by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
There are seven properties with the aPodments micro-housing brand in the Capitol Hill area and now the Capitol Hill Community Council wants to make sure no more get built, at least for the foreseeable future.
The CHCC recently drafted a letter to Seattle City Council asking for a review of certain development and zoning laws that, under the CHCC interpretation, could forbid the construction of aPodments and other micro-housing structures. The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee met on Monday to discuss this issue.
The Committee meeting included representatives from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. Prior to the meeting, Committee chair Richard Conlin said that aPodment-style buildings, “…do not seem to have much of an impact on the community, but they are clearly in a gray area of the [land use] code.”
The Capitol Hill Community Council argues that the proliferation of micro-housing developments over the past few years violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Growth Management Act established by the DPD in the 1990s. The GMA was designed to ensure that population and density remain within manageable levels for local infrastructure while also minimizing the impact such growth has on the environment and the atmosphere of a neighborhood. The forecasts coming out of the DPD today are murky at best. The first population estimates related to the GMA came out in 1992, with an update in 2002. Seattle has seen unprecedented growth in those years, especially in the past decade, but the most recent forecast actually suggests growth over the next 20 years is going to be slower than previous estimates.
These projections are little comfort to the stewards of Capitol Hill’s residential sectors. The most recent United States Census showed double-digit increases in the population percentage of most of Capitol Hill. What’s more, that population remains largely young and single, which is the target demographic for the small, cheap apartments offered in micro-housing developments. The Community Council’s letter claims that the neighborhood has already reached 92 percent of its expected limits for 2024 under the Growth Management Act and that another one or two aPodment structures would push that number far over the top.
The main point of contention raised by the CHCC is the City’s modern interpretation of the term “dwelling unit” according to the rules and regulations of the DPD. All Capitol Hill aPodments are studios with private bathrooms along with space shared between multiple units, such as a kitchen or a deck. There are 261 such units in the neighborhood. The Community Council argues that many of these small, minimally-equipped apartments do not meet modern standards for a “dwelling unit” and have asked City Council to place a moratorium on the creation of any additional micro-housing in Capitol Hill until the City and the DPD create a more detailed definition of a “dwelling unit.”
In addition to the Capitol Hill Community Council’s letter to City Council, there has been a small movement among Capitol Hill residents against micro-housing development. The activist group Reasonable Density Seattle has also evoked the Growth Management Act and has made presentations to the Community Council in recent months. There have also been yard signs placed at aPodments and other structures around Capitol Hill by Reasonable Density Seattle that state, “aPodments and other micro-housing developments are not welcome in this neighborhood.” The majority of such signs have been placed in front of structures that have replaced single-family homes in residential areas.
Following the PLUS Committee meeting with the DPD on Nov. 25, Councilperson Conlin told the Capitol Hill Times, “Generally, there is no reason to discourage these developments. The units are habitable and are filling a need in the housing market,” adding that, “DPD will consider whether there should be a specific code section relating to them, and will do further research as to whether there are design standards or design review requirements that should be met depending on the size or impact of specific buildings.”
While the City has no plans to put a hold on any micro-housing developments in the near future, it’s also likely that aPodments and other structures like them will invite special regulations before long. The PLUS Committee and the DPD have voiced some concerns about the long-term use of these buildings, especially upon consideration of any of them changing ownership over time. Calhoun Properties, the company that manages Seattle’s aPodments, has its own brand to maintain and the internal policies that come with it. Should Calhoun sell an aPodment building to another firm, those policies may change with little warning or government oversight. Calhoun Properties could not be reached for comment.