The Alki 11 Row House Project: Density Done Wrong
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
In 2013, a developer announced plans to replace these three beach houses with an 11-unit row house project in the Alki Beach neighborhood. The project looked like something an architecture student would design, if given the assignment to cram as many housing units as possible onto 3 lots.
That student would get an A+. Every square inch allowable under the building code, from height, to width, to depth, to set-backs, was to be completely filled - nearly all of it impervious surfaces. To make this work, the property lines of the lots had to be reconfigured to get around certain provisions in the building code that would have prevented this kind of overbuilding on the site.
As neighbors learned more about the planned development, the more obvious it became that it was an over-reach, especially in terms of the environment. Neighbors responded to the City's call for comments and then asked officials when they would be allowed a hearing. They were told that projects like this didn't usually warrant a hearing, but if they could collect 50 signatures, the City would consider it.
Within two or three days, the neighbors collected 125 signatures. The City allowed a hearing. Between 50 and 60 people attended. Over a dozen spoke. Stacks of written comments were submitted.
It's important to note that my neighbors and I weren't protesting density. We were expressing our opposition to carelessness, lack of respect for the environment, and failure to address quality of life issues.
In the end, the developer was allowed to proceed without any changes or modifications to his plans.
At the time, I wrote several blog posts chronicling the process. I am reposting some of them here as an example of a community coming together and as an example of density done wrong.
The environmental issues created by this development will be with us for the rest of this century or until the buildings are torn down. Above all, this project highlights the City's failure to develop and enforce rational urban design guidelines that account for the needs of high density. Among them: access to good public transit (bus routes in the neighborhood were actually cut when this was built), water and sewer infrastructure, stormwater management, and adequate green space.
Here is a list of articles explaining the concerns we had about the Alki 11. There is also an article here describing an alternative to this project that would increase density significantly without compromising the environment. Thousands of people have read these posts over the years, and I like to think that this information has made some difference. I notice, for example, that newer townhouse projects run their downspouts into big concrete planters to capture rainwater. One has permeable pavement in its driveway and auto court. These are steps in the right direction.