The Sustainable Alternative to the Alki 11
This is a post I wrote back in 2013.
At the time, my neighbors and I were opposing a row house project that would completely engulf 3 lots, leaving almost no open space. Among other objections, we had serious questions about the environmental impact of this development. We did the math, and calculated that for every inch of rainfall, 5,457 gallons of rainwater would pour into the sewer system. Before development, all of that rainwater was absorbed on site. Now it would be combined with sewage and sent to a treatment plant.
The problem with doing this is that when we have heavy rains, that extra volume of water overwhelms the sewage treatment systems. To prevent flooding and sewage backups into homes, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) release combined stormwater and raw sewage into Puget Sound. This is a serious source of pollution and a threat to fish, wildlife and people.
I wrote this when I had become tired of pointing out the problems with this project. Our protests fell on deaf ears anyway. It was clear that the city was going to give the project the green light. Instead, I found it more soothing to imagine what I wanted to see. The more I thought, and the more detailed I got, the better I felt. I was turning toward the light.
July 13, 2013
"It is better to light a single candle, than to curse the darkness." -- Eleanor Roosevelt
I've pointed out numerous problems with the proposed Alki 11 rowhouse development. Question is: How could I do it better?
I've been thinking about that since the DPD's land use sign first went up in front of the property. And I've come up with a simple plan that takes into consideration what neighbors have said they want to see. It also offers a reasonable increase in population density without compromising the environment. We don't have to trade one for the other. I've highlighted in green type the features of this design that would be an improvement environmentally over the existing rental houses, showing that development can improve, not degrade the environment.
Here are the main features:
Three 3-story duplexes (6 units in all) would replace the three rental houses there now. The footprint of each housing unit would be 20' x 30'.
These units would provide housing for 18-20 people, a 3.5- 4x increase in population density.
The duplexes would be set back 20' from the street on both the front and the back.
A total of 12 off street parking spaces would be provided under Units 3, 4, 5 and 6 (see illustration). This would mean that no cars associated with this property would park on the street. This would be an improvement over what we've had in the past, with at least 3 cars associated with the rental properties parked on street.
These would be easy-to-negotiate, green, carport style parking spaces, each approximately 9' wide and 20' long. The parking area would be "green" because the stalls would angle downward slightly toward green spaces, or bioswales, that would capture and filter stormwater runoff that comes across the parking area.
All downspouts from the buildings would empty into these bioswales, thus managing all stormwater runoff onsite and keeping stormwater out of the sanitary sewer on Wickstrom Place.
This project would have 3,600 s.f. of roof area. One inch of rainfall would result in 2,244 gallons of stormwater coming off those roofs. If the bioswales in this design are at least 6 inches deep, they will have a holding capacity of 4,937 gallons - enough to hold more than two inches of stormwater.
There would be a significant increase in the amount of plant material on this site. The bioswales would be mostly shaded by the buildings, thus providing good places for shade loving native plants, including vine maple, red and yellow twig dogwood, ferns, sedges and so much more. Residents would also have garden space to enjoy in front of each unit.
This increase in plant material would provide more habitat for wildlife than what currently exists. Our neighborhood has traditionally been home to eagles, great blue herons, osprey, raccoons, opposums, assorted songbirds and river otters. In the past couple of years, as more development has taken place, we've seen a reduction in the wildlife population. One of our two herons has abandoned its nest, the eagle is gone and it has been a while since we've seen the river otters.
4' wide sidewalks along each bioswale would provide easy access for residents taking out recycling/trash, getting in and out of storage units and for gardeners tending to the planting area.
This parking arrangement combined with the building set backs would make it easier for residents to see pedestrians and other cars as they exit the parking area, making this much safer than the rowhouse alternative.
Residents who have only one car will find that they can easily find a neighbor nearby happy to rent their extra space because many rentals do not have off street parking.
Permeable pavement would be used for the driveway and parking area thus reducing the percentage of impervious surface on this site to 25%, as compared with the ~45-50% currently and a huge improvement over the 73% that will happen with the Alki 11 proposal.
A total of 6 locked storage spaces, located under Units 1 and 2, would be created. Each would measure approximately 9' x 18'.
The layout of this plan would make it easy to add bicycle parking.
The buildings would probably top out at about 35', below the 39' limit allowed. This could allow room for the installation of solar panels on the rooftops.
The drawing below shows how access to the parking area would work coming in from the 55th Ave side. The same configuration would be used on the Wickstrom end.
The drawing below shows a cross section of one of the bioswales and one side of the parking area.
The beautiful rendering below, drawn by my talented neighbor, Lynn Shimamoto, shows how this plan for higher density, sustainable housing might look. I don't expect for a moment that the developer of the proposed Alki 11 rowhouses will adopt this plan or even take the time to read this post. But I have very much enjoyed thinking about how this could work, taking into the consideration the neighborhood, the need to make better use of the land we have, and the need to protect the environment that we so appreciate and enjoy at Alki Beach.