This is a continuation of my second post. My apologies, dear reader, but it will be necessary to take a trip into the land use thicket. I will endeavor to make it understandable, but if nothing else, this post should give you a feel for why microhousing has been such a difficult phenomenon to get a handle on for proponents, developers and citizens. Since there is no microhousing section in Seattle’s Codes, it has been necessary for individuals to try to shoe-horn it into existing land-use categories, which may or may not be an appropriate fit. Think of it as the new shoe experience in land use.
Is Microhousing Really Something New?
Some individuals maintain that microhousing is just the latest reincarnation of the boarding house or congregate residence, housing types which they allege have been around forever. However, if that assertion is true, why has the City struggled so with the permitting of these buildings. Even Dianne Sugimura, Director of the Department of Planning and Development, stated, in a letter to concerned Eastlake neighbors:
[T]his is a nontraditional housing type, but one which we’ve been seeing more in recent times.
A DPD reviewer for one project stated in an October 11, 2011 correction notice:
[A]s you may know, boarding houses are something we have recently been seeing more of, and without the code being written to directly address them, the Department has been in the process of figuring out how best to apply the code requirements to boarding houses.
A proposed rule drafted by senior DPD staff also noted:
The difficulty of distinguishing a single-family dwelling from a boarding house during the plan review process and the diverging definitions and purposes of land use and building codes means that many times the building might be classified as a boarding house for building code purposes and as a single-family residence for land-use purposes, causing confusion for applicants, staff and the general public.
That’s an excellent summary of the situation. Even Seattle developers, who are generally very sharp individuals, had difficulty navigating the permit process. On May 13, 2011, Chip Kouba, of Ecco Design Inc., who stated he had been working with Dirk and Gary Mulhair and Jim Potter on a number of boarding house projects, developing the product as they went, wrote to Roberta Baker of the DPD seeking clarification on a land-use issue. The question was:
[O]n a current project all land-use and structural and ordinance requirements appear to allow us to build a five story building with a basement with vertical congregate residences from basement to roof.… In the past, for a number of reasons, we ended up in townhouse territory, however believe that by definition these would not be included in that definition. If you could address this question, or advise on how best to review this with DPD would greatly appreciate it!
The argument that microhousing/boarding houses are nothing new does not hold water. Continue reading