Patrick Robinson
Homeowner and developer Ron Day spoke to David Allen and Dick Miller, neighbors who came together with others to protest the potential development of two lots in the "Benchview" neighborhood at 55th Avenue SW and SW Manning. Plans call for the construction of three houses on the lots, on lots smaller than the traditional 5000 square foot size that the neighborhood has been built on in the past. CLICK THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE MORE OR SEE THE GALLERY BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE.

SLIDESHOW: Protest over neighborhood development results in confrontation and explanation

A rally of around 15 neighbors in the "Benchview" neighborhood of West Seattle to protest a "small lot development" plan to put three houses on two lots came to an unexpected head as one of the developers showed up and offered his side of the story on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

The issue the rally was staged for regards changing the character of established neighborhoods by re-developing properties, and the developers altering traditional lot boundaries to squeeze more homes on less land. Specifically the protest targeted a plan to change the lot line boundaries on a property at 55th Ave. SW and SW Manning Street that has previously been set as two 5000 sq. ft. each, being changed to three lots of approximately 3750 sq. ft each or less. The name comes from the view overlooking a bluff at that corner where a bench allows an unobstructed view of Puget Sound.

Block Watch Captain David Allen and Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council past President and the man who called the rally, Dick Miller both emphasized that the effort to block the development was meant to serve the rest of Seattle too. "The city knew that a zoning loophole had created a development monster in our neighborhoods, so last year they passed a law to address it. That obviously didn’t solve the problem , so the mayor and council need to pass better legislation before more harm is done," said Allen.

The developer’s plan is to keep the existing house and build two three-story houses with 2,900 sq ft. of living space. One of the three story houses counts as two stories because the first floor will be built into the one-story hillside.

In a note sent out by the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council they describe the problem. "The proposal calls for splitting a single-family lot into two lots with large, boxy homes of a distinctly different character and size than the surrounding homes. Similar changes have already occurred in a few other locations in the neighborhood, and a number of neighbors have expressed concerns about this type of development."

Those attending the rally believe that redrawing the lots to about 3750 square feet (as opposed to the 5000 square feet required for all other homes in the neighborhood) is equivalent to changing the zoning just for one person without a public hearing. They are concerned that this results in "three-story “skinny houses" that block views, reduce light and change the neighborhood in ways that lower the property values. They acknowledge that proof of that claim would have to come from a study of comparable values of homes sold in the area before and after this kind of development was done.

As the rally members explained their view, Ron Day, owner of the home at 3650 55th Ave. SW and SW Manning and partners with developer Dan Duffus, showed up and several of the people confronted him. At first reacting very defensively, Day, who owns All Day Construction explained that what he and his partner were doing is legal and that if people wanted to protest, "there are appropriate channels for that." He said, "Can I go down to your house and tell you how to live on your property? Please don't come down to my house and tell me how to live. I own this house within the constitution of this country. I have no problem if you guys are respectful of me and my ownership of this property." Day said he owns only the house at 3650 55th SW. His partner Dan Duffus owns the detached garage and a lot just east of the house. "I'm a professional contractor and home builder and this is what I do for my living," Day said. Day said that the land on which the garage sits has been offered to the next door neighbor, (the offer is $375,000 to buy the garage lot) who has not as yet responded. Day said, "I live in one right now that was subdivided, pissed the neighbors off for awhile and guess what, they got three new neighbors." He said the only constant in life is change.

When asked by Allen if he would build a ten-story building here if the law allowed it, Day responded, “Yes, I would. If it penciled out I would.”

In September of last year the Seattle City Council passed "emergency legislation" to stop "out of character homes from being built.

While only an interim measure it did three things regarding special exceptions which allow development on lots created before 1957 and are smaller than the area zoning requires:

- Limited the height of development on lots less than 3750 square feet to 22 feet. Houses can be built on lots of 3750 sq.ft. that are as high as the maximum height allowed for houses on 5000 sq.ft, basically three stories.
- Limited 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.
- Disallowed 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 legislation as it stands now can be read here.

They sent the following letter the Mayor Mike McGinn's office.

Dear Mayor McGinn, City Council Members, and Ms. Sugimura,
Please reject a proposed lot line adjustment #3054241, made by a developer, Dan Duffus. A lovely single family property at the corner of 55th SW and SW Manning St. will be destroyed, and two additional huge box homes will be squeezed into corners of this property. The character of our neighborhood is single family homes, mostly mid-century, and allowing such a development would be ugly. Surely, with time and patience a single family with children can be found who would love to have the home with its large lot. This would preserve the architectural cohesiveness of our neighborhood.

Our neighborhood has developed a set of estimated images showing the impact of this proposed project. Please take a close look.

Our neighborhood stumbled across this project before the bulldozers arrived. The City should require all proposed lot line adjustments and developments to be announced well in advance, and underhand maneuvers such as this should be prohibited. The simple 5,000sf zoning rules should be uniformly followed.

Thank you.
Dick Miller
Past-President, Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council

The neighbors said they would potentially ask the Mayor to visit the site, and keep applying pressure on the developers to "do the right thing" and have only two structures total on these two lots. They said they believe that a developer can make plenty of profit on this site by following the 5000 sq.ft. zoning that everyone else has to follow. They did say that while they have not yet officially retained an attorney, they "have one" and if need be are considering a lawsuit to "slow down the process and get them to reconsider."

Critical to proceeding is the acceptance by the city of the redrawn boundaries of the land. Those protesting the development offered these key arguments:

"The boundary adjustment reduces the lot around the house at 3650 55th SW from over 5,000 s.f. to less than 5,000 s.f. (not conforming to law). If DPD agrees, Duffus would still have 3 lots, but he would have to redraw them, which would make development more difficult.

City law says that if part of a historic lot was used for the setback required when a house was built, then that lot is not grandfathered around the existing zoning laws. We don’t know if there were backyard setbacks for the house in 1952, but if there was a backyard setback of just 5 feet, then Duffus only has 2 lots here, not 3.

The law reads that these old lots are grandfathered around the zoning rules if they were established on file as “BUILDING SITES” before 1957. We argue that all the houses built in West Seattle when the lots were created were built on 5000 s.f. lots, so no reasonable person would interpret that a 2,500sf lot was intended as a buildable lot.

The Department of Planning and Development is going to make a ruling on the redrawn boundary lines on January 14 according to Allen and further action by the neighbors will be considered after that.

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