The Laurelhurst Letter

April/May 2004

LCC Annual General Meeting Code changes needed to limit negative impact of mega-houses

New board members sought

Bridge openings cut
LCC calls for more protections in accessory dwelling ordinance Clinic offers free plant advice
Help spruce up traffic circles!  

 

LCC Annual General Meeting

The annual meeting of the Laurelhurst Community Club will take place Thursday, May 27, from 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. at Laurelhurst Community Center, 4554 N.E. 41st St.  (Please note the new times, which are 15 minutes later than usual to accommodate other activities at the community center.)

Our guests will include representatives of the Talaris Research Institute, who will present Talaris’s new plan for redevelopment of the Battelle site, and Tom Hinckley, director of the Center for Urban Horticulture, who will update us on the progress of rebuilding Merrill Hall.

As usual, a slate of candidates will be presented for election to the Board of Trustees, and light refreshments will be served.®

 

New board members sought

Nominations for the LCC Board of Trustees are now being accepted.

The board consists of between 15 and 19 members, each of whom serves a two-year term.  Meetings are held on the second Monday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. in the basement of St. Stephen’s Church.

Trustees are expected to attend all meetings and to participate as needed by serving as an officer, chairing a committee, or representing the club in other organizations, among other duties.

If you or someone you know would like to serve, please contact Kate Lloyd, nominating committee chair, at katelloyd@myhealthcheck.net.®

 

LCC calls for more protections in accessory dwelling ordinance

Pointing out that a proposed new ordinance, as written, would essentially “duplex” all single-family zoning in the city, the LCC has asked the city council to consider adopting a number of amendments.

The ordinance would allow the conversion of existing outbuildings or the construction of separate new buildings on single-family lots for use as “detached accessory dwelling units” (DADUs).  An existing law already permits accessory dwelling units (ADUs), often called “mother-in-law suites,” but only when they are part of the main structure.

 “We believe that the current proposal falls short in providing adequate protections to single-family neighborhoods, will result in the loss of open space and trees, and will create added parking problems and congestion,” LCC president Jeannie Hale told council members in an April 22 letter. 

She said that Laurelhurst residents have always supported measures to develop low-income and affordable housing—a primary goal of the new ordinance—but there is no evidence the ordinance would achieve that.  Instead, it could easily have serious detrimental effects on single-family neighborhoods without reducing the cost of housing at all.

Hale proposed a number of amendments to protect single-family zoning:

1) Allow DADUs only as conditional uses rather than across the board. This would impose on each individual application a neighborhood-notice and public-hearing requirement.  The public-hearing requirement could be waived if there were no objections from neighbors.

2) Prohibit the conversion of detached garages into DADUs.  “This is important due to the lack of adequate parking in most neighborhoods and the fact that the (building) code allows eight unrelated people to live in every dwelling,” Hale said. “Even if a smaller number of people live in the garage unit, at least some car ownership can be predicted, particularly in areas that are not served well by transit.”  She said Portland, Ore., has such a restriction in its DADU ordinance.

3) Disallow tandem parking (one car behind another) in calculating the number of off-street parking spaces provided.  In most cases, tandem parking doesn’t work, and the second car ends up on the street, Hale said.

4) Tighten the provisions for waiving the number of required parking spaces.  To date, such waivers have been liberally awarded to the owners of ADUs, with no notice to impacted neighbors.

5) Establish a program to report on the progress of development of DADUs throughout the city, their impact on neighborhoods, and whether they have achieved the stated purpose of providing affordable housing alternatives.®

 

 

Code changes needed to limit negative impact of mega-houses

We’ve all seen them—those gigantic, light- and view-blocking, out-of-scale McMansions that spring up where once a modest bungalow stood.  Besides overshadowing and loss of views, adjacent homeowners worry about property values, the marketability of their homes, and the inevitable increase in their property taxes.

More and more often of late, the LCC trustees are being asked, “What can I do about the ‘monster house’ that’s being built across the street/next door/down the road from me?”  The answer, usually, is nothing—as long as the house conforms to the city building code.

It’s a concern not just in Laurelhurst, but all over Seattle.  Recently, the Sunset Hill Community Association drew up a list of recommendations pertaining to building height limits, lot coverage, and exceptions to the minimum lot size in single-family neighborhoods.  If adopted into the building code, these recommendations would help contain the worst excesses of overbuilding.  The LCC supports them.

“Maintaining the character of single-family neighborhoods with sensible, straightforward and equitable measures such as those recommended by Sunset Hill will address issues that have surfaced with the proliferation of mega-houses in many neighborhoods,” LCC president Jeannie Hale told city council members.

“The proposals will allow development to proceed, but in a manner such that the new development will integrate into the character of the surrounding community and provide necessary open space to maintain the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” she said.

Perhaps the most important recommendation is to lower the maximum height of single-family homes from 30 to 25 feet, with an additional 5 feet allowed for pitched roofs.  The current height is actually 5 feet higher than that allowed for low-rise apartment buildings, an anomaly the city should address, Hale said.

“The extra height allowed in single family zones has resulted, in many cases, in homes that are out of scale with the neighborhood and structures that dwarf surrounding homes,” she said.

The city also should consider reducing even further the height of homes built on substandard lots (less than 5,000 square feet) so that the height limit is in some way proportional to the size of the lot, she added.

As for lot coverage, the maximum currently allowed in single-family zones is 35 percent or 1,750 square feet, whichever is greater.  “This makes sense for lots that are 5,000 square feet or larger,” Hale said.  “It assures adequate open space for gardens, swing sets, play areas, and the like.”

“The problem is that there are many undersized lots in Laurelhurst and in other neighborhoods,” she continued.  “These smaller lots—and the number is increasing due to subdivision—are allowed more lot coverage than the standard 5,000-square-foot lots.  This increases density and thus reduces the open space that we all treasure.”

Hale said the 1,750-square-foot option should be eliminated and the coverage for all lots, regardless of size, be set at 35 percent.

The city also should eliminate the so-called 75/80 rule, she said.  Under this arcane regulation, a single-family property can be subdivided if the new lots are both 75 percent of the minimum lot size for lots in that zone and 80 percent of the average lot size for lots on the same block face.  Applied successively, it tends to reduce the average size of the lots in any given block.

 “There is no corresponding increase in affordability even though the lots are smaller,” Hale said.  “Homes on undersized lots are not compatible with existing single-family development and unreasonably impact neighboring properties and uses.”®

 

Bridge openings cut

Better late than never!

A year after receiving approval, a sign has gone up on the Montlake Bridge lengthening the draw span’s weekday restricted-opening hours during the winter months to help facilitate the flow of rush-hour vehicular traffic.

The new hours during which the bridge must remain closed are from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 3:30 to 7 p.m. on weekdays between Sept. 1 and April 30 (except on federal holidays).  During the rest of the year, the weekday restricted-opening hours remain from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The decision to extend the bridge’s restricted-opening hours was first recommended by the Trans–Lake Washington Study Committee in 1999.  It required approval by both the Washington Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard.®

Clinic offers free plant advice

The Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., offers free, year-round plant clinics to assist gardeners in identifying and resolving garden problems.  Master gardeners are on hand to answer your questions every Monday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  An additional summertime clinic is held on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.®

Help spruce up traffic circles!

Do you live near a traffic circle that is  in  need of weeding, pruning, or planting?  Are you one of the neighbors who has offered to maintain a traffic circle?  Are you interested in volunteering to spruce up some of these circles?

If so, we would love to work with you to determine which of our traffic circles are most in need of attention.  Please contact Heather Newman at newmanh@lanepowell.com or Bonnie Zinn at bonniezinn@hotmail.com.®

 

 

 


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