May 2014 : A developer, David Marcoe in conjunction with Blueprint, purchases 819 NW 70th Street for $470,000. Multiple families also put in offers to buy the home. Highest bidder wins.
June 2014: A neighbor looks on the DPD website and discovers the property was purchased by the developer and that he requested a “discretionary land use action” to adjust historical lot lines and create two small lots where there was once one small lot. (Fast forward: days after the neighbors’ attorney contacted the DPD reviewer, he approved the lot boundary adjustment and then responded to the attorney. Usually the DPD gives a week for someone–such as the attorney–to respond to the DPD’s response before it approves a discretionary decision. In this case, the DPD reviewer sent his response to the attorney after he approved the boundary adjustment.)
July 2014: Neighbors visit DPD in person to see if there are project plans since none were posted online and the DPD reviewer wasn’t returning calls to answer questions about what’s planned for the site. July 25th, a DPD Land Use Coach says in person there are no plans yet. Minutes later, at the microfilm library computer in the DPD’s office, the DPD’s intake transmittal and a full set of plans are available! The project plans show one 7,777 square-foot live/work unit submitted as two, identical triplexes, each with its own project number. In reality, it is one development with six units without any physical separation between them. The developer and DPD claim the invisible lot line running through the center of the building divides the one, big development into two, smaller projects. Why? To stay under the square footage and number of units that would trigger public notice, community input and a traffic study.
August 2014: Getting the runaround with the DPD, neighbors hire a land use attorney to request the city apply its law of requiring public notification, design review (community input) and SEPA (environmental impact study, traffic study) for the 7,777+ square-foot building. These steps are required by law for live/work buildings that are 4,000+ square feet or 4+ units. The DPD reviewer claims the development is not subject to design review and SEPA. Neighbors write letters to DPD, City Council and the Mayor’s office as well as SDOT about traffic safety concerns. (Neighbors had contacted SDOT multiple times about these concerns months before the developer bought the property.)
September 2014: Neighbors’ attorney writes a letter to the DPD Director again stating the project is subject to public notice, design review, SEPA. The director’s staff writes back: no public notice, design review, SEPA required.
October 2014: Ballard News Tribune publishes article
November/December 2014: Neighbors continue to ask the city to require public notice, community input and a traffic study for the 7,000+ square-foot project.
Before the attorney was involved, the two projects were submitted as one, physical structure of six units. The developer–with the DPD’s approval–claimed an invisible historical lot line made the one big structure two smaller projects (identical triplexes), each under the 4,000 square-foot threshold that triggers public notice, design review, SEPA. However, since the attorney contacted the DPD, the DPD escalated the review and requested the developer provide more information showing the two projects are in fact two buildings, two projects. In response, he submitted revised plans adding a 12-inch gap between the two triplexes. 12 inches.
Why would the developer do this? In August and September, the DPD reviewer and director claimed the single, 7,777 square-foot structure was two projects, not subject to public notice, design review, SEPA. Why go to the trouble of spending time and money to revise plans and add a 12-inch gap? The lot is zoned NC1-30 (neighborhood commercial), which allows live/work developments of that size. He could build it without the 12-inch gap but that would require public notice, design review, SEPA.
The community continues to feel disenfranchised. It’s excluded from giving input for this sizable project that will greatly impact the residential neighborhood. Neighbors ask the city to help address how this project will exacerbate existing traffic issues in an area with at-times unsafe bottlenecks and congestion. SDOT disagrees and won’t do anything despite many neighbors insisting there’s an existing traffic safety issue.
December 2014, Part II: Neighbors join together and offer to buy the property from the developer. Asking price: $1.1-1.2 million. That’s out of reach for the middle class neighbors. The developer says he’ll involve the community. He’ll ask our input on paint chip colors.
January 2015: Friends of Division neighbors take it upon themselves to inform the community and create this blog. After neighbors invited him to step foot on the block and see what’s going on, Mike O’Brien, the council member who heads the city’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, meets with the group at Take 5 Urban Market next to the development, and discusses concerns. City Council creates policy, doesn’t enforce it. Hopefully, this story will influence City Council to make changes that will allow meaningful community input in the DPD’s process.
As of January 13th, the DPD Public Records office (firstname.lastname@example.org) has started refusing letters from concerned neighbors. The DPD clearly does not want community input in this sizable project.