As I mentioned before, the code has a tendency to announce a rule and then follow it with a lengthly list of exceptions to the rules. This subchapter is all about where the rules can be conditionally waived or changed. Conditions in land use most often deal with either off setting potential negative impacts or getting a public benefit in exchange for bending or changes the rules. Maybe someday I will write about the important but subtle differences between the terms exemption, variance, departure, and conditional use.
Conditional use in single family zones are subject to the Master Use Permitting process in 23.76 of the code which is still a ways off in our reading. We’ll cover that later. Nevertheless, what we do know is that
A conditional use may be approved, conditioned or denied based on a determination of whether the proposed use meets the criteria for establishing a specific conditional use and whether the use will be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property in the zone or vicinity in which the property is located.
Parts 1 and 2 divide the duty of determining whether a proposed conditional use fits this criteria between the director of the Department of Planning and Development and the City Council. Part 1 covers the administrative conditional uses, and part 2 Council conditional uses.
Part 1: Director as referee
Most of the things in part 1 are conditional uses that could inspire a very mixed reception from single family neighborhoods, like a major public school or other institutional use. These have their own departure process and often require their own lengthy public planning and engagement process called a Major Institution Master Plan.
Children’s Hospital, for example, just went through a lengthy MIMP process recently ($150,000 for the Laurelhurst Community Club? How’d I miss that?!) Like other parts of code, a lot of this section refers to other parts of the code for the rules about what actually gets done.
Included in the directors purview are other potentially challenging items like locating car pool parking lots, changes in use of decommissioned schools, and historic landmarks. In each case, the director’s role (through staff, of course) is to try and balance the proposed use against potential harms that the use might do to what’s already there.
One interesting part of this section which appears to live here without reference to other parts of the code (including MUP requirements) is the Clustered Housing Planned Development. This section allows the construction of clustered housing on 2 acres of land or more. I’m not going to calculate the density, but the last live proposal was for a project in Magnolia of about 38 houses.
And it appears, from the paper work on the Administrative Conditional Use (ACU) that the project was approved, even though it was opposed by some neighbors. And Lexington Fine Homes has a couple homes listed on their website, one of which lists at $1.3 million. But here’s what the site looks like on Google:
It’s getting late, and I am tired. So maybe I missed something. And I haven’t had a chance to go look at what’s there. Part of it might be that hasn’t updated its maps yet or maybe the bad economy killed the project. Or maybe I got the address wrong,
UPDATE: Nope. They didn’t build this out. There are only two houses there. I took this today:
But I like the idea that the director can do this on her own without Council approval. Now, I am not so sure this project met the affordability threshold, although all housing is affordable to someone no matter what its price. But 38 units of housing that might otherwise have wound up in rural King County seems like a good deal even if they are big multimillion dollar homes; millionaires need homes too!
I am flagging this for later, because if this project did go forward it may be a good model for moving some projects forward more quickly. And as David Neiman pointed out in his recent comments, we’re likely to need some single family for some time to come. This ACU process seems to be a lot easier than some things I’ve followed. But I have to get to the L designation. Does anyone out there know if this project actually got built?
Part 2: More Planned Residential Developments (PRD) please!
Wasn’t I surprised to finally track down an example of a PRD project right in my old stomping grounds, Delridge. And not just any PRD, Puget Ridge Cohousing a project led by a neighborhood hero of mine, Paul Fischburg. Here’s what their website says about PRDs which the Council can grant as a Conditional Use based on this part of the subchapter:
Puget Ridge was also the first Planned Residential Development in Seattle’s current Land Use Code. As outlined in the Code, PRDs are “intended to enhance and preserve natural features, encourage the construction of affordable housing and allow for development and design flexibility.”
Puget Ridge Cohousing is an example of what I meant by promoting all kinds of different arrangements in the single family zone that challenge the concept of one house with one typically family living in it.
Cohousing is a way to live in community. We own our own homes and can find quiet and privacy there. But we also share many aspects of our lives – gardening, cooking, eating, celebrating and even raising our children together. Begun in Denmark, cohousing is a remarkable way to have fuller lives, a conscious effort to break the isolation that has become the hallmark of so many American neighborhoods.
Pretty freaky stuff. But we need more of this. I’m not sure yet how to promote more PRD and I’d be curious to learn how the process went. By the time I was working with the folks at Puget Ridge the development was already well lived in and successful. The feeling at Puget Ridge was a lot more like my memories of San Pancho in Mexico. Based on what I know of Puget Ridge, PRD conditional use needs another look.
Oh, and the council can give conditional use for these in residential neighborhoods:
Hmmmmmnnn. My cell reception is really lousy when I visit Laurelhurst.