|Central Court #1 - Clawson Allan Residence - 2006 to 2008. Unbuilt|
The next three years I spent doing public advocacy for an update of the multifamily code, working with DPD and the city council to develop a more flexible, open land use code that could open the way for a number of new housing types. As drafts of the new code were sent around for comment, I kept the Central Court scheme in the back of my mind, checking the specific language to see if there was enough wiggle room inside of the code to let something like this happen.
It was difficult to get much traction with the city planners and code authors. After all, no project of this type had ever gotten built. How do you get someone to prioritize enabling a housing type that exists only on my hard drive? One event that helped a little was the presentation of White Hat Black Hat to the city council. The Central Court was one of the featured schemes in my presentation. It got a little bit of press on local blogs, the Daily Journal of Commerce, and ended up on the Sally Clark's website (Sally was the chair of the land use committee at the time). It helped to drive home that I wasn't the only person that found this to be an appealing idea.
|Central Court rendering from Black Hat White Hat - presentation to Seattle City Council|
I eventually managed to get some language worked into a draft of the code that created some allowance for garages with open space on top, but the enabling language was always written very narrowly. I wanted the door thrown wide open, the code authors intended to crack it open just a hair. When the final code was published in early 2011, it appeared to me that some flaws in the code language left the door shut tight.
In Spring 2011, I brought my first new townhouse project designed under the new land use code in for a preliminary review. The new code would not permit Central Court scheme outright, but I assumed that I would be able to reprise (and learn from) the Clawson Allan Residence, using design review to skirt around the inflexible portions of the code. To my chagrin, I discovered that the unworkable code language was in a chapter that is not eligible for departures through design review. So, for the purpose of the Central Court at least, the new code had taken me backwards a step.
|Central Court #2 - 110 N 39th Street - 2011. New code would not allow. Scheme abandoned.|
The silver lining was that having a concrete example of a real-world project getting stymied by a flaw in the code gave me a platform to re-lobby the DPD planners to tweak the language one more time. They have agreed to include a re-write of this code section in their next clean-up legislation (probably later this year).
So, what to do in the meantime? Early in 2012, a developer approached me with a plot of land that had some unusual site dimensions. Having beaten my head against the same wall enough times, I recognized that the proportion of this site might afford me an opportunity to do a variation of the Central Court that would skirt the code provisions that had flummoxed me in my previous attempt. A couple days of careful planning confirmed that, while it would require a slightly odd massing (purely to game the land use standards), it was possible to pull it off. Fireworks. Victory Dance. Client was thrilled. End of story? Almost, not quite.
|Central Court #3 - Beacon Townhomes - Currently on the boards|
Turns out that, while the land use planners at DPD are on board with the idea of trying out some new housing types, nobody really sent that memo to the fire department or the building code reviewers. For reasons that make perfect sense from a code enforcement perspective and almost none from a common sense point-of-view, they were less than thrilled with my proposal. For a while it appeared that the project would get crushed under the cumulative weight of all of the special construction and sprinkler/alarm/monitoring features required to get the project through the life-safety review.
Thankfully, a helpful supervisor at DPD was willing to put in some time to help me negotiate a compromise that appears workable. The project will get hit with some significant extra costs - enough to bruise the bottom line, but not enough to make it bleed out. It's enough of a problem that I'll need to continue to lobby DPD to find a way to get this project type done within a reliable, low-friction process.
But that is a fight for another day. For now, I'm just thrilled to be able to say that I'm green-lighted on my first Center Court project. Keep an eye on this one. It could be great.
|Beacon Townhomes - Courtyard View|
|Beacon Townhomes - Street View|