Ty Swenson
This photo from a Gatewood neighborhood in West Seattle illustrates the contrast Seattle's City Council is trying to avoid with interim legislation that aims to keep new construction more in line with the height of existing homes.

City calls for a stop to towering, “out of character” homes

The Seattle City Council approved “emergency” legislation on Sept. 10 that puts new controls on small, residential lot development in Seattle.

The target is a fairly common sight in West Seattle – a row of modest, single level homes on small single family lots lining a block with one exception – the modern house that reaches far higher than the rest, often times to procure a view of the Sound (at least on the west side) and maximize living space.

Mayor Mike McGinn’s office, in a press release, wrote “While the City has generally been supportive of urban infill development, some single family development approved under current lot size exceptions has resulted in structures that are out of character with surrounding conditions and inconsistent with the policy intent of infill development.”

The emergency legislation gives the City time to analyze and debate permanent standard changes moving forward.

The interim measure does three things:

- Limit the height of development on lots less than 3750 square feet to 22 feet.
- Limit application of the lot size exception to lots with an area of at least 50 percent of the minimum requirement for the zone; prohibit development on lots that are less than 50 percent.
- Disallow reliance on historic tax records as a basis for qualifying for the lot area exception.

According to McGinn’s office, “Lot size exceptions for historic lots were meant to preserve the investments of property owners who had acquired lots prior to the adoption of minimum lot size standards in the 1950's. These exceptions have allowed development on some very small sites. This has resulted in complaints that houses on such lots do not fit in with their surroundings and that in some cases the exceptions allow development of lots that were never intended for separate development.”

The City Council and Mayor’s office have set up a schedule for permanent changes to the municipal code that includes finalizing legislation through the rest of 2012, council deliberations, public hearings and a vote mid-2013, and “permanent regulations replacing interim controls” in late summer of 2013.

To read the legislation as it stands now, please click here.

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