In Seattle’s quest to surpass Portland, Ore., and become the next San Francisco, city officials have persistently pursued increased density to allow more people to live and work here.
“Outside City Hall” columnists John V. Fox and Carolee Colter, of the Seattle Displacement Coalition (zipcon.net), have written extensively in this newspaper’s pages about how density — and developers’ propensity to take full advantage of loopholes in city regulations — is ruining Seattle’s quality of life. Nothing demonstrates this more than the news last month about the development of four consecutive rowhouses along Northwest 60th Street in Ballard that would be built on the property line.
Permitted by city code for more than three decades, according to the city Department of Planning and Development (DPD), this would allow the nearest rowhouse to be within 2.5 feet of the neighbors’ single-family house — 10 to 12 inches close at the gutters.
The neighboring couple may consider legal action to stop construction, citing safety and maintenance issues, since the DPD can’t consider quality of life as a valid argument against city code. But this most certainly impacts the residents’ — and the overall neighborhood’s — quality of life.
The outdated code — mostly ignored, evidently, until recent years — was written at a very different time, when the economy was much better and the city didn’t need to fill its coffers. People moved to Seattle because of what it already offered, before the proliferation of Amazon, Google and other similar companies.
Not every neighborhood needs to become South Lake Union. While multifamily dwellings are needed in our growing city, developers needn’t try to fill every square inch with more units.
In the case of the Ballard rowhouses, three could suffice, to give residents their sense of privacy and personal space. This just serves as an example of the fight between developers’ profits vs. neighborhood livability. The almighty dollar will always prevail, especially if it means the city benefits from having more tax dollars to spend.
Newcomers to the city still flock to the neighborhoods outside of downtown for their single-family homes, and longtime residents want to maintain the character of the neighborhoods they created. To stem the rise of “enormous, out-of-scale development,” creators of www.LivableBallard.org started a petition against those that “circumvent review processes intended to ensure that projects fit sensitively into neighborhoods.”
In a city known for the “Seattle freeze,” such in-your-face developments only put up more walls between neighbors — literally.