An expansive wooded plot of land on the western bank of Lake Washington will soon hit the market for sale, raising the prospect of a new single-family housing development in Seattle and prompting questions about what type of homes would best serve a growing city with a housing shortage.

The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus plan to list the 21.7-acre parcel located just south of Northeast 50th Street, the group said Friday. The Sisters have not yet announced a price, but the land is zoned for single-family homes, meaning it could draw interest from developers looking to tap into the hot housing market. 

The announcement called the sale “part of a global realigning of the Missionary Sisters’ assets to ensure they are serving those most in need.” The land being sold does not include the nearby Villa Academy.

In Seattle, where most land is already built up to what current zoning rules allow, a potential new single-family housing development is rare. In a neighborhood where the median home price is nearly $2 million, the prospect is also likely to spark a debate about the types of housing allowed in some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. 

“Twenty-one point seven acres in Seattle being an invisibly gated community — that’s not fair housing,” said Laura Loe, executive director of Share the Cities, which advocates for greater density and affordable housing.

Colleen McAleer, president of the Laurelhurst Community Club, said the sale came as a surprise, but argued it’s too soon to speculate about what type of development could take place. Any buyer should balance development of the land with protection of tree canopy, she said.

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“Most folks in the neighborhood understand there’s a housing shortage. What we hear from most of our neighbors is they’re fine with additions of things, carefully placed and well thought out and that follow the codes as far as height,” McAleer said. 

About a decade ago, Laurelhurst neighbors resisted a proposed development by Seattle Children’s, citing traffic and other concerns, and the hospital agreed to scale back its expansion plans

Just a mile away from the Sisters site, plans for a single-family development at the former site of the Talaris Research Institute have drawn similar questions. Some neighbors worried about development of the “oasis” of open space. Loe and others saw the site as a missed opportunity that should include affordable and workforce housing

The city has not yet issued construction permits for the Talaris site, but given long timelines for land-use planning and zoning changes, neither site is likely to be rezoned or used for denser housing, Loe said.

“We’re not going to prevent this from being mansions because all those pieces were set in motion 10 years ago,” Loe said of the Sisters site. “If people wanted to make it so this land could be … more affordable than McMansions in Laurelhurst, we’d need a time machine.”

“People need to stop seeing rezoning as a developer giveaway. Rezoning here would have meant more fairness for more people,” Loe said.

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McAleer said the Sisters site should be assessed for its tree canopy and other factors before determining further development. The site is less built up than the Talaris area. “Nobody goes down there,” McAleer said. “We need more information” to consider different uses for the site.

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The portion of the Sisters site along the water is zoned for minimum lots of 9,600 square feet, while the majority of the parcel would require lots to be at least 5,000 square feet, according to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. Most single-family lots in Seattle are between 4,000 and 7,000 square feet, according to city data.

In theory, the site could be home to roughly 100 single-family houses drawing $1.5 million to $2 million each, said Taylor Marr, deputy chief economist at Redfin.

“I would definitely see the viability of a builder looking to develop that land,” Marr said. “I would be surprised if there wasn’t interest.”

In an analysis last year, Marr found that Laurelhurst was among the city neighborhoods with the highest share of high-end homes, as opposed to other neighborhoods with a better mix of affordable and high-end houses.

Marr said that although he would advocate for denser housing on the site, high-end housing can draw “move-up buyers,” in turn freeing up smaller houses for other homebuyers.

“Overall there’s just such a shortage of housing in Seattle,” Marr said. “The question is where can we build more housing and really there are only a handful of spots left that are large undeveloped plots of land.”