The micro-apartment craze, having moved past its saturation point — by my estimates, this happened somewhere in between the museum exhibitions and buzz-worthy NY Times op-eds — now appears to have entered the backlash stage as residents in a city that has embraced the rapid development of urban shoebox dwellings are now spurning them.
A recent AP article examines what appears to be a NIMBYist anti-micro-apartment movement taking form in Seattle, a city where officials have gone gaga over “generous parking spot”-sized apartments with shared amenities (and included utilities) that cater to urban minimalists, students, and young professionals who spend a bulk of their time away from home.
It’s worth noting that micro-apartment developments have been sprouting up around the Emerald City long before it became a “thing.” Since 2006, the city has permitted 48 micro-apartment complexes with affordable units ranging between 150- and 200-square-feet. According to a Seattle Magazine article from this past November that weighs the pros and cons of micro-housing, there were 10 micro-unit developments under review at the time of publication including increasingly ubiquitous "aPodment"complexes from developer Calhoun Properties.
As Bryan Stevens with Seattle's Department of Planning and Development explains, city building code has allowed for single-occupancy residential units of limited square-footage for the past 30 years or so. It hasn’t been until the last three years, however, that the micro-units achieved trend status and officially blew up: "It's really coincided with the recession. Apparently there's pent-up demand.
The code, however, has not been altered — once crucial loophole, however, was sealed last month — and with that comes an array of issues prompting micro-apartment opponents to push for a building moratorium and tighter regulations:
Now, some residents are complaining that micro-apartments crowd too many people together, aren't compatible with some neighborhoods, don't encourage people to put down roots, and circumvent a design review process meant to get public input.
One objection is that here in Seattle, unlike in San Francisco or New York, the process of creating code to allow such buildings isn’t currently up for review— it’s old code. So micro-apartments pop up, sometimes with little warning, in places where neighbors have been expecting traditional four- to six-unit buildings. With micro-apartments, 'unit' is likely redefined to mean an entire floor of eight tiny apartments with locking doors and bathrooms, plus one kitchen and one common area."
Ed Cummings, a nine-year resident of Seattle’s super-dense Capitol Hill neighborhood, explains why he takes issue to the micro-apartment explosion to Seattle Magazine: "People who came to Capitol Hill and fixed up old houses and started raising families recognized they were living in a dense environment but they didn’t expect the city to upzone without any process. There’s no valve controlling how many of these there are. They should have a set of indicated and non-indicated conditions, public notice and a public comment period. I own a multifamily property myself. Apparently I could go from four to 24 units, and tough luck on my neighbors."
Seattle mayor and micro-apartment cheerleader Mike McGinn does not support a full-on moratorium on these "affordable, transit-friendly options" but does support “taking a close look at the process for approval” according to a spokesman from his office. The AP notes that city council members are also reviewing the approval process.
Earlier this week, a developer's meeting apparently got "heated" according to KIROTV as aPodment developers clashed with concerned residents worried about the lack of checks and balances involved with the process and the toll the developments have on neighborhood character ... and available parking:
Monday night, the anger seemed to be focused on the high density projects going up without warning. Even if the building goes through a design review, it’s the exterior design, not what it looks like on the inside. Some worried how many people would actually be sleeping in each unit. Others brought up safety concerns like emergency exits.
Many residents asked the city council members in attendance to issue a moratorium until the city can sort out exactly how the aPodments should work.
In April, a "brown bag lunch meeting" hosted by the Seattle City Council also managed to draw a packed room of vocal protesters.
Any Seattleites living in areas near aPodments and other micro-apartment developments care to chime in on the topic? Has the micro-apartment boom negatively affected your own neighborhood? What are your main concerns?
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