a chilly reception from DPD, the council, etc.

    Reddog and I agree on one thing: High density housing should be in high density zones. This is exactly what is happening with apodments. LR3 zoning allows for a maximum FAR of 2.0. Do you know of a single case in which an apodment project was built on non-LR or MR land? If so, that is a clear violation of the “covenant” that Reddog writes of. Are you aware of a single apodment project that exceeded the 2.0 FAR maximum? If so, that is a clear violation of the “covenant”. Otherwise, apodment builders are doing exactly what Reddog calls for, putting high density housing in high density zones.

    To claim that what is being done by apodment builders runs counter to the existing zoning is either misinformed or dishonest. Ultimately, the misinformation or dishonesty spread by people like Reddog will work against the very legitimate goals of ensuring that apodment project are subject to design review and SEPA.

  27. “Housing Now” – you are obfuscating the truth with developer terminology such as “FAR” – and as Shredder suggests, misrepresenting the truth even with those terms. What ordinary people think of as density is people per square foot of land. Apodments results in many more people per square foot of land than what has considerably been considered proper use of LR3 land. It is common sense that allowing units to be split up into 8 other units is violating the spirit of the zoning law and zoning conventions.

    I challenge you to name Capitol Hill apodments that have resulted in fewer people per square foot of land.

    I live in an LR3 neighborhood. I have neighbors in apartment houses, condos, and duplexes. Nobody will take you seriously if you claim that apodments have the same person per land density, or for that matter if high density apodment-style apartments were intended in LR3 zones. LR3 was never intended as very high density.

    And as for the totally unfounded negative attacks on me and my intentions, you clearly don’t understand what it means to participate in and foster community, which I suppose explains your misguided and misleading advocacy of apodments.

  28. Reddog: I’m not going to waste my time debating land use policy with someone who clearly has never bothered to even look at the land use code. You may be scared by “developer terminology” such as FAR, but it’s a basic concept used worldwide, and if you bothered to read our code you’d find it is nothing but these fundamental concepts that you find so scary.

    Our land use policy should not be dictated, or even informed, by people who are too lazy or narrow-minded to even understand the fundamental concepts. Consider it a personal attack if you like, but your comments are either uninformed or dishonest and that’s precisely why you’re the one who is not being taken seriously by the people who deal with these issues everyday.

    Unfortunately, there are legitimate issues such as design review and SEPA that aren’t given the attention that they deserve because they’re drown out by the shouting of blithering idiots such as you.

    Let us know once you’ve read the code and actually understand the things that you’re trying to change.

  29. Mark, I agree. I’m a property owner. When my kids go off to college I hope to move in to an apodment, rent out my house, and hopefully come out a few hundred bucks ahead to help my kids each month with their college expenses. I’m a single parent who has lost my home equity in the downturn, have worked since I was 15, and want to NOT leave my kids in enormous debt after college. An apodment would be great for me. I can get rid of my car and car insurance, walk to work, and flow money to my kids. I will continue to work every Christmas, every holiday for OT, to help my kids to not drown in debt. This is the American dream. Thanks, Apodments, for making it possible for me.