Seattle’s robust economy and strong demand for housing are changing our neighborhoods.  Development pressures have diminished the availability of affordable housing and are displacing neighbors and fracturing our communities, resulting in changes that may undermine the safety and well-being of our environment while diminishing the quality of life for our residents.  

Consider both the immediate and future impact of converting much of the available housing stock into conspicuous $1-2M trophy homes (aka big boxes).  The first loss is the displaced resident, typically hard-working people from the ethnically diverse middle class.  The second stage (for tear-downs) is the neglect of the property for 6-12 months, creating an overgrown eyesore with safety risks such as known dangerous trees (that the owner/developer hides the arborist’s report concerning its need for immediate removal) and spreading of rat infestation (that the owner resists complying with the King County Board of Public Health notice), all in order to boost profits.  Then follows the demolition phase where neighborhood parking and traffic flow are disrupted for several months (often without proper permitting and notice, though neighbors are intimidated and inconvenienced by numerous strategically placed ‘no parking/tow-away’ signs); the popular pedestrian sidewalk’s concrete is badly fractured and unswept, creating a walking hazard;  garbage and debris including cigarette butts, beverage bottles, food wrappers and discarded building materials and containers spill from the construction site on to the neighboring walkways, roads and properties.  The excavation creates dangerous, steep cuts that are expressly forbidden in the geotechnical safety report, but are acceptable to SDCI, who takes a ‘wait and see if any erosions, floods or cave-ins occurs’ approach rather than proactively enforcing codes and environmental laws meant to protect us. Then follows another six months of noisy hammering and power equipment, nails and building debris and garbage scattered onto the surrounding properties, and finally the gargantuan home goes up for sale.

This new home is very different from others that surround it.   The lot has had all its trees removed, and the home is constructed to the maximum size permitted, and if possible, even larger.  The building is in stark violation of virtually all Seattle Design Principles and Guidelines, which strive to promote the desirable characteristics of light, green open spaces, consistent home height and volume that bestow character, consistency and quality of life to our neighborhoods.  With respect to unique issues in Madison Valley—problems with drainage, flooding and erosion/landslides—this luxury home has destroyed its >1500 fruit orchard green canopy, lost over half its surface area of permeable grass and soil, removed almost a million pounds of dirt that filter and retain water during storms, and has added a completely new combined sewer to an overloaded system (mixing storm-water with sewage, that is periodically dumped into Puget Sound, n.b.9 Feb ff.)  The home will stand forty feet tall above the sidewalk/front yard it crowds, stretch over fifty feet long and nearly forty feet wide—a giant rectangular box that disproportionally over-fills its lot and dwarfs all of its neighbors.

The choices of residents generally fall into two categories: (1) stay, experiencing a diminished quality of life due to reduction in sunlight, open space, green plants, breathable air, diverse neighborhoods; increased traffic/parking issues, flooding, erosion, pollution and property taxes or (2) go, preferably voluntarily (as several good neighbors have chosen to do recently) or involuntarily (if you can’t afford to pay the rising living costs).  Citizen’s efforts to achieve consistent compliance with existing environmental and zoning rules are overruled by the supremacy of short-term profits.  It is a shame to see the diversity, character and charm of our ‘emerald city’ sold off to the highest bidder as the fabric and sustainability of our pacific northwest lifestyle and environment are lost.

James Chesko

Madison Valley