Patrick Robinson
Dick Miller, part of the neighborhood they call 'Benchview' and fellow neighbors gathered outside 3650 55th SW and the corner of SW Manning Street on Jan. 9 to protest the development of the lot. They sent a letter detailing their concerns to the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development but a response from the city indicates the development will likely get approved.

City responds on 'Three lots on two' neighborhood development protest

Legal action still being considered by neighborhood group since approval is likely

The City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) while not offering a final judgement appears to have given tacit approval to a proposed lot development in the "Benchview" neighborhood at the corner of 55th SW and SW Manning. DPD said the proposed plan, "appears to meet the applicable code standards," and since it does, "we have no choice but to approve it."

The development was the focus of a neighborhood rally and protest on Jan. 9 that the West Seattle Herald reported on last week. That rally became a minor confrontation with one of the developers, Ron Day, who made his case, if briefly, before those gathered.

The neighbors objected to the method of lot configuration and voiced concerns about the impact homes of this type might have on the character of the neighborhood. They wrote to DPD with a highly detailed list of potential issues. David Allen, spokesperson for the neighborhood group said legal action was still being considered to block the project if final approval was granted. Additionally they plan to appeal the decision to a hearing examiner. Their broader goal, according to Allen, is to get the City to make this kind of boundary redrawing and neighborhood development here in West Seattle and elsewhere in the city, either far less likely or not possible.

SEE THE BOUNDARY REDRAWING BEING PROPOSED BELOW

The group said in a statement released on Jan. 17:

"We urge the mayor and council to do the right thing and impose a full moratorium on developing any of these "historic" small lots until the city adopts proper guidelines much later this year.  This moratorium should include the proposed development in our neighborhood.  Since no decision has been made on the boundary line adjustment yet, and there are no building permits requests for the two planned houses yet, we believe the City has the ability to solve our problem while protecting other neighborhoods from damage."

DPD Director Diane Sugimura wrote a response that outlined the department's policy on this kind of lot development.

Here is Sugimura's letter:

Thank you very much for writing about your concerns related to Project No. 3014542, a proposed lot boundary adjustment at 3650 - 55th Avenue SW. 1understand how such a proposal is upsetting.

Many of you have expressed concern about the change in neighborhood character, the insertion of two to three story homes in an area primarily featuring one-level homes, the potential for view blockage, and what appears to be inappropriate manipulation of the Land Use Code.

We have carefully reviewed the specific Code provisions as well as applicable Director's Rules. We have read your comments very carefully. We have had multiple management level discussions here at the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), and have discussed this project with the City Attorney's Office as well. Our decisions, of course, must be based on the current adopted
regulations.

Although our review of the LBA is stlll in process, it appears to meet the applicable code standards. A very detailed analysis of the code provisions is attached. We recognize that the proposal may result in a significant change to the neighborhood character and view blockage for some properties. We do sympathize. It is also important to know that while many houses in Single Family zones may currently only be one or one and a half story houses, they can generally be remodeled to be three stories, up to 30' tall or 35' with a pitched roof. In a number of decisions prepared by the Department of Planning and Development, we have the ability to exercise more discretion and impose conditions to help ensure a project fits in with its neighborhood, but we do not have that authority in the case of a lot boundary adjustment or a determination as to whether lots qualify as legal building sites. In this case, if the proposal meets the standards of our code, we have no choice but to approve it.

Unfortunately, protection of private views is not provided for in the land Use Code.

Some people who wrote have also asked whether this proposal is consistent with interim standards recently adopted relating to developments on undersized lots that qualified under the codified lot area exceptions. Although some limitations were placed on small lot developments, such as preventing lots with areas less than 2,500 square feet from qualifying for an exception, this particular proposal is not affected by any of the changes made under the interim ordinance.

The Department is in the process of preparing a proposal for more comprehensive reforms to the lot area exceptions, to replace the interim regulations. We are taking a close look at this project to see whether and how it might point to further changes that should be made in the Land Use Code.
However, if such changes are made, they would not affect this project, since this one must be reviewed against the currently adopted regulations.

The attachment to this letter provides a very detailed analysis about how applicable land Use Code provisions apply to this project. land Use Code sections referenced in this letter may be viewed online at http://c1erk.ci.seattle.wa.us/-public/code1.htm.

Thank you very much. I do appreciate the time you took to write, and do understand your concerns. I am sorry we are not able to offer a response that would be more satisfactory to you. We are bound by the adopted regulations.

Diane Sugimura
Director

Here is the detailed analysis of the lot boundary adjustment:

Detailed Analysis of Lot Boundary Adjustment (LBA) #3014542,
Benchview Neighbors Letter, January 15, 2013

Proposal #3014542 is a lot boundary adjustment ("LBA"), reconfiguring three parcelHhat purportedly qualify as building sites, into three differently configured lots (please see attached graphic of the proposal). Under DPD Director's Rule 13-97, lots that are undersized, but qualify for a lot area
exception under the Land Use Code may be modified through the LBA process if the areas of the undersized lots are not decreased, nonconformity of the lots involved is not increased or created, and the criteria in the Land Use Code for LBAs (Section 23.28.030) are met. DR 13-97 may be viewed at
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/codes/dr/DR1997-13.htm .

Approval of this LBA is, therefore, dependent on whether there are three existing lots currently qualifying for separate development under code standards, whether the proposed lot configurations meet current platting standards, and whether the proposed configuration worsens or creates any
nonconformity to standards, such as creating substandard yards for an existing house.

I. The property currently qualifies for development as three separate building sites, according to a lot area exception provided in the Land Use Code.

The property consists of four platted lots, Lots 8, 9, 10 and 11, Block 2, Callow's Addition to Seattle.

The proposed LBA is premised on the assumption that Lots 10 and 11, together, qualify as a separate legal building site, and that Lots 8 and 9 each separately qualify. The property is in an SF 5000 zone, where a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet is generally required. There are, however, a number of exceptions included in the adopted Land Use Code, most of which have been in the code for decades.

Lots 10 and 11 have a combined area of approximately 6,552 square feet, based on the surveyed dimensions, and lots 8 and 9 each have an area of approximately 2,519 square feet. At issue is whether Lots 8 and 9 qualify for one of the exceptions to the lot area requirement provided in the Land Use
Code.

An exception to the general minimum lot area requirement is provided under Section 23.44.010.B.1.d for certain lots established as separate building sites as reflected in City or County records prior to July 24,1957, including full platted lots or parcels treated as separate building sites in other public records
such as deeds and permits. Some limitations apply: To qualify, a lot must have an area at least 50 percent of the minimum generally required in the zone, i.e. 2,500 square feet in an SF 5000 zone. If two lots are under common ownership and developed with a single structure extending onto both or requiring both to meet a development standard, they generally cannot qualify for separate
development, however they may qualify as a result of removal of a minor feature such as a deck or eaves, containing no interior floor area. For the purpose of determining whether a lot is needed to meet a development standard for a neighboring building, the code requires that we consider the less restrictive standards, between the current standards and those in effect when the building was built.

If parking for a house on one parcel has been provided on the other, the parking requirement for the house must be able to be met on the same lot as the house, in order for the other lot to qualify for separate development. If lots are or have recently been under common ownership and a portion of the
property is in one of several specified environmentally critical areas, including steep-sloped areas, separate development may be allowed only if the development won't intrude on the critical area or required buffer.

The existing house is on lots 10 and 11, but does not extend onto lots 8 and 9, apart from an open deck that goes slightly over the line. The lBA application reflects that the deck would be removed. lots 8 and 9 are each full platted lots, and would each qualify for this exception to the minimum lot requirement if the additional limitations described above are met, i.e. if they each have an area of at least 2,500 square feet, they are not in an environmentally critical area, they have not been used to meet parking requirements for the house, and they are not needed to meet other development standards, including yard requirements, for the house.

Lots 8 and 9 have areas over 2,500 square feet. The property is not mapped as an environmentally critical area. Parking for the house has been provided without using lots 8 and 9. The key question, then, is whether lot 8 and/or lot 9 is needed to meet a development standard for the existing house.

Based on the surveyed dimensions, the existing house is 3.46 feet from the lot line between lots 9 and 10, to the north of the house. The house is set back 24.43 feet from 55th Avenue SW, to the south, and 11.53 feet from Southwest Manning Street, to the west. It is 38.58 feet from the east property line, and a garage is currently located in that eastern portion of the property.

The house currently takes its address off of 55"' Avenue SW, to the south, and its front door faces that street. However, the code does not dictate that the front lot line, for the purpose of determining required yards, must be the side used for the street address, or faced by the front door. Also, in determining whether a portion of a property has been used to meet yard standards for an existing
house, the code directs us to consider the less restrictive standards, between those currently in effect and those in effect when the house was built.

Under current code standards, a 20-foot front yard is generally required, and the required rear yard is generally 20 percent of the lot depth, but not less than 10 feet. Five-foot side yards are generally required, and under some circumstances side yards along streets must be ten feet wide. If Southwest
Manning Street were regarded as the front, the house would not meet the front yard requirement, and lot 9 would be needed to meet the side yard requirement. On the other hand, if 55111 Avenue SW is regarded as the front, the house meets current standards for front yards and street·facing side yards,
but requires Lot 9 in order to meet its rear yard requirement. Applying the current code, the latter orientation would be presumed, as the existing house would meet all of the yard standards under that orientation on the property as a whole. Lot 9 would not be free for separate development, as it would be required to meet rear yard standards for the house.

However, under the Zoning Code in effect in 1952, when the house was built, yard requirements were different. (Code pages reflecting the yard standards in effect at that time are attached. Ordinance No. 78837, which last amended those standards prior to 1952, is not available on-line, but may be viewed
at the City Clerk's office.) A I5-foot rear yard and three-foot side yards were generally required at that time. A ten-foot front yard was required, unless 35 percent of the block front was already developed with houses set further back, in which case the required front yard was determined based on those other houses. Based on permit records, the house at 3650 - 55'" Avenue South was the first one built on the south side of SW Manning Street between 53rd and 55th Avenues. (Permits were issued later in 1952 for three additional houses at the other end of the block, with a combined frontage of less than 35 percent of the block.) Absent the deck, which is to be removed, the existing house could have been built to its current configuration under the standards in effect at that time, without requiring that lot 8 or 9 be included as a part of the building site. Based on this, Lots 8 and 9 qualify for the lot area exception in Section 23.44.010.B.l.d.

A question has been raised in some of the messages we have received as to whether a lot may be said to have been established as a separate building site in the public record prior to 1957 merely by the fact that it was a full platted lot of record. This exception has been applied to full platted lots, based on the
presumption that the act of platting reflected an expectation that they were eligible for separate development.

II. The proposed reconfiguration of the lots, through the LBA, is consistent with the requirements of DR 13-97.

When boundaries of recognized undersized lots are adjusted, Director's Rule 13-97 requires that they not be made smaller. In this case, two of the existing lots are undersized, with an area of 2,519 square feet apiece. The two smallest lots proposed under the LBA would have areas of 3,781.1 square feet and
3,413.6 square feet. This is consistent with the requirement, under the rule, that the area of undersized lots not be decreased.

The third proposed lot under the LBA is the one occupied by the existing house. It would have an area of 4396.5 square feet. This is less than 5,000 square feet, the general minimum lot area requirement for the zone, but the lot qualifies under a different codified lot area exception: Section 23.44.010.8.1.a allows an undersized lot to be created or developed if its area is at least 75 percent of the general minimum requirement (i.e. 3,750 square feet in an SF 5000 zone) and at least 80 percent of the mean area of the lots along the same block front.

There would be nine other lots along the same block front, eight currently developed with houses and a ninth that is one of the other lots that is to be enlarged under this LBA. Based on the King County Assessor's estimates of the lot areas, the combined area of those lots is approximately 48,412 square feet, so their mean area is about 5,379 square feet. Eighty percent of that is approximately 4,303 square feet. The proposed lot is larger than that, and thus
qualifies for the exception.

The lots, as proposed under the LBA, are consistent with the platting standards, which are found in Section 23.28.030, including some recently-adopted standards requiring that lots have at least ten feet of street frontage, limiting lots to no more than six sides and requiring that all areas of lots be at least
ten feet wide.

The existing house will continue to be on the corner lot, and it appears that development standards for the house will be met on that lot. Lot coverage is limited to 1,000 square feet plus 15 percent of the lot area, or about 1,659 square feet on a lot the size of the proposed parcel. As a part of our review of the LBA we will verify that the development on that parcel meets that standard. Under the proposal, yards for the house are created using 55"\ Avenue SW as the "front." (Although this is a different orientation than the one that was used to meet the lot area exception, nothing in the code precludes this.) A front
yard is provided along 55th Avenue SW. The proposed front yard extends only about 22 feet along that frontage, with a portion of one of the other parcels intervening between the house and the street.

Although this, perhaps, appears irregular, it is not precluded by any standard in the code. The lot lines, as proposed, would provide a 15.69-foot rear yard to the north of the house (20 percent of the lot depth, as required). The house would not be within the ten-foot street-facing side yard along SW Manning Street or within any of the five-foot side yards provided along the remainder of the perimeter.

Benchview.jpg

DPD also included the relevant building code:

Section 18. Area District "A"

In Area District "A", the maximum percentage of lot occupancy and the
minimum dimensions of yards and courts shall be as follows:

Percentage of Lot Occupancy: No building, including its appurtenant
buildings, shall occupy more than 35 percent (35%) of an inside lot
nor more than Forty-five per cent (45%) of a corner or triangular lot, except
as provided In paregraph (c) hereunder.

REAR YARD: There shall be a rear yard of a depth of not less than fifteen (15) feet, except that on a lot less than sixty (60) feet in depth.,
which is a complete unit in a recorded plat in the City of Seattle, or in the
case of any lot held under separate and distinct ownership from adjoining lots
and of record prior to the taking effect of this ordinance, this depth of rear
yard may be reduced to a minimum of six (6) feet if necessary to permit a
building depth or thirty (30) feet. An appurtenant building shall not be
located nearer than three (3) feet to the rear line of a lot if within fifteen
(15) feet of a door or window of any dwelling on the adjoining lot.

SIDE YARD: There shall be a side yard on each side of a width of not less than three (3) feet nor less than twelve and one·half percent (12.5%)of the yard height except that the width of a side yard when adjoining an alley, need not exceed three (3) feet, but in any case the sum of the width of the
side yards shall be not less than twenty per cent (20%) of the width of the lot,
provided that such sum need not exceed eight (8) feet unless required by the building height.

Side yard provisions shall not apply to appurtenant buildings distant
more than fifteen (15) feet from any door or window of any building on the
adjoining lot, nor shall they apply in a business or commercial district except
when adjoining along a side lot line in a residence district.

EXTERIOR COURT: An exterior court shall be of a width of not less than five ($) feet nor less than twenty per cent (20%) of the court height.

INTERIOR COURT: An interior court shall be of a width of not less than six (6) feat nor less than twenty-five per cent (2S%) of the court height.

BUILDING LINE:

(a) No building or any of its appurtenant buildings (not including
uncovered porches or steps) shall be constructed nearer than ten (10) feet to
any street margin which constitutes the front line of any lot or lots in the
same block, with the following exceptions: Buildings on land which for a distance of two hundred (200) feet or more along a graded street slopes from the grade of said street at least twenty (20) feet vertically in sixty (60) feet
horizontally. Also in the case d a private garage located in a terrace the
general elevation of which is not more than two (2) feet below the top of the
garage.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil.