If you've ever had the sun blotted or your view blocked by a house on steroids, you'd understand the unneighborly feelings...
If you’ve ever had the sun blotted or your view blocked by a house on steroids, you’d understand the unneighborly feelings that a megahome can engender.
In a city of neighborhoods, that is not a good thing. Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin is right to propose housing-code changes that would scale back how large a replacement home in a single-family neighborhood could be. It is a debate that is sorely needed. And Seattle is not alone. Bellevue officials are studying similar complaints.
The controversy has been brewing for years as more human-scale older homes have been knocked down and replaced by gargantuan structures that sidle up to lot lines and hoist themselves into the sky, as if — look at me! — they are all that counts on a block.
As the Green Lake Community Council’s Ref Lindmark told Seattle Times reporters Sharon Pian Chan and Ashley Bach, “There are a number of 1,000-square-foot houses and then, all of a sudden, along comes a 4,000-square-foot house and it just dominates.”
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Remodeling and rebuilding are not intrinsically bad. They can freshen up a property and even start the turnaround of an entire area. But when an owner cares not enough about the impacts of his buildout on nearby residents, the social infrastructure of the city begins to fray.
What about property rights? Absolutely, within reason. Government is allowed to regulate various uses. It can forbid a high-rise hotel from being built in a single-family zone and it already places controls on home construction. In fact, it is the city of Seattle’s 1982-era housing code that is enabling today’s boomlet of super-sized bedrooms and big-screen entertainment centers. It is time to review what progress has wrought.
Conlin proposes to lower the height limits of houses that replace demolished homes, from the approximately three stories permitted now to two. Homes would be able to occupy 35 percent of a lot; whereas now it is 35 percent or 1,750 square feet, whichever is more. The latter standard allows for a relatively larger structural footprint on lots under 5,000 square feet. Conlin also proposes to ban the practice of consolidating adjoining properties and replacing multiple homes with a single large one.
Builders have voiced concern over the proposed height limit. If they’ve got a better idea, we’re listening. A home with a graceful, stair-stepped roof line that doesn’t obliterate views, for instance, seems more reasonable than a big blocky one that does. Maybe that kind of design exception can be accounted for.
But the guiding principle ought to be one rooted in basic civility. A house is not a hostile entity, oblivious to its surroundings and for the convenience of the occupant alone. It is part of the fabric of a place called neighborhood.