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The small unit: Review board looks at 15th/Howell microhousing project

1420 E Howell's future

1420 E Howell’s future

The future of 1420 E Howell

G’bye fourplex

The next two Capitol Hill apartment projects slated to come in front of the East Design Review Board starting Wednesday night share common frameworks: nimble projects squeezing as many highly coveted, small units as possible onto land where old single family homes or underutilized fourplexes stand today. They also share a common reaction from some neighbors in the area: complaints —

Will there be any restrictions on car ownership by residents of these buildings? Will they be eligible for zone 4 permits?
Even if there was parking provided for these units, the very high density would be a stress on the neighborhood parking just because of their guests parking on the street. While we have parking for our car, our friends do like like to come to visit us in Capitol Hill specifically because it is difficult for them to park.

We are going to see a play tonight with friends who live in a residential neighborhood in North Seattle. It is not reasonable for them to try to take metro. It would be over an hour (70-75 minutes) to get here, including 30 minutes walking. Do you think that people are really going to walk 30 minutes after 11 PM to get him just for the pleasure of a night out with their friends in Capitol Hill? Our friends, like us, are older, she has a bad hip, and lives in a neighborhood with poor lighting and few sidewalks. But even healthy, younger people will not realistically do this.

If you want to promote public transit use instead of car use, the city needs to make public transit a reasonable option, not make the neighborhoods unlivable by eliminating parking.

That’s one piece of public feedback delivered to the Department of Planning and Development about the project slated for the Brad Khouri and b9 architects-backed 121 12th Ave E project that will cram 50 units into a four-story building. Its design review is on the calendar for August 13th. That construction is planned to replace three single-family homes at 12th and John. And, yes, there will be no parking.

The same thing goes for 1420 E Howell where 56 units are planned for another four-story structure. The project is large enough to trigger design review even without new microhousing legislation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 7.49.09 PMHere’s how Caron, the developer on this project and another microhousing-style project nearby, describes its E Howell effort:

The proposed development will create an urban apartment building with 57 small residential units in the Capitol Hill Urban Center Village. This development is not required to have parking, as it falls within Urban Center Village neighborhood. There are several bus routes on 15th Ave., and the new light rail station is within walking distance.

The ground level of preferred scheme consists of an entry lobby on 15th Ave. and 12 residential units along E Howell St. The second through fourth floors house 14 units per floor while the basement level has 3 units with private patio. While the project will have ample green space on the south and north side at ground level; the roof deck will provide the main amenity area for tenants for entertaining, gathering, and relaxation.

Both developments are creative approaches taking full advantage of the neighborhood’s rental dynamics: climbing rents, increasing demand, and young professionals well-indoctrinated on the advantages economic, environmental, and sometimes social in living small.

Expect public comment at Wednesday’s early design guidance session on the E Howell project to be more about the zoning that allows — and encourages — multi-floor, multi-family housing types in the Capitol Hill core. Here’s one note sent to CHS about the proposed building:

DPD is about to have a hearing on a proposal for a very large new development at 15th Ave and Howell, and the impact may be of interest to your readers. The meeting is this Wednesday July 30 6:30 PM AT Seattle U.   The small corner lot (which now has two small buildings, 3 units each I think)  is proposed to have a 4 story 56 unit building with no parking.  On that small lot, it sounds like MEGA micro-housing to me.  It’s just a block from Group Health.  If, say, half the tenants have cars, that will stress a neighborhood where it’s already very difficult to find on-street parking, even for those of us with RPZ permits.

The design review board won’t be able to do anything about the zoning that allows “very large” new developments — the City Council is mulling changes on that front. Instead, this first round will be focus on design issues most of the upset neighbors won’t care much about. But 56 Capitol Hill residents of the future will care a lot.

Review Meeting: July 30, 6:30 pm
Seattle University
824 12th Ave
Admissions & Alumni Community Building
Review Phase: EDG–Early Design Guidance
Project Number: 3017142 permit status | notice
Planner: Lindsay King
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24 thoughts on “The small unit: Review board looks at 15th/Howell microhousing project

  1. A dynamic urban environment, convenient parking, cheap parking. You can’t have all three, so pick your favorite two. Honestly, the better solution would be to start charging something for parking on these streets, and let a free market set the rate high enough that you can actually find a spot when you need one.

  2. To my knowledge, these two proposed developments are the first time that microhousing has come before the Design Review Board. What exactly has changed that is making such review a requirement? With previous microhousing, unscrupulous developers have avoided design review by calling their buildings “six-unit boarding houses,” but in fact they contained at least 48 microunits.

    Something needs to be done about the total lack of parking at these developments. It is a smack in the face to the nearby residents, who now have extreme difficulty in finding a parking spot anywhere near where they live. City Council, are you listening?

    • I could just as easily say that building any more parking would be a smack to the face of residents because more parking = more expensive housing = more traffic = more pollution = slower buses. I get that it’s a little counterintuitive, but it amazes me how much energy people spend bemoaning lack of new parking. Thank you council for continuing to remove outdated parking minimums from our neighborhoods.

      • I doubt you would take that position if you lived nearby and owned a car.

        Exactly how does more parking equate to more traffic? New residents to an area do mean more traffic (although the effect on congestion would probably not be noticeable), but that would happen regardless of whether some off-street parking was included.

      • This is the root of the whole “problem”. We currently have a bunch of single family house owners that believe they are entitled to free public parking.
        Time to move to the burbs.
        I’m sure you will have plenty of space to park you Cadillac out there.

      • Yes, thank you. I live in the city because I place a high value on being able to walk places, and having a pedestrian environment that is safe and pleasant requires that we devote more of our scarce urban real estate to environments that people can live and work in, and less of it for vehicle storage. And by the way, this is what the free market wants around here; asking the City Council to dictate ample parking in every new development is basically asking for a Soviet command economy style approach that is always going to fail in the long run. I do have some sympathy for people who have been here for a while and are seeing the neighborhood change around them; but reality of a growing urban neighborhood in the 21st century is that there is no way to have parking that is both cheap and convenient. If that is a high priority for you, you just have to consider moving somewhere further out.

      • I can see the point to that. But if developers aren’t required to provide parking , and allegedly all these new residents won’t have cars, they shouldn’t be able to request residential zone parking permits.

      • The whole permit scheme is pretty flawed if you ask me. I would say we should scrap the whole thing, and just charge market rates for parking – i.e. charge enough that there is actually an open spot or two on any given block. But maybe we could look at grandfathering in a few permits out of consideration for folks who have been here 10 or 20 years with the neighborhood changing around them.

      • I don’t think we need meters everywhere (a la “market rate:)…but we could do what parts of Vancouver do. They pay for annual residential parking permits for available neighborhood street parking, and there are a very limited number of 2hr spaces that are free-for-all. Naturally those are nearly impossible to get. But with everyone paying for residential parking there would be lots more money raised, possibly fewer cars, and plenty of parking citations to raise even more $$.

      • Parking meters are dumb old technology, in this day and age there are better ways of charging for parking. For example, I can picture getting a monthly bill that shows you parked in x space for xx minutes, not unlike the bills for long distance phone calls we used to get.

      • As a 30 year resident of the immediate neighborhood I can attest to the difficulty of parking in this area. It is foolish to think that at least SOME of these new tenants won’t have cars.

        I think it is important to point out that these 8 units are currently occupied by many long term tenants (I know several of them personally) and the spaces are actual one bedroom units that you could live in for a long time. They are also TRULY affordable and offer adequate off street parking.

        What is sad about all of this is that long term neighbors are being displaced for tiny expensive “temporary” units for well paid techies that undoubtedly won’t be there for long. You know the type with ear buds stuffed in their ears who never look up from their stupid devices. Never a smile or a hello from them. Can’t we just build bunkers on Harbor Island to house them? All they need is rockin’ WIFI in their “cells” and $6 per slice toast and they would be set. Birds, trees, people, historic architecture are all wasted on these oblivious people.

        Good bye long time neighbors. Enjoy Shoreline or White Center or whatever distant outpost you can afford. We’ll miss your familiar faces in the neighborhood. We’ll probably be priced out soon so we might be seeing you again!

      • It’s sad, because it’s true.

        Says a long time neighbor who has been priced out and is looking near Shoreline and White Center.

      • more parking = more expensive housing?


        safe neighborhoods = more expensive housing
        nice parks = more expensive housing
        reasonable schools = more expensive housing
        regular garbage pickup = more expensive housing
        new bike lanes = more expensive housing
        more jobs = more expensive housing

        I could go on. There are a lot of things that I wouldn’t trade for cheap housing.

      • Valid point, but the difference is I like what comes with all those things on your list :) But truly, parking has too many other negative consequences and little added value for society as a whole IMO.

      • There’s another article today that mentions parking, from a business perspective (when construction was going on): “There was scaffolding, there wasn’t street parking, it was really a dead-zone down here,” said Savage.

        With less street parking both on an off the main drags, there risks a reduction in the number of visiting customers for all of the local businesses. Most probably aren’t viable if “locals only.”

      • Thanks, Justin. The City might call the 22/Olive building “microhousing,” but it seems to be quite a different beast from most of the apodments that have gone up. For one thing, it is only four stories tall (as opposed to six) and so it is in scale to the surrounding buildings. For another, the units are significantly larger (over 300 sq ft) and there are no shared kitchens. These differences must be why the developer cannot claim that it is a “boarding house,” and therefore is required to undergo design review.

  3. I think there is a fee for the parking pass in zone 4, $65. I am not sure but Group Health used to pay for it. – pretty modest fee.
    I am a 50 year resident of the neighborhood. I don’t mind the micro housing as long as it does not negatively impact our areas livability and aesthetic.
    One way to reduce the impact would be by not giving parking permits to micro housing residents, or at least charging a premium. Another would be by determining new building heights on a contextual basis, using surrounding buildings in some formula to limit height.
    I don’t mind the new but I would like to keep what is good about our neighborhood.

  4. I’m surprised they are stopping at 4.5 floors when aPodments are rising to 6 floors elsewhere.

    As for parking, anyone who thinks aPodment dwellers do not drive are fooling themselves. I see a many ILaria residents with cars.

    It is sad to see homes replaced with housing.

  5. I have lived on Captitol Hill in the neighborhood for ten years now and I enjoyed and loved the diverse single and family friendly neighborhood setup. With the recent developments in the area we are focusing and optimizing whole areas for high-income single folks who are to a large extend employed by the tech industry.
    Diversity is good because it avoids extremes and builds infrastructure that can support a population while it goes through key life transitions, single to family, etc. Ideally we would continue to have a mix that also continues to include low cost housing. It is pretty obvious that while the tech industry hires a lot of young people now, eventually the tech work force will age as well, have kids, and if we don’t support it within the city limits will move out of the city. Too much of that is happening already.

    With the development on Howell I would love to see a design that fits in terms of size and style into the neighborhood. Rather than going for a complex that has tiny expensive studios, a building with a mix of studio, 1 and 2 bedroom seems much more desirable.

    Last, but not least the sore topic of parking. I live in the area and unfortunately I am forced to park a car on the street since 2011. We ended up in this situation because during the recession certain industries and sectors cut jobs and did not hire out of University. Those jobs are still not quite back either. The result was that we were forced to take a job in Bothell and buy a car. I would much rather not have bought that car, but until the city has better transportation that can go both inside and outside the city, we will need to work with both setups.

    I am from Europe and in most of the larger cities of the size of Seattle, public transportation is much better developed. They close down streets for exclusive use for buses, etc. to make the bus and street trains viable transportation options that are competitive with cars. Urban areas are well connected to the city. Seattle has a long way to go here and many of the right steps are happening, but it is going much slower than we need to, to get rid of most cars. Unless the city makes buses competitive with car transportation, we will not get people to stop using cars because people have families, kids, and work commitments, and sitting on a bus for 3h a day is not feasible. The bus exclusive roads downtown are a step in the right direction, but are not nearly going far enough. Lightrail is also a step in the right direction, but needs to be built out much more as well. All this costs money, convincing and allowing people to adjust, and time to build.

  6. On street parking is a publicly owned asset. When developers save a great deal of money by building without parking, they are essentially taking a public asset for private use. We need to go back to requiring developers to build parking at some ratio (e.g. 0.5 stalls per unit). Eliminating the need to build parking will make it so difficult to park that people will stop coming to the neighborhood and supporting the local restaurants and other retail, which depend on this parking for survival.

    • I agree completely! ….especially with your point that developers are appropriating a public asset. It’s just one of the many ways that some developers show their greed. Off-street parking can sometimes be excessive, but a space for every 2 units seems about right for most buildings.