Patrick Robinson
Deb Barker of the Morgan Junction Community Association holds up a design for the studio apartment building being built by Mark Knoll (right) that will resemble those intended for 6917 California Ave. S.W. The project has raised concerns with neighbors since no parking is planned for the 30 unit project.

Meeting about 'No Parking' apartments on California gets a visit from developer

Mark Knoll, a West Seattle developer came to the Morgan Junction Community Association(MOCA) meeting at the Highpoint Community Center on Dec. 12 and explained the reasoning and intent behind the 30 unit apartment project at 6917 California Ave. S.W. that has drawn controversy over the plans to build the structure with no additional parking.

"I'm probably one of the only developers who would show up for a meeting like this. It's because I care what the neighbors think," Knoll said.

Knoll, who lives in Magnolia but whose office is in West Seattle explained that the project is allowed under the city code revised in 2010. That code allows even greater density with up to 8 unrelated people to an apartment, and as Knoll pointed out "I develop housing to meet demand... and hopefully build projects that are appropriate for the area. In Seattle we have a huge demand for more affordable apartments. I take a certain amount of risk and I need to get a return... I scaled this down," pointing out that more than 30 units could be built here. Under the proviso of the Growth Management Act of 1990 the Seattle Comprehensive plan called for 36 Urban Villages in Seattle and the Morgan Junction area is one of the villages intended to accommodate 80% of the growth.

Since the project is close enough to transit that runs every 15 minutes, no parking is required.

The building will be five units on each side with a hallway in the middle. 2 units on the ground floor are ADA accessible with larger bathrooms.

These are not apodments, Knoll explained, these are studio apartments at around 300 square feet each. They will be built in a modern design since, "The younger demographic that rents these kind of units, this is the design they like," he said.

He said these apartments, though small, would have "high end finishes. I'm trying to attract good tenants."

Knoll said he is trying to respond to market demand and that smaller apartments like these would naturally attract people without cars. Still he conceded, ""I can't guarantee that everybody who rents here won't have a car."

"Somebody making $15 an hour can afford one of these," Knoll said.

He estimates somewhere around $700 per month for rent. The final rent would include utilities. One year leases are preferred over month to month. His rental cost is an estimate since, "the market sets the rental cost," but when considering what to build here Knoll ruled out larger units such as 2 and 3 bedroom apartments since it would have required digging down to create a parking area and driven up the cost (and rent) for the final product.

There is a partial basement with laundry and storage units. The garbage and recycling will be in an enclosure on the alley. The large Douglas Fir tree on the site will be preserved and Knoll called it the "number one priority," noting they would be 20 feet away and that permitting details are available on the DPD site online.

Knoll sees parking and housing as separate issues so concerns about parking, while valid are more the business of the city and not developers operating within city code. Knoll said he understands that transportation is major issue.

"I'm not here to argue that adding more people won't have an impact on parking in the area."

Conceding that that there will be "room in the back" for cars Knoll said he can't submit it and show that there's parking. Grass crete in the back could allow ZipCar storage "maybe four or five" but can't officially say there's parking on site.

He will personally own the property and is building it for "personal investment purposes." He has no other properties under development in West Seattle right now.

Knoll's own background is as both a developer and a financial backer and consultant for other developers through his company Knoll Development LLC.

Knoll Development is his personal portfolio real estate development company but not responsible for this project. This project is a personal investment by Knoll and not affiliated with his other businesses. Blueprint Capital REIT, Inc. is Knoll's real estate investment trust. It finances small projects and helps developers with design and permitting in Seattle.

His own West Seattle projects include buildings at 6021-6031 California Ave. S.W. 5230 - 5232 California Ave. S.W. and 6053 California Ave. S.W.

Knoll sees small studio apartments like this as a "Stepping stone for people," who would not live there long term but instead move on as their income and situations change.

At the next meeting on Dec. 19 the Seattle Department of Planning and Development will run it. Anything to do with parking is handled by SDOT though they will not be part of that meeting but may hold their own in the future according to Deb Barker.

In the Q & A that followed Knoll's brief presentation questions came from many of the approximately 40 people in attendance.

What about emergency vehicles in the neighborhood?

A neighbor who lives across the street noted that in a recent emergency the fire truck had to pull up on an adjacent street due to such limited parking now.
Knoll acknowledged this is a concern but that most of the residents would likely have no cars.

Could a covenant be established mandating that the residents have no cars?

"I don't have that authority," Knoll said.

What about marketing to people with "Car 2 Go" or bikes?

"Definitely", Knoll said.

Would he promote senior living here?

He noted he "has no experience in it" and did not want to take the risk.

Would he consider a free bus pass for renters?

He would he said.

What about bike racks or secure storage on site?

"We can do multiplie bike racks or lower level bike storage on site."

Would he consider doing a survey of tenants on transportation?

"Good idea," he said.

Will there be a rooftop deck or will the building go higher?

No.

What about noise abatement?

"It will be built to code," he said but that typically he does double wall construction with an insulation layer to keep the noise down between units.

What about lighting?

Knoll favors "down lighting" that illuminates the ground below it, not the space around it.

Knoll pointed out that the homes on the site now are not single family dwellings any longer but instead upon entry people found, "drug paraphernalia and a bird sanctuary. I couldn't get the abatement people to go into the homes on the property. The feathers in there were about a foot high."

There is currently no construction start date for the project but that likely will come in the next couple of months when the permitting process is done.

Public concern about the project led to a neighborhood petition with more than 560 signatures posted on Change.org.

On the petition the signees say, "any project of this size and scope will have a direct and long term impact on the aesthetics and character of the surrounding neighborhood, which in this case is 85% single family residential. We find it unacceptable for this project to proceed without adequate opportunity for the neighborhood residents to have access and input to the project design and planning, and request that DPD and/or the developer participate in, gather feedback from, and make good faith effort to incorporate feedback from the surrounding neighborhood residents."

You can review the documents on file for the project with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development here.

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