Eastlake residents angry, concerned about new apartment development on Franklin

The signs are popping up all over Eastlake: Yellow, letter-sized notices about a new development on Franklin Avenue E.:

39 New Residents
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.”

She added:

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. 

21 thoughts on “Eastlake residents angry, concerned about new apartment development on Franklin

  1. John K.

    so only people with the ability to pay sky high rents should be able to live here? And only people who can afford to support children? So your maids and service workers will have to commute long distances? Give me a break! The city should absolutely move forward with this.

  2. lisa thompson

    i’ve been looking at these types of units for a year now as an option to living in a house with three other women. most are priced from $500-$1000 a month. in another write up on this builder/building, he states that his units will be price from $800 for 100 sf basement units and as much as $1600 for the top floor 200 sf units. as a bike messenger, i certainly cannot afford these prices (but maybe my maid can). in a shared house, i pay $325 for a 200 sf room. as far as me and my roommates are concerned, these types of units are not priced for us young people that need to live in Seattle for school and work. stop drinking the builders coolaid (unless you ARE the builder)!

  3. Wes

    Honestly Lisa I’m not sure about the prices you’re saying. I saw the micro units development in Fremont started at $450 a month, mine is 500 square ft for $1000 downtown in a building that was built in 2007. I think the developer is smart enough to know that if the potential renters can get 500 square feet with a private bathroom for $1000-$1200 in a better location for careless individuals that they won’t be paying $1600 a month for 200 square feet with a shared bathroom in a neighborhood with pretty bad transit. I agree with John k the more options we have for all income levels the better. It’s time to stop catering to the entitled sfh owners that think they own everything they can see from their porch and deregulate the zoning.

  4. lakeview

    We don’t know anything about what rents will be charged here as nothing has been built. “Sugimura said that this type of building helps to fill a need for affordable housing.” How does she know this will be affordable housing?

    Even if the developer said “I PROMISE the monthly rent for these units will be $495 a month” would you believe that and push for the city to move forward? How many times have you moved into an apartment and had the leasing company jack up your rent at lease renewal time?

    Let’s put it another way. Would you you think it was ‘affordable’ if you were paying $500 a month for a bedroom in a house you were sharing with 7 other people? That’s the way the developer is characterizing this building.

    The main thing to focus on: “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’re really not bedrooms… they’re individual tiny studios. Why are we allowing Developers say that a building is only 5 units (and therefore requires no public review) when any logical person can see that it has 39 units?

  5. rollon

    I think when you do the math on how much the property owner will receive for rent, you realize the property owner will easily double their potential monthly revenue stream. And the property owner may qualify for property tax exemptions if these are classified as low income housing. Also, the overall result of these will lead to higher rents per square foot for all and a larger tax burden on city residents due to transportation issues, parking issues, and other added public services that come with a spike in density.

    Anyone that agrees with these developments should go tour the ones that exist on 23rd and others on Capitol Hill. You will quickly see that these developments are substandard housing and are set up to pack-in the short-term renters in cheap construction for premium rental rates per square foot.

  6. notsosweet

    “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.”

    Seriously? And once these buildings are built and here to stay, those of us who are long-term residents of these affected neighborhoods are left to deal with some of those “unintended consequences.” This is not a viable approach to providing affordable housing – this as a quick way for a developer to bypass a community review and line their pockets while providing substandard housing. This type of housing is geared more toward the short-term/transitional and not toward the long-term growth and development of a neighborhood. Wanna change our neighborhoods, DPD? Change them for the better. Don’t slap the word “green” on something that looks distinctly “brown” to those of us who can see what this really means.

  7. Former Eastlake Neighbor

    As the article notes, the fact that the permit only claims the building will have five units is misleading at best, and probably just plain wrong if each studio is in fact a separate dwelling unit. If the City goes ahead and permits this as a five-unit project, that’s a bad precedent, given that the impacts for five units are much different than 39 units. A 39-unit project should be permitted and reviewed as such, and certainly not fast-tracked under the auspices of some “green” permitting program. I wish the project opponents a favorable outcome; there are some local heavy hitters signed on that letter to DPD who could certainly influence the outcome of this project.

  8. eastlakefamily

    As far as I understand, the design review process exists for a reason, to make sure new building fits in with the neighborhood and does not put a strain on the neighborhood resources: parking, sewer, shared public space like parks and driveways, safety etc. By taking advantage of a code loophole the developer is making it look like a 5 unit building, because of 5 shared kitchens, when instead each of the 39 studios have dedicated food prep areas (as well as bathrooms). As I have seen in other such developments these food prep areas typically consist of microwave + sink + fridge; this is a kitchen by my standards, and makes the building a 39 studios building, that as far as I know requires a design review process. We need more transparency, so we can all live well together in Eastlake! I think we need to ask for a review meeting before this moves forward so we can better understand.

  9. wannaBErichToo

    If these developers can put 39 studios on that lot, then I should be able to put about 80 on mine. I can even undercut the $500 price point and and still smile all the way to the bank. Thanks DPD, it’s like a license to print money. My jet setting dreams are about to come true.

    Eastlake…you’ll know I’ve enacted my plan when the bulldozers show up, thank god I don’t have to face the neighbors.

    39 studios for rent:
    39 x $500 = $19,500 rental income per month

    My plan:
    80 x $400 = $32,000 rental income per month


  10. lakeview

    Just make sure you don’t say you’re building any more than 7 units since I think 8 triggers a public review. Just tell the DPD, City Council, and the Mayor you’re interested in building 7 sustainable, green, affordable, 12 bedroom townhomes. They’ll probably give you the key to the city.

  11. waterton

    Nothing matters but honesty. The developer is a bald-faced liar to propose a “5-unit boarding house” when he clearly is proposing 39 separate housing units. That the City has not yet rejected outright the proposal stinks of corruption. We are an honest city. We don’t tolerate a cop using a racial slur, a property owner trimming a public tree for a better view or a strip club adding six unpermitted parking spaces. So why are we even considering the entire density concept of our Multi-Family Zoning Code being exploded with this blatant falsehood? Thirty-nine single occupancy leases means 39 independent living units. If this project can be permitted as 39 units — fine. But don’t lie to me and expect to laugh all the way to the bank — or to re-election.

  12. Jackson

    As another reader pointed out, this is basically a flophouse in our neighborhood. Right next to an elementary school and playground. Does not pass the common sense test.

  13. Roxanne

    The Pruitt-Igo housing complex in St. Louis Missouri which won awards for architecture and urban planning, and which was ultimately demolished when no one would live there gives us a good example of public housing projects which do not consider Environmental Psychology, like these apodments in which people rent 100 square feet for $500 to $1000 a month. Where is the design review process for the neighborhoods where these apodments will go to look at the impact on the quality of life for those who already live there? And,in climates where we have grinding overcast skies for up to 178 continuous days, as we did in 2010, how can we give up space and light, allowing higher buildings casting longer shadows for the neighboring structures, and a horrible sense of crowding? Are we going to set up disfunctional environments where people are chronically living in cramped, dark, expensive units, just biding their time until they can get out? This has all of the earmarks of setting up lodging for unengaged, uncommitted people frustrated by having no place to park anything, including a bicycle.

  14. FranklinLuver

    I mean… are 39 independent people deciding independently to rent out these rooms? If so, then it’s pretty clearly 39 units and the city needs to treat it as such. To call it anything else just feels like political-nonsense/crazy-talk.

    This seems obviously rigged for the developers. They can spend $500K on a building, pay about $5000 a month on the 30 year note, and collect $25,000 a month in rent. That’s a quarter million a year in profit from a single (small) building.

    What if every property on the street does the same thing? Are there any safeguards to stop that from happening? Can one city block of Franklin Ave even support 1,000 residents? Can the plumbing/sewer/waste systems handle it? Has anyone thought about this? Where is the city planning department???

  15. Amy

    The house that is on the lot in question has been empty for years. The lawn is overgrown and there is garbage on the front porch. I’m not sure if a new apartment complex is ideal, but it’s certainly better than what is there currently.

    Eastlake residents are amazingly intolerant of increased housing density. My townhouse was built behind another existing home back in 2006, and to this day, we have neighbors that are so angry about my building that they literally will not speak to us (I didn’t build the house – I just bought it). The vast majority of buildings around us are rentals. Some are kept up beautifully, others are trashed and dirty. I’d be more worried about the company that will be charged with operating the building once it is done.

    But event the traditional, single-family homes on the block are nothing to crow about. There are two houses next door to me that are more or less vacant and overrun with rats. There’s a hoarder across the street who collects from the neighborhood dumpsters and them leaves some of his findings on my property while he looks for more. His yard is filled with stuff that he collects.

    I honestly don’t think that an apartment building down the block will make the neighborhood any worse.

  16. JK

    It seems pretty obvious that this is a 39-unit building. As another commentor said, it’s 39 people deciding independently to rent out the rooms — not five families. If the city decides to review and approve it as a 39-unit complex with all the attending provisions, fine. We live in a city and density is a reality. But if noise, lack of parking, or crime increase just because somebody at the city doesn’t feel like doing due diligence, then that’s ridiculous.
    Not to mention I’ve been pining for that house for a year! Sad to see it torn down for some monolith. But God forbid you sell something at a reasonable price to a person/family willing to invest in it and whip it back into shape…

  17. Sue

    As far as parking goes, will the city be issuing a zoned parking permit for everyone in the building? Imagine 39 more cars plus guests – think it is hard to find a spot now? I am all for nicely done multifamily housing with appropriate provisions for parking etc.

  18. LakeUnionGirl

    All for high density, and housing options, but there has to be more attention paid to parking. parking on franklin is already near impossible. and the teachers at TOPS school need to park on the streets because the parking lot for the school only has 29 spaces for the 40-50 employees… and that doesnt count parents and/or other volunteers. anyone who currently parks a car on eastlake, franklin, hamlin, boyston or roanoke or other… are all going to be impacted by this. Not to mention that Louisa street is closed during the day for school bus parking.

    And no community review????

  19. Just a thought

    A flophouse, eh? Because everyone who can’t afford an apartment with its own kitchen is a criminal, transient or drug user. Geez.

    Is it possibly they are public school teachers, trying to subsist on a low salary in a high-rent city? Or artists? Or recent college grads working in the service industry? Or even a single-mom trying to live in a nice, walkable neighborhood on a limited income?

  20. V

    It boggles my mind that poeple are hung up on the fact that some of the teachers may need to start taking the bus to work. The parking on the street is for the public and everyone should be able to use it. I don’t think it’s the apartment owner’s responsibility to deal with a lack of parking on private property that may already exist.

  21. George

    At first when I heard about these units I was excited to get affordable housing in Eastlake (a place my son can live that he can pay for by himself.) But after I did some research, I found out these units are not affordable charging upwards of $1000 per month; and even worse is the layout of these units. I saw the floor plans on the developer’s website which revealed something that appears to be a new version of the old flop houses in Univerity District. If you haven’t had the chance to experience such a place, imagine an old stately home converted into “cheap” housing where every bedroom, or even large closet has a lockable door to house a young college kid. Some of these homes can house 10 people living in cramped bedrooms! A far cry from decent affordable housing.

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