Laurelhurst Community Club
Serving 2800 Households and Businesses in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood
February 6, 2006
Ms. Diane Sugimura, Director
Mr. Lucas Deherrera, Planner
City of Seattle, Department of Planning and Development
700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, Washington 98124-4019
Dear Ms. Sugimura and Mr. Deherrera,
The neighbors of Laurelhurst as represented by the Laurelhurst Community Club appreciate the opportunity to comment on the proposed short plat development at 4702 47th Avenue NE, Project #3003629. We have done a significant amount of research and have assertions we would like to make.
1. Parcel A: Minimum Required Lot Area, 75/80 Rule and Block Face Character.
The applicant has incorrectly applied the 75/80 Rule provision of the Land Use Code in determining adequate lot size for the proposed project. Parcel A (the proposed corner lot) is a part of two block faces, those of 47th Avenue NE and NE 47th Street, but the calculations were done only in relation to the block face of NE 47th Street. Parcel A is proposed to be 4044.6 square feet, which is greater than 80% of the mean of the remaining properties on the NE 47th Street block face (approximately 3888 square feet) but it is far less than 80% of the mean of the remaining properties on the 47th Avenue NE block face (approximately 6290 square feet).
The Code states that lots that do not meet the minimum lot area requirements of their zone may be developed out of “oversized” lots, such as this one at 4702 47th Avenue NE. This may be done in order to create additional buildable sites “which are compatible with surrounding lots.” Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 23.44.010.B.1. Exceptions to the minimum lot area requirement for this proposed project may be permitted if the Director of the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) determines that the new lots satisfy the requirements of the so-called 75/80 Rule.
The 75/80 Rule in the Code requires that a lot being created by short subdivision must be at least 75% of the minimum required lot area (3,750 square feet in this instance of SF 5000 zoning), and at least 80% of the mean lot area of the lots on the same block face where the lot shall be located. The definition of “block face” in section SMC 23.84.004 refers one to the definition of “block front.” Block front is defined as:
the frontage of property along one (1) side of a street bound on three (3) sides by the centerline of platted streets and on the fourth side by an alley or rear property lines
There is nothing in the Land Use Code that allows an applicant to choose a block face to suit his/her purpose. However this is precisely what this applicant has done in an attempt to justify the substandard size of Parcel A. The Code explicitly requires that the lot area must be at least 80% of the mean lot area of the lots on the block face in which it will be located. Corner lots are situated in two block faces, therefore the average lot sizes of both block faces must be considered for corner lots.
The Code’s mandate to consider both block faces of a proposed corner lot is further demonstrated when the 75/80 Rule is applied in a future hypothetical development scenario – one that could occur if Parcel A were approved as proposed. For example, if, after approval of Parcel A, a hypothetical applicant wanted to subdivide or do a lot boundary adjustment for other lots on the 47th Avenue NE block face, and the 75/80 Rule needed to be applied because one or more of the hypothetical lots had substandard lot area, Parcel A – approved at 4044 square feet and more than 2000 square feet less than all other lots on the block face – would be included in the 47th Avenue NE block face calculation, and would lower the mean lot area of the 47th Avenue NE block face. Thus, DPD cannot ignore the 47th Avenue NE block face in the 75/80 calculation for the currently proposed Parcel A when Parcel A will be included in this same block face in any future 75/80 calculations.
Parcel A is a corner lot and therefore an inextricable part of both the 47th Avenue NE and the NE 47th Street block faces. It is just as much bound by NE 50th and NE 47th Streets along 47th Avenue NE as it is by 47th Avenue NE and 48th Avenue NE along NE 47th Street. Arguably, it is even more a part of the 47th Avenue NE block face because its parent lot (at 4702 47th Avenue NE) has a front and rear lot line orientation that is exactly the same as all other lots on the block face – an orientation that was established when the McLaughlin’s Lawn Acres Addition was platted in 1909.
The McLaughlin’s Lawn Acres plat allowed for long, rectangular blocks (in a north/south direction) with two block faces each, sharing rear property lines. Subsequent subdivisions of this block (Block 6) of McLaughlin’s Lawn Acres kept development true to the original plat with all corner houses oriented toward the long north/south “avenue” block faces and two interior houses oriented toward the much shorter block faces of the east/west “streets” (please see attached map. Of the 25 houses that currently exist in Block 6, 21 houses (including all those on corner lots) face avenues and four interior houses face streets. This development pattern is the basis of the character of the area. It is an avenue-oriented character with consistent street/front setbacks and streetscape.
This corner lot, in particular, is highly visible. It is located on one of only three arterials in Laurelhurst and its location kitty-corner from the open space created by the Laurelhurst Elementary School playground causes it to be visible from a relatively wide radius. Preserving streetscape here is of great importance for our community.
Allowing Parcel A to be developed at just 4044.6 square feet would unnecessarily ruin the streetscape that has been established along the entire arterial street of 47th Avenue NE. The bulk of a new residence would be adjacent to the front yard of the lot to the north (4710 47th Avenue NE) and would intrude into the continuous front yard setback that characterizes the 47th Avenue NE streetscape. That bulk is likely to be quite significant as well as out of character with the area. The setback from the property line on 47th Avenue NE would likely be only 10 feet – much less than the street setbacks of other development on the block face.
Thus, in addition to violating the letter of the 75/80 Rule, the proposed Parcel A also violates the spirit and intent of the Rule, the stated purpose of which is to allow additional building sites that are “compatible with surrounding lots.” Using only the NE 47th Street block face to calculate minimum lot area would result in a lot – Parcel A – that is significantly smaller than and incompatible with development pattern of other lots on the 47th Avenue NE block face (as well as other nearby blocks), causing the bulk of any future structure to be sited in a way that is detrimental to the established streetscape and that adversely impacts the abutting property to the north in a manner not intended by the Code.
A better fit – one consistent with the letter and intent of the 75/80 Rule -- would be for three houses to be created instead of four, if the properties must be subdivided at all. The siting of the corner property should be toward 47th Avenue NE to retain the established development pattern of the area.
Considering both block faces for corner lots is also critical in keeping substandard lot size anomalies from wrapping around corners and affecting other block faces. As previously described, if Parcel A is approved as proposed, and the owner of another property on the 47th Avenue NE block face applies for a short plat that doesn’t meet the minimum lot area requirement, Parcel A would be considered in the 75/80 calculation for that block face and short plat, and would have the effect of reducing the block face’s mean lot area. Yet Parcel A (if approved as proposed) would have achieved its severely substandard lot size only because it was not considered in the 47th Avenue NE block face at the time of its plat review and approval. The residents of the Laurelhurst neighborhood are justifiably alarmed that only one block face is being used for the 75/80 calculation because the “oversized” nature of this corner property is not unique here. There are, for instance, two more properties on the next corner to the north, at NE 50th Street, which could be subject to such an application in the foreseeable future.
2. Proposed Driveways. In regard to driveway and parking location requirements, the plan submitted for this project does not show where the driveways for the three proposed properties would be located. Presumably, all three new lots would have driveways on NE 47th Street because a driveway on 47th Avenue NE would require a turnaround as cars cannot back onto an arterial according to current Land Use Code. Additional driveways on this often congested little street are of great concern.
In addressing the requirements and configuration of parking and access for this project, a safety analysis addressing visibility, traffic volume, and other relevant issues should be pursued. This location is heavily impacted by traffic and parking from the public elementary school and the shared Parks Department/school gymnasium located across the street. Neither the school nor the gym has any off-street parking. The traffic and parking impacts caused by these two institutions occur not only during the school day but during evenings and weekends as well. There are also legitimate concerns regarding visibility in terms of oncoming traffic coming around the corner from 47th Avenue NE onto NE 47th Street.
Pedestrian safety at this location is a profound concern as it is passed by many children accessing the school, gym, playground and overpass to Laurelhurst Park and Community Center. An increased number of homes and the correlating driveways, car trips, on-street parking and deliveries can only exacerbate existing problems and will increase the hazards to pedestrians and traffic. In this light, it seems exceptionally inappropriate to allow substandard development at this location.
The Laurelhurst neighborhood acknowledges that creating additional housing opportunities is not only in the public interest but is an important goal for the City and is specifically called out in Seattle’s Land Use Policies. However, the appropriateness of location is a pivotal consideration in assessing proposed new housing opportunities. In the instance of this proposed short plat, the benefit of the additional housing opportunity does not outweigh the increased pedestrian and traffic safety hazards, or ruined streetscape and development pattern.
3. Tree Retention. The Land Use Code calls out for maximizing tree retention for short plat applications. There are numerous trees on the property and no indication of whether and how the applicant intends to preserve these trees. Among these trees are several of substantial sizes: an 18-inch cedar near the current east property line and a 24-inch Douglas fir near the rear line of Parcel B.
4. Application information. There are several other oversights in the submitted plans. One is that there are more structures on Parcel D (the parcel on which the existing structures will remain) than the surveyor has shown. Sheet #2 does not include the existing detached garage and driveway of Lot D which are visible from the street, nor any other accessory structures which may be on the property. Also, there are drafting inconsistencies/ambiguities and the dimensioning should be redone.
In summary, we respectfully request that the Director deny this short plat application. It does not meet the Land Use Code requirements for minimum lot area, is not compatible with surrounding lots, and is not in the greater public interest. We request that the Director provide for only one additional buildable lot at this location which can be done without a minimum lot area exception, that the corner lot be conditioned to face 47th Avenue NE to maintain orderly development, and that any future redevelopment at this location be bound by appropriate mitigation measures that will address safety and traffic issues as well as be conditioned to preserve the existing trees.
Liz Ogden, Land Use Committee Jeannie Hale, President
5005 48th Avenue NE 3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE
Seattle, Washington 98105 Seattle, Washington 98105
206-517-5862 206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631
cc: Justina Guyott, Department of Planning and Development
attached: Land use map of McLaughlin’s Lawn Acres Block 6