Commercial Development process listens to the community; Residential does not

Guest post by James

First Appeared in Madison Park Times

Having participated in the proposed PCC Market building’s early design guidance process, I was impressed by how effective citizen’s voices could be in shaping neighborhood development.  On the other side of the coin, residential building is rapidly changing our community, largely without local review or input.  This is happening in my neighborhood, as it is in many neighborhoods across Seattle. 

One of our neighbors was displaced earlier this year and his home was sold. The developer who bought the home plans to demolish the small, quaint Craftsman and remove the 1,540 square-foot green canopy, which includes mature apple, cherry and plum trees.  He also plans to combine the storm and sanitary water outflows.  Combined sewers are strongly discouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency because overflow events—also known as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs –expose residents and the environment to raw sewage/pollution.  Our neighborhood is also prone to internal water backups.  Many of us in the area remember the tragic drowning of resident Kate Fleming, whose 10-year passing is remembered this month.

The proposed construction is very different from all other buildings on our block face.  The front wall will begin only 20 feet in from the property line and will rise 40 feet in elevation.  It will sit on a lot smaller than the average property size, yet will be taller and more massive than every other building. Compared to its northern neighbor that sits on a 50 percent bigger lot, the new building is two stories (20 feet) higher, more than twice the length (over 50 feet), and has three times the above ground living area (3,650 square feet).  The end result will present a 1,500 sqare foot, largely blank wall that will cast a deep shadow over its neighbor for most of the year.  

The design does not follow Seattle residential design principles of preserving qualities of the neighborhood (reinforcing open and green spaces), matching the height, volume and character of surrounding buildings (which are mostly in the American Craftsman and bungalow styles). What is the purpose of publishing these guidelines if they go unenforced, and are so misaligned with the profit-driven motives of developers?   If Seattle is serious about offering affordable housing, is it socially responsible to take a relatively affordable home off the market and replace it with a gargantuan box priced $1.5 million or more?

The building process is difficult for neighbors and little is done to mitigate that difficulty.  During the first eight months that the property was acquired by developer/Realtor Wilcynski, it was neglected to the point of being an overgrown eyesore that became a rat harborage.  Hundreds of falling apples and plums were left rotting throughout the summer and fall, providing an ample food source to rats that now have started spreading to neighboring lots and present a public health threat.  Soon demolition will commence, followed by many months of noisy and dirty construction.

For as long as anyone lives in my house, it will be in the shadow of a monstrous, rectangular box that diminishes the open and green qualities of our neighborhood.  The negative impact to public safety (flooding, slides, construction), health (rats, debris), environment (pollution, combined sewage overflows, destruction of trees), housing accessibility and quality of life should outweigh any profit-driven motive. Given the developer’s track record and the sensitivity and history of Madison Valley, it is a dangerous mistake to inflict this insensitive, big-box development upon our environment and our residents.