The New Magnolia-Scape; Does an epidemic of view stealing plague Seattle?

I've watched this going on for some time now - old houses knocked down and newer, grander houses taking their place. Old houses with walls torn out, electrical wiring and plumbing ripped out by the roots and replaced. I never objected to it. In fact, I was rather fascinated, watching the aggrandizement and change coming to my old neighborhood.

You see, I was born in Magnolia. Being a native, it increased my pride in my birthplace. Besides, although it came close to me, it never offended.

Where I live, there are magnificent views of Puget Sound, the Olympics, West Seattle, the islands across the Sound, Elliott Bay - even Mt. Rainier when it comes out of hiding. Where I live, a Magnolia maxim has reigned for decades: "Thou shalt not steal thy neighbor's view".

If your neighbor's tree grew too tall, you politely asked him to trim it and he did. Building codes protected your view (or so you believed). Simple civility and consideration for your fellow residents prevented such mean and thoughtless behavior as to take away that which is precious to you as well as others in your vicinity.

Well, that's all over - all that old-fashioned, caring-for-your-neighbor stuff. I finally understand the minus side of all this furious building. Get ready for the 'New Magnolia-scape.'

Let me explain. In the new Magnolia, all you have to do is get a permit from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development to build three stories above an existing foundation, call it a 'remodel' and there goes the view of anyone who happens to live on the wrong side of the remodel.

Here's the rule: the structure is allowed to rise 30 feet above street level, plus 5 feet for a roof - a total of 35 feet. On sloping lots, of which there are many in Magnolia, there is a mathematical formula used that allows for the slope.

And now we come to the case in point: the remodel at 2420 Magnolia Blvd. W., along with the houses on 43rd Avenue West, the street above. The house being built has a third floor sitting up so high above the one- and two-story houses on 43rd Avenue that the view obstruction truly is notable. The house is one story higher than any house in the same block of Magnolia Boulevard West.

You might think such a thing certainly is illegal, as we on 43rd Avenue West once thought. Think again. The building inspector for the city's Department of Planning and Development (DPD, formerly DCLU) says the remodel is in compliance with existing building codes and perfectly legal.

Here's the rub: the same thing has happened to many other Magnolians who have views they value; and it could happen to you.

There is no legal protection of a view. Imagine that! In a city known for treasuring the vistas of its beautiful location and the features of its landscape, you can lose it in the flash of a DPD permit.

Let's face it. Civility is gone, and in the absence of any redress or solution to this growing problem, maybe there should be a review of the building codes to take into account the blocking of existing views by new or remodeled construction in view-sensitive areas of Seattle.

Not only are views impacted, but home resale values are affected as well. Property taxes are not lowered on houses that have lost their views. Although the agency that calculates the property valuation claims that views are not taxed, we on Magnolia all know that in effect they are: views make property more valuable.

Residents often don't know what is happening when new construction suddenly looms. There is no clue what is going to happen until the work is underway - as in the case of the home at 2420 Magnolia Blvd. W. In my opinion, the DPD should notify nearby residents affected by out-sized house plans. Such plans should be presented for approval and a conference held with the petitioner and residents before it is approved. The residents will be apprised of what's being planned. And, just maybe, the builder will take their fears and opinions to heart - if he has one.

View-stealing is important stuff in Seattle. Take, for example, the furor over the Alaska Way Viaduct robbing views or the controversy over the Seattle Monorail blocking downtown vistas. Are we not just as important to our elected officials on the Seattle City Council? Action is needed before the only people with views are the ones who rim the docks, shores and bluffs of Seattle.

In all my talks with Magnolia residents, the most poignant interview was with my neighbor who lives directly across the street from the 3-story tower on Magnolia Boulevard. He gave me a set of photos he had taken from his house before, during and after the towering structure was built. I asked if I might use them to illustrate my article, assuring him that I would return the photos afterward.

His reply to me was: "When I look at them again, it will be with tears in my eyes."

Dale Hogle lives in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]