MUP Public Hearing Meeting Notes

Project 3003629

Laurelhurst Elementary School Cafeteria

February 8, 2006


Introductions:  Liz Ogden opened the meeting, welcomed neighbors and introduced Lucas Deherrera and Justina Guyott from the Department of Planning and  Development (DPD).


DPD Background: Deherrera briefed the group on informational materials distributed.  After reviewing a platting map of the vicinity, Deherrera reviewed Code provisions governing the content of a short plat and the seven short plat criteria that apply to the application.  He then went through the Code provisions governing the 75/80 rule and explained the rule including the definition of block face, which figures into the calculation.  The lot being created must be at least 75% of the minimum lot area.  This would be 3,750 square feet because the zoning is single-family 5,000 square feet.  The lot must also be 80% of the mean lot area of the lots on the same block face.


Deherrera stated that the developer has now applied for three permits to proceed with the proposed development after the short plat is granted.  He added that three driveways off 47th are planned.  Deherrera explained how the review process works with various departments reviewing the application.  He said that this is a Type II decision, which means that DPD’s decision can be appealed to the Hearing Examiner.


Review of LCC Comment Letter:  Ogden went through LCC’s comment letter that had been distributed to attendees.  She stated that it is LCC’s contention that the applicant incorrectly applied the 75/80 Rule by inappropriately using only one of two block faces in the calculation.  The way this will work out is that the corner house will be in the front yard of two existing houses.  She explained that DPD has, in the past, allowed developers the discretion in choosing which block face to use for corner lots. 


Ogden talked about the importance to the community of preserving the streetscape on what will be the corner lot.  The bulk and siting of the new structures will be significant and out of character with surrounding homes.  The setback would be minimal, probably only ten feet from 47th Avenue, much less than other setbacks on the block face.  She said that the stated purpose of the 75/80 Rule is to allow additional building sites that are “compatible with surrounding lots” and that this application falls short of meeting that purpose. 


There are concerns about the location of the three new driveways.  Driveways located on 47th Avenue NE would require a turnaround because the Code prohibits backing out onto an arterial and 47th Avenue NE is one.  Two additional driveways on NE 47th would increase safety hazards there.  LCC recommends a safety analysis to address visibility, traffic volume and other relevant issues.  There are major pedestrian safety, traffic and parking problems at the location.


Community Comment:  The following is a summary of comments made and submitted:


Eric Fredrickson:  Fredrickson began his comments by asking attendees if everyone was against more houses on small lots.  Everyone raised their hands.  He explained that he is a developer and works with the Growth Management Act (GMA).  He said that the GMA is not an overlay into our community.  Fredrickson later asked if DPD has to follow precedent in short plat decisions.  Deherrera responded in the negative.


Ginny Sherrow:  Sherrow said the proposed short plat is located at a very busy corner.  There are crossing guards and parents picking and dropping off children both in cars and walking.  Laurelhurst School has limited capacity.  She does not see that this short plat is in the public interest.  There is no public interest in cramming in more houses in the neighborhood on smaller lots.  She asked whether it has to be proved that there is a public benefit.


Doug Sherrow:  Doug Sherrow pointed out the proposed short plat in its relationship to the Laurelhurst gym, which is in use all of the time, especially in the evenings.  He disputed any benefit to the community and stated that the only reason the developer is pursing the short plat is for economic gain.  He does not think it is appropriate to change the neighborhood for economic gain.  Neighborhood is community. 


Cary Lassen:  Lassen said that smaller lots take away space for trees.  There is a large cedar and a large Douglas fir in the short plat area.  These trees are treasurers and would be a tremendous loss to the community.  Ogden pointed out that the fir tree has a 24-inch diameter and the cedar’s diameter is 18 inches.  She added that the tree retention issues are different for short plats than when construction permits are sought without short platting.  Short platting provides for maximum tree retention.  Deherrera stated that an arborist would review the issue.


Linda Portnoy:  Portnoy expressed concern about adding three new driveways on this congested street.  She said that neighbors in this area have easements and share driveways.  Issues arose as to whether 47th Avenue is an arterial as the developer’s representative stated it is not.  Portnoy later added that DPD should not look at the corner in isolation.  She said DPD should consider the impacts of expansion at Children’s Hospital and new development on Sand Point Way.  She pointed out that children from the new nearby condominiums would be walking along 47th to school.


Grey Snyder:  Snyder expressed concern that approval of the short plat would lead to a domino effect with a trend towards large houses on small lots.


Kelly Taylor:  Taylor asked about the public interest criteria and if this criteria is met whether the application would be granted.  Deherrera responded yes.  He added that conditioning the permit is an option.  Conditioning is done, for example, in certain cases such as in areas involving arterials or steep slopes.  She asked whether the short plat could be denied for safety reasons.  Deherrera responded that these applications are not usually denied and the review doesn’t get to the point of looking at safety issues. 


Lindsay Cornelius:  Cornelius asked whether there were any recent short plats in Laurelhurst.  Deherrera didn’t know.  Ogden responded that there have been short plats but she doesn’t know of any recent short plats with less than minimum lot area issues. 


Julie Brown:  Brown pointed out the challenges of living on a busy street.  She said that neighbors take a lot of pride in their homes and that there is a great community feeling.  She was concerned about the lack of open space because the new development would have less of a setback.  Deherrera responded that when there is a “knock-down,” the developer can choose his or her own setback.  Odgen added that there used to be bulk and siting rules, but that they were repealed.


Mark Mendelow:  Mendelow suggested that the public meeting should have been scheduled at 8:30 a.m. when traffic is at its worst.  He said the short plat application is all about greed.


Coco Sherman:  Sherman, co-president of the Laurelhurst Elementary School PTA, introduced herself and co-president Stephen Cooper.  She spoke on behalf of the PTA and Safe & Active Routes to School.  She said that the safety and well-being of students and families are a major concern.  On January 24, 2006, 65 children and adults were counted crossing that intersection of the short plat between 3:10 and 3:35 p.m. (after school).  She said that the short plat and increased housing will impact the safety of families crossing at the intersection and the success of the program to increase the number of families walking and cycling to school.  She said they are working very hard at increasing walking and bicycling and that there has been a 45% increase compared to last spring with a corresponding decrease in the number of single occupancy cars. 


She said they want a development that has only positive impacts and asked that:

1.      Lot line changes and building plans enhance pedestrian safety,  experience, and access at the intersection of 47th N.E. and N.E. 47th including maintaining clear sight lines, making sure driveways are situated far enough away from the intersection, and adding curb ramps (as is standard for ADA requirements). 

2.      Lot line changes and building plans enhance cyclist safety,  experience, and access at the intersection of 47th N.E. and N.E. 47th including maintaining clear sight lines, making sure driveways are situated far enough away from the intersection, and adding curb ramps (as is standard for ADA requirements). 

3.      Decisions regarding this proposed development carefully consider the impact of additional traffic and off-street parking on pedestrian and bicycle access to our school.


Sherman said it is better to have more children and their parents walking and fewer cars.  She added that the single-family 5,000 zoning classification was established for a reason.  She urged the City not to create substandard lots.


Sherman submitted the comment letter from the PTA and Safe & Active Routes to Schools.


Jenny Pang:  Pang expressed concern about the impacts of increased density.  She drew an analogy to where she lived in Hawaii where people don’t want their children to walk even two blocks to school any more due to safety hazards arising from the traffic from too many houses too close together and from speeding.  She said safety is a concern.  She has questions about the impact on the trees if the foundation is poured over the tree roots and how the sewer lines come into play.  Deherrera responded that Seattle Public Utilities and the City Arborist will review the issues.


Angela Finney:  Finney said that neighbors want to protect investments in their homes.  She said that the quality of life in the neighborhood is great, people know each other and people walk.  She said that the developer will put in his project and move on and that neighbors will have to live with the adverse impacts.


Tracey Peschon:  Re extenuating circumstances such as steep slopes under which DPD would condition granting the short plat, Peschon asked whether proximity to the school would qualify.  Deherrera said DPD would look at this.


Susan Bennett:  Re the public interest criteria, Bennett asked whether DPD would look at the application in the context of the neighborhood.  She pointed out the critical parking shortage and the fact that Laurelhurst School has no parking.  She said there is a public interest in being able to drive down 47th Avenue as it only has one lane of traffic and it gets choked up when school lets out.  She mentioned that the Villa Academy will be moving its entrance to NE 47th Street soon, just two blocks away which will bring more competing traffic at approximately the same times.


Brian Morrison:  Morrison agreed with Fredrickson.  He is a landscape contractor with experience in dealing with growth management issues.  He said growth should be focused in urban centers.  He asked if design review would apply to the new development so that neighbors would have a say in the aesthetics.  It was pointed out that design review does not apply in single-family zones.  Morrison was concerned about the ripple effect in granting the short plat. 


Dale Sherrow:  Dale Sherrow has a double lot and plans to subdivide it at some point.  Each lot would meet the 5,000 square foot requirement.  He plans to move specifically because of the traffic issues on 47th Avenue NE.  He said that speeds on 47th are staggering.  He takes issue with the statement of the representative of the developer that 47th is not an arterial.


Lindsey Snyder:  Snyder expressed frustration about the traffic and speeding on 47th.  She asked whether there is anything protecting residents from the speeding.  Deherrera responded in the negative.  He said that the application does not trigger the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), so this issue and the impact on the school will not be considered.


Stephen Cooper:  Cooper has a six and eight-year-old who walk to school where the three new driveways would be.  This poses safety and visibility problems.  He said DPD should look at the cumulative effects of authorizing the short plat.


Kate Hemer:  Hemer stated that she sensed negativity on the part of DPD in addressing the concerns of neighbors.  She said that a short plat is a discretionary decision so that DPD could approve, approve with conditions or deny.  If there is a short plat, she said there should be no more than one additional buildable lot, rather than two.


Cora Morrison:  Morrison asked who the new houses are intended for and where will the new owners park?


Nancy Hicks:  Hicks said that a site visit is necessary to see if SEPA applies.  Deherrera said it doesn’t. 


Leslie Wright and Sheryl Westergreen:  Wright and Westergreen submitted written comments at the meeting opposing the short plat.  Their primary concern was the precedent that would be set for subsequent land use requests.  They see this as a proposal to build three new “skinny” houses and would be detrimental to the neighborhood for the following reasons:

1.      The plan allows no setback on 47th Avenue NE, which places a structure next to the front yard of the nearest neighbor;

2.      Reduction of green space and existing large trees;

3.      Loss of residential streetscape;

4.      Increased congestion;

5.      Questionable construction quality; and

6.      Lack of affordability if home sales prices exceed $1 million as expected.


Wright and Westergreen pointed out the many community-based organizations and activities that involve large numbers of pedestrians, automobiles, Metro buses and school buses and bicyclists, including Laurelhurst School and gym, St. Stephen’s Church and pre-school, St. Bridget’s Church, Villa Academy, Seattle Community Church, Laurelhurst Park and community center and Children’s Hospital. 


Wright and Westergreen suggested as an alternative DPD consider limiting development to two residences, rather than three, with legal mother-in-law apartments in each.  They added that this would retain the look and feel of the neighborhood, yet increase density and provide affordable rental units.