Tiny aPodments causing big controversy in Seattle

SEATTLE -- If the walls on the home at 1715 NW 58th Street could talk, they might tell tales of a different Seattle: one where William Howard Taft was president; where milk cost .32 cents a gallon; and one where houses didn't have electric light.

The home was born in that bygone era - in 1909 - but on Monday, met its demise. A bulldozer clawed at its wooden doors and tore away its graffitied faade, splintering the walls - and public opinion.

"I believe in urban density but this is too much for our small neighborhood," said Linda Melvin, who lives across the street from the lot. "I draw the line."

A developer plans to replace the single-family home with a four-story apartment building, holding 43 micro-units - often referred to as "aPodments," according to plans filed with the city. The units are smaller (starting around 140 square feet) and less expensive (in the $500 - $1000 range) than a traditional apartment because they share amenities, such as a kitchen.

The 43 living units on NW 58th Street will share six kitchens on a 5,000 square-foot lot, but will not include parking, according to documents.

"Even though it's legal, I think the codes are woefully out of date and incomplete," said Bruce Meyers, a retired urban planner who lives across the street. "There's a complete lack of standards for these developments."

Micro-housing developments typically don't trigger a design review in Seattle. City code says that buildings that have nine or more "dwelling units" must undergo a design review, but a 'dwelling unit' is defined by a shared kitchen or food preparation area, not by the number of bedrooms or micro-units.

The city council was looking at a potential moratorium on micro-housing earlier this year, in response to neighborhood concerns, but instead is looking at changing permitting and regulations, said Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development. Changes would likely include more consistency on reviewing projects, requiring more bike parking, and minimum kitchen size.

Car parking, added Stevens, is based on zoning, and is not required in urban centers under city code.

"What we have found is that, from studies, very few of the people who live in these buildings actually do own cars," said Councilmember Richard Conlin, chairman of the city's Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee. "It's always going to be an issue. People are concerned about parking. There's lots of ways we can work on that. We just want these buildings to be consistent with what the zoning requires."

Conlin said he expects the proposed changes to micro-housing permitting to come up for public review in October.

"What I want to see is a place for micro-units in the code, a place that makes it clear as to what the regulations are, and applies design review," he added.

Developer Bob Dedon, who owns the Ballard lot currently under construction, said he spent Monday morning knocking on doors in the neighborhood to address some concerns.

"The city has done a heck of a job addressing density issues," Dedon said. "There's a whole zoning code about that. It's been on the books for years."

When asked what he would tell residents concerned about density and lack of parking, Dedon said, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

The city, meantime, currently has more than 50 micro-housing buildings planned, built, or in progress, according to city records. Meyers vowed to continue to fight the one on his block.

"It's six apartments by city code, but it's six apartments that have anywhere from five to seven tiny bedrooms that have very tiny bathrooms. They just meet the minimum requirements under the city code," he said. "The amount of density and the type of unit is incompatible with this particular block."