The signs are popping up all over Eastlake: Yellow, letter-sized notices about a new development on Franklin Avenue E.:
39 New Residents
NO NEW PARKING
No Neighborhood Review
No Neighborhood Input
No Land Use Action Sign
The notice ends by noting that: “These building are permanent and Eastlake will suffer for a long time.”
The development in question will replace a house at 2371 Franklin Ave. E. The official city permit for the project says it contains five units, but neighbors note that it will actually have 39 individual units grouped around common kitchens on each floor (a basement and four other floors, with one kitchen on each floor).
If it was counted as 39 units, the development would require environmental and design reviews and offer neighborhood residents a chance to have input on the building.
The neighbors also question locating such a project, which they fear will have transient occupants, just two doors from the TOPS@Seward School and two houses away from a daycare center.
Members of the Eastlake group have organized under the name Count Units Properly Please. They’ve been writing to Mayor McGinn, members of the city council and the Department of Planning and Development questioning how a building with 39 individual bedrooms can be counted as five-units. They are also concerned because, under existing city zoning laws and policies, the new building won’t need to provide parking for its residents.
Delight Roberts, one of the neighbors opposed to the new building, noted in a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn that she and her husband, who have a toddler son, are “invested in the community.” When they moved to Eastlake there weren’t many children in the neighborhood, she writes, but that more families with kids are moving in. Her letter continues:
I know that Seattle is working hard to attract families who want to work, live, and send their kids to school in the City. So if this planned development is true, this seems to run counter to that goal. Families will not be the tenants who are targeted for this kind of development.
In a letter mailed to Diane Sugimura, director of the Department of Planning and Development, which is handling permits for the project, Roberts and several other neighbors (Carol Eychaner, Martin Cobb, Jules James, Christy Elton, Russ Anders, Tom Im, Colette and Chris Gordon, and Sharon and Aaron Grey) made their case for counting 39 units in the building:
- The individual units each have food preparation areas, bathrooms and a lockable entrance with a peep hole. Their letter notes these are “key characteristics of a separate dwelling unit. DPD has historically made separate dwelling unit determinations for other properties based on the presence of a food preparation area, bathroom and separate, lockable entrance.”
- Corridors and hallways throughout the building appear to be common areas, not reserved for the residents of each unit.
- Each dwelling is numbered individually on architect’s plans for the building and referred to as a “unit.”
Neighbor Jules James questions what type of lease will be made for each unit. He notes that the Fair Housing Act requires a 24-hour notice before a rental agent can enter a unit. Will all the units on a floor be given notice that an agent will be entering to show off a unit? he wonders.
In a June 28 letter to neighbors, Sugimara notes that the DPD “must review a proposed project based on adopted regulations and processes that apply to a particular site.” She says that the area has been zoned Lowrise 3, which allows apartment buildings up to 40 or 44 feet tall, since the early 1980s “and probably well before that time.”
This property is also located in a Residential Urban Village per Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan. While this proposal is configured differently from the more traditional apartments, the development standards such as height and required setbacks are the same. In other words, the structure cannot be any larger because of unit configuration. In addition, because this is in an urban village with frequent transit service, there is no requirement for parking.
As to the tenants who might live there, Sugimura noted that “we (DPD) cannot regulate the type of tenants allowed through Land Use Code regulations; this is not something that DPD has the authority to control.”
Several neighbors had expressed concern that the project was on a “fast track” to approval. Sugimura noted in her letter that it qualifies for “Priority Green, which has a shorter initial review time to encourage people to develop more sustainable buildings.”
Bryan Stevens, a spokesperson for the DPD, said Thursday that the project is still being reviewed by ordinance and structural reviewers. The construction permit approval process generally takes about six to eight weeks, he said.
“That’s not been completed,” he said. “That’s the last step before we let the applicant come and pick up their plans.”
Stevens noted that even if DPD felt that there needed to be a change in policy regarding projects such as 2371 Franklin E., any change wouldn’t affect projects currently under review.
In her letter to the Eastlake neighbors, Sugimura said that this type of building helps to fill a need for affordable housing. She says the DPD has heard concerns about this type of building from other neighborhoods and she’s discussed this with Mayor McGinn and city council members.
“At this time,” she says in her letter, “our direction is to monitor them (the buildings) to determine if we are seeing unintended consequences from such development, and determine if any code changes are needed.”
UPDATE: This post has been changed since it was first published. Information on how long the construction permit process takes has been added.