The “Shared Roof” project is a proposal to upzone two commercial lots on the northwest corner of Greenwood Avenue North and North 70th Street. The owners are a group of friends led by Seattle restaurant owner /developer Chad Dale, who have proposed a five-story building where (according to Chad Dale’s comments at public meetings), the owners will occupy the units on the top two floors and the units on the lower two floors will be available to the public.
The land use code violations
The owners asked the City to upzone their commercial lots to allow a five-story, 59+ foot building, even though every commercial lot all along Greenwood Avenue until the Greenwood Town Center area at North 84th street, is zoned consistently NC2-40, which allows four-story (44-foot) buildings. The Land Use Code requires a “gradual transition” between zones, but the Shared Roof building would be built right on the property line separating the commercial and single-family zones with no transition whatsoever.
The Shared Roof building also violates several provisions of the Land Use Code to create an unlawfully massive building that is too close to the adjacent single family lot. Every commercial lot in this area borders a single family lot at its rear boundary. For these situations, the Land Use Code has several requirements to maintain a separation between the commercial and single family zones. Specifically the Code (1) allows the first floor to be built right up to the property line only if there are no windows and doors facing the single family zone, and requires the building to be set back at least five feet if there are any windows or doors on that side; (2) requires that commercial buildings be set back at least 15 feet from the property line for all floors above the first floor, with an even greater setback for all portions of a building above 40 feet tall; and (3) prohibits any portion of the building in a fifteen foot “no-build” sight triangle where the commercial lot abuts the side yard in a single family zone. These required separations between zones allow a light and air corridor between the tall mixed use buildings in the commercial zone and the single family homes along their backyard boundary.
The owners of the “Shared Roof” project, however, have tried to buy their way out of all of these requirements. They acquired a vacant mid-block lot on North 70th Street (across from the church) and the single family home at 7010 Palatine that also borders the commercial lots proposed for upzoning, and they claimed all of these lots were a “development site” where no setback law applies, even though there is no definition of “development site” in the Land Use Code and there is no City law that allows this.
As a result, they have proposed a building where four floors are right on the property line (instead of only the ground floor), the fifth floor is set back only a few feet (instead of more than 15 feet), and a massive greenhouse is on the rooftop where there should be no building at all. They built the first floor right on the property line even though it has numerous windows and doors, and they included a pedestrian pathway in the single family zone to access their commercial uses, which is also illegal. This pathway is reported by the property owner and DCI staff to have been removed by the City Council at the last minute, but plans in the record have not been amended and we have had difficulty finding documentation for this change.
At numerous public meetings the owner claimed they “needed” all of this square footage to “make their finances work.” Even though their commercial lots total over 12,000 square feet. This is substantially larger than the 8,000 square feet of the Phinney Flats site and the 10,000 square feet of the newly opened Henden Condominiums across the street to the south. Both of these projects are in compliance with existing code standards and manage to make their finances work. Yet the 7009 Phinney developers still want more than the Code allows.
The decision-making process
Because this project involved a rezone, it was a “quasi-judicial” decision ultimately made by the City Council. Members of the public were prohibited from discussing this project with Council members. The project was first reviewed by SDCI, which ignored all of the comment letters that detailed the legal flaws in this project. Then, In April 2018, the Hearing Examiner conducted a public hearing. Several members of the public identified numerous detailed legal flaws with this project, but the Hearing Examiner ignored all of them when he issued a Recommendation that the Council approve this project.
Even more troubling, the Hearing Examiner appeared to mis-read a site plan map when he reached his conclusion that this project met the criteria for a rezone. The Land Use Code requires a “gradual transition” between zones. There was no “gradual transition” in this case because the building was built right on the property line separating the commercial lots from the single family zone. But the Examiner mistakenly claimed the vacant lot within the single family zone was somehow a buffer between the commercial and single family zone. This is a terrible precedent for interpretation of this code provision that should not be allowed to stand.
The City Council approved the project on August 6, 2018 even though it admitted that there was no such thing as a “development site” that would allow these Code violations. And they made the situation even worse. With no advance notice to the public, they prohibited development on the vacant single family lot, effectively removing a prime single family lot from development without following the proper process.
Appeal to Superior Court
Given this troubling decision, where the City Council knowingly disregarded the law to approve this project, Irene Wall and Bob Morgan filed a Land Use Petition Act (“LUPA”) claim in King County Superior Court on August 27, 2018. The same attorney who helped Livable Phinney successfully fight the Phinney Flats case will be representing Irene and Bob in their 7009 appeal.
Livable Phinney has decided to help with fundraising to support this appeal. We know these appeals are expensive. And we are confident that when an independent judge reviews this case, they will reverse the City Council decision and protect Phinney Ridge from unlawful development.
Livable Phinney has wrapped up our work on the Phinney Flats case, so all funds raised at this point will be used to contribute to the legal expenses of the 7009 appeal. Please use the donate button below to help out. We need your help! We need to ensure that the City Council cannot knowingly violate our Land Use Code to grant a special benefit to a developer.
The Appeal Arguments
The Appeal argues that the Council action approving this project was unlawful for the following reasons:
- It violates the mandatory requirement for a “gradual transition in height and scale and level of activity between zones” in SMC 23.34.009.D.2;
- It violates additional mandatory rezone criteria for height increases in SMC 23.34.009, including the likelihood of view blockage;
- It violates the General Rezone Criteria in SMC 23.34.008;
- The Council knowingly authorized a building that violated the required setbacks between commercial and residential zones and the Council admitted that there was no legal basis for to claim a “development site” excuse could be used to avoid those Code provisions;
- The Council unlawfully rezoned the vacant single family lot in violation of proper procedures because it effectively removed that lot from being used for single family purposes and substituted a muti-family/commercial buffer purpose;
- The Rezone was unlawful spot zoning.
Information on hearing dates will be provided when confirmed by the Court.
Other things to know about Shared Roof project:
1. This project is NOT about affordable housing.
Despite repeated representations to the community that this development would include onsite affordable housing to comply with the requirements of the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation (MHA), the approved plans show they will make a payment in lieu of providing any onsite MHA housing.
The only “affordable” housing that will allegedly be included in the 7009 project are 7 units that the developer claims it will include in the Multi-Family Tax Exemption program (MFTE). In the MFTE program, a developer / owner will pay zero property taxes on the entire residential portion of the project, i.e. all 35 units will be tax free to the owners for 12 years.
The affordable units in the Shared Roof project will be set aside for households making 80% of the Area Median Income. That means a 1 bedroom unit this year rents for $1,505; a three bedroom unit for $2,086. These rents escalate annually.
While Seattle’s property owners are shouldering unprecedented property tax increases, the 7009 developers will be getting a big tax break that will more than compensate them for the difference between the 7 “affordable” and the remaining units “market rate” rent. The tax bill just gets shifted over to other tax payers as long as the building remains in the MFTE program.
2. The parking and traffic impacts from this project could be worse than Phinney Flats.
There are 35 units proposed for the building, with 26 parking spaces. But the traffic studies estimate 54 cars associated with the project. This means most occupants will have more than one car, and there will be almost 30 more cars than onsite parking spaces. That is more parking overflow that was predicted for the Phinney Flats building, even though that building has no onsite parking.
Residential parking impacts aren’t the only problem. The traffic studies for this project predict over 300 daily car trips associated with this project, and twenty (yes, 20) daily truck deliveries associated with a restaurant that is proposed for part of the commercial space. Phinney Ridge has never seen anything like this. But despite this astronomical parking and traffic impact, the City has foreclosed any legal appeals on that issue. Livable Phinney remains concerned about the increasing parking problems that will plague Phinney Ridge as more development occurs
3. This is an unusual “Upstairs/Downstairs” Apartment Project
At numerous public meetings, Shared Roof spokesman, Chad Dale, has explained that the owners will occupy the top two floors of the building. At their presentation to the Hearing Examiner, the owners’ representative explained that a group of friends wanted to live together and share common space. That sounded like a great concept, but instead of a co-housing model, a condominium, or a cooperative, Shared Roof is actually an investment for the owners like any other development. It just so happens that some members of the LLC and private equity partners that are funding the construction will live there and pay rent to themselves.
There are 12 units on the top two floors for the owners, and 23 smaller units on the lower floors for rent. So far, the developer has not clarified that the lower floor renters will also have access to the large rooftop outdoor areas with the territorial views, greenhouse and extensive landscaping.
At several public meetings, the owner representative Chad Dale has explained that they “need” the rezone and every square foot of their proposed building to make their finances work out, and that they are building a great building that will provide retail opportunities and be more environmentally conscious than typical construction.
However, these goals can be achieved in a building that complies with the land use code as it applies to every other developer. We have also been tracking other contract rezones including at 70th and 15th NW; 88th and Roosevelt, and 140th and Lake City Way. In all three the NC (neighborhood commercial) zone abuts a single family zone and the site plans show compliance with the 15-foot setback.
We believe that the City Council should not prohibit a single family lot in a prime location from being developed with a single family home. This was the makeshift compromise to create the illusion of the code-mandated buffer between zones.
Even though the City Council claims there is no precedent from their decision, we fear this decision will unleash widespread disregard for the Code throughout the City, and Phinney Ridge is particularly at risk because all of the commercial lots along Greenwood border single family zones. We hope you will join us in supporting this appeal.
Questions? Email us at LivablePhinney@gmail.com