Micro-living becomes big issue in Seattle

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SEATTLE -- Developers in Seattle have been leading the U.S. in building hundreds of tiny apartments -- some about the size of a generous parking spot -- to cater to solo young workers, retirees who prefer city living, students and others looking to downsize.

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.

They're pushing for a building moratorium and more regulation of such projects.

"They're maxing out what they can do under the land use code," said Patrick Tompkins, who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where some projects have replaced single-family homes, sometimes without much warning.

The city code allowing such tiny units has been around for at least three decades, but micro-apartments have taken off in the last three years, said Bryan Stevens with Seattle's planning department.

"It's really coincided with the recession. Apparently there's pent-up demand," he said.

Since 2006, the city has permitted 48 micro-housing projects. If all are built, they would yield living quarters for about 2,300 people. The micro-apartments range from 150 to 200 square feet for single occupants, with rents running about $500 to $700 a month. They often include utilities, furnishings and Internet.

Seattle code allows up to eight unrelated people to live in one dwelling unit, as long as they have their own individual living quarters and a shared kitchen. Projects meeting this threshold aren't required to undergo design review, which upsets opponents like Carl Winter.

Mr. Winter, who supports a moratorium, isn't opposed to the projects but believes they can be built with more neighborhood input. The city is providing an incentive for builders by not enforcing the normal regulations, he said.

Their supporters, including Mayor Mike McGinn, say the micro-apartments provide transit-friendly, affordable options for people who don't need a lot of space and want access to urban amenities.


First Published May 4, 2013 4:00 AM


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