Steve Shay
Representatives of the DPD fielded questions and clarified the 40 unit, five parking space project in a meeting May 8 at the West Seattle Senior Center. They are, left, in dark suit, Bruce Philip. Right in light shirt is Geoffrey Wentlandt. The community meeting took place Thursday night, May 8, at the Senior Center of West Seattle.

Neighbors give DPD a beat-down over 40-unit apartment development

by Steve Shay

Two Department of Planning and Development representatives received harsh criticism as they fielded complaints, suggestions, and questions Thursday night, May 8, at a community meeting held at the Senior Center of West Seattle.

At issue is a controversial three-story, 40-unit apartment complex proposal with 32 studios and eight one-bedroom units ranging from 250 to 400 square feet with just five parking spaces, located at 4439 41st Av. SW, about four blocks northeast of the Alaska Junction.

While single family homes now dominate the block, the development falls in a designated "Urban Village" zoned LR2, which provides flexibility regarding parking and density. Over 50 attended, and 20 signed up to speak. All were against the project and many were longtime residents near the proposed site, representitives from nearby Hope Lutheran Church and School, and other community leaders.

The DPD representatives, Bruce Rips and Geoffrey Wentlandt, seemed receptive to concerns about issues of noise, safety, and the lack of parking the complex might create, although acknowledged their hands were tied based on current zoning laws for the parcel.

"The (DPD) drew up a set of corrections based on your previous criticisms and suggestions but we have not heard back from the developer yet," said Rips. "We will probably not do anything but write notes from tonight's meeting until he responds. Then we may have another round of corrections, which generally happens. After the Department approves the project there is a two week period when anyone can appeal it in the City Hearing Exam."

Those weighing in with complaints included Jim Schwartz, who lives across the street from the proposed complex.

"The size of the roof deck is ridiculous, and shows no sensitivity to people living on any side," Schwartz said. "They propose taking out 19,000 cubic feet of soil, bringing 4,000 back in. Literally hundreds of dump trucks will be needed. That's scary, with limited ally access, no turnaround, and driving by Hope Lutheran School…If this thing gets built I think it will be a lasting scar on the neighborhood."

Hope Lutheran School's principal, Kristen Okabayashi, said, "This particular project we're really, really alarmed about. We have 217 students and don't have a gym, so we walk across the alley to have recess in another lot. Emergency vehicles, deliveries and garbage pickups will occur right where our students walk. Forty to 80 people adjacent to us will add noise while our students try to study."

Hope's senior pastor, Peter Mueller, added, "Hope has been located on the corner of Oregon and 42nd since 1919. It's unbelievable the city would authorize a building to be just 14 feet from an elementary school and playground. Hope wants to love and serve the people of our community regardless of the size of housing they live in, as long as the density is in an appropriate area, but not in a single family neighborhood."

"I'm an architect and I like to build, but this is really a scandal that the DPD would allow a development like this," said Vlad Oustimovitch, who complained that LR2 zoning is not subject to public or administrative design review. "LR2 is very common zoning in Seattle. If a developer purchased, say a whole block of houses with LR2 zoning, could they (tear them down and) build a 400-unit project that was not subject to design review? Where is the threshold?"

Said Wentlandt, "There were zoning changes in 2010 to change height limits and setbacks to allow flexibility. Before that we were getting a lot of the '6-pack' townhouses. There was a sense that this wasn't the best outcome. We're now seeing the first generation of these (dense projects.) Growth that is occurring in the Junction is consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan."

To clarify, these units, albeit small, are not "micro housing." That term refers to tiny apartments with shared kitchens and other common area. Each of the 40 units will have its own kitchens and other private amenities.

"The current low-rise multifamily zoning code was enacted in 2010, in areas that already allowed for multifamily development for at least 30 years," Bryan Stevens, a DPD spokesperson wrote in an email to the West Seattle Herald. "Low-rise zoning encourages a wide variety of new housing including apartments, townhouses, and now, row houses," he wrote. "These zones are usually located in between commercial areas and single-family neighborhoods and play a key role in the production of new housing that can help meet growing demand.  

"Sixty-five percent of our land in the city is dedicated to single family homes, so it’s important that other areas near walkable communities be able to accommodate additional housing," he added. "As with any urban environment, on-street public parking will continue to be a contentious issue within our urban neighborhoods.

"City parking policies have been evolving over the last five years, moving in a direction to require less on-site parking for developments in transit rich areas," he continued. "Under current code, parking is not required for any residential building located within an urban center or urban village with access to frequent transit service within a quarter-mile of the site. The latter applies to this particular project in West Seattle."

The project's developer, Robert Dedon, of West Seattle-based North Way Investments, met with the West Seattle Herald prior to the meeting to clarify some concerns.

"This is an apartment building that will have a live-in, professional manager," said Dedon, a West Seattle resident for 30 years. "We will have background checks for renters and rental contracts. I'm building what zoning allows. It's not only allowed, the City of Seattle encourages it. The City hammered out specific policies, and I'm following them."

He pointed out that a 30-unit complex near the Morgan Junction (at 6917 California Av. SW) is being built with smaller units and no parking spaces.

"People are freaked out that I'm building a 'micro apartment complex,' but I'm not," he said. "My units will offer full kitchens, a dishwasher, and each has its own washer dryer. People have flocked to these types of complexes, and residents generally don't have cars. They are attracted to the cheaper rent."

Rent prices are not yet set. "Twenty percent of the renters will have to be vetted for (lower) income levels because I am applying for a multi-family tax exemption," he said. "These are not paupers by any means, and will pay the same amount of rent as the others."

Dedon said he wanted to attend the meeting but got the impression from a DPD email he was not invited. DPD told the West Seattle Herald that he misunderstood. Dedon was invited, but was told that if he attended, only the public could comment.

You can learn more by Googling Seattle Department of Planning and Development. Refer to Project #6369043.

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