Article: Patrick Carter, “Micro-Housing in Seattle: A Case for Community Participation in Novel Land Use Decisions,” 39 Seattle U. L. Rev. 1031 (2016).
Rather than relying solely on the formal interpretations of government regulators invited by the structure of local zoning ordinances, the City of Seattle should adopt a process that invites community-based mediation and problem-solving when a significant shift in housing density is contemplated in a developer’s proposal. Greater resident participation in development projects allows the City of Seattle to better support those residents in their reliance interests arising from zoning ordinances while simultaneously furthering the policies that underpin urban zoning. This is especially true when such development projects raise the possibility of substantial impacts on the character of a community or its commons. Moreover, such alternative dispute resolution processes may also help to mitigate potential detriments to the community commons or provide a mechanism for an equitable exchange of capital between developers and residents to offset negative impacts to property values. This Note specifically examines the development of urban residential property into micro-housing apartment buildings in the City of Seattle, the possible consequences, and a potential community-based solution for disputes regarding such development. Part I introduces the issue using anecdotal and quantitative information, including snapshots of some of the conflicts between urban homeowners and developers and the sometimes questionable application of local zoning ordinances to favor development in the context of micro-housing in Seattle. Included in this discussion is a summary of the “smart growth” principles that supported the development and the countervailing interests of incumbent residents. Part II examines Washington State’s Growth Management Act and suggests how it may have impacted the quick acceptance of micro-housing development in Seattle. Part III explores incumbent residents’ reliance interests in zoning ordinances for protection against externalities and maintenance of consumer surplus in their homes. Part IV reviews the potential harms suffered by residents adjacent to dramatic residential development and the legal remedies available at law. Finally, I offer a community-based solution to allow for the redress of such harms.