Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood



May 19, 2003




Councilmember Judy Nicastro, Chair

Land Use Committee and

Members of the Seattle City Council

1100 Municipal Building

600 Fourth Avenue

Seattle, WA  98104                                                                 Fax 684-8587


RE:  Council Bill 114541, Authorizing Substandard Development in Single-Family Zones


Dear Councilmember Nicastro and Members of the Seattle City Council:


The Laurelhurst Community Club Board of Trustees urges you to reject Council Bill 114541 which would authorize short subdivision of single-family lots containing more than one existing single-family dwelling unit.  The proposed changes would perpetuate and expand nonconforming uses in single-family zones and would result in substandard lots that do not conform to development standards such as lot coverage and setbacks.  We believe the changes would also encourage demolition of affordable rental housing, are contrary to neighborhood plans and would have other unintended consequences.


            Council Bill 114541, nearly identical to DCLU’s proposal in 2000 that failed to garner Council support, is inconsistent with the intent of Seattle’s nonconformity provisions.  While the Code allows the maintenance of nonconforming uses, expansion of the nonconformity is restricted.  As the Code states, “The redevelopment of nonconformities to be more conforming to current code standards is a long term goal.”  It is likely that existing nonconforming structures that are the subject of this proposal will be torn down and rebuilt to nonconforming standards, contrary to the intent of the nonconformity provisions.  In addition, the subdivision of a single-family lot into two smaller lots in most cases will result in two separate nonconformities.


            Council Bill 114541 will diminish the supply of affordable rental housing.  The two unit lots resulting from subdivision would be worth more than the original lot.  The property owners would have an investment incentive to tear down old “affordable” structures and rebuild new houses to maximize the value inherent in the land.  No documentation has been provided to substantiate DCLU’s claim that home ownership to first-time home buyers and others will be affordable.  What is clear is that affordable rental housing will be lost. 


            Council Bill 114541 gives DCLU too much discretion to deviate from development standards in single-family zones and expand the nonconformity.  Under the proposal, DCLU would have the discretion to waive or modify parking requirements.  Although the proposal states that the nonconforming structures must comply with development standards, it goes on to state that DCLU may waive development standards that would further the public interest.  The Director’s report on this proposal includes no analysis of DCLU’s authority to allow outright expansion of the nonconformity by 500 square feet of gross floor area or a greater expansion of square footage through a special exception.  The impact upon lot coverage and setbacks and other quality of life standards should be thoroughly explored prior to further consideration of this proposal.


            Council Bill 114541 disregards Code provisions relating to Neighborhood Plans and Residential Small Lot rezoning.  The Code already allows Residential Small Lot (RSL) rezoning if certain conditions are met.  After specific neighborhoods indicated an interest in their neighborhood plans to work with the City to identify areas that may be appropriate to RSL zoning, the Council responded and enacted provisions allowing the RSL designation.  The designation was only determined to be appropriate, however, if designated in a neighborhood plan, within a short distance to a principal commercial street and consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  Outside of urban villages, other locational criteria limit designation of RSLs. 


As DCLU told our neighborhood in 2000 after our review of a nearly identical proposal, “The City is committed to working only with those neighborhoods who expressed an interest in this option in their neighborhood plans…[I]t is important to note that if Laurelhurst or any other neighborhood does not support this option, then it won't happen there.”  The current proposal would allow subdivision of single family lots citywide with no regard for neighborhood plans, neighborhood impacts or neighborhood preferences.


            Contrary to DCLU’s assertion, Council Bill 114541 will not preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods.  Minimum lot areas of 1875 square feet and a three-foot setback requirement are not consistent with single-family 5000 zones.  The teardowns and rebuilds with the real possibility of expansion of these nonconforming structures will increase density, reduce open space and breathing room and impact the existing streetscape and pattern of yards in single-family neighborhoods. 


            We urge you to reject Council Bill 114541.  Thank you for considering the concerns we have raised.



Jeannie Hale, President

3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle, Washington  98105

525-5135 / fax 525-9631


cc:  Mayor Greg Nickels; Mark Troxel