Seattle Could Prohibit Some Small-Lot Development

City Council member Richard Conlin has taken the unusual step of proposing interim legislation—that is, legislation that can sidestep the normal legislative process, including environmental review—to close a loophole in the city’s land use law that has allowed one developer to finance several unpopular developments that neighbors have decried as megahouses.

The loophole that Dan Duffus, the founder of Soleil Development, discovered allows developers to build single-family housing on “substandard” lots—lots that are smaller than the minimum requirement for single-family development. Basically, the city requires a minimum lot size for single-family development, with the goal of preserving open space in Seattle’s historic single-family neighborhoods.

The loophole exempts certain lots created before 1957, when the city adopted its first zoning laws. from those rules. So, for example, if a parcel of land is now considered part of a larger lot, but was a separate lot before the city adopted its land-use code 55 years ago, a savvy developer could effectively subdivide the lot and build a new house on a piece of land smaller than city law currently allows—lots as small as 2,500, or 1,500 square feet, as opposed to the usual minimum of 5,000. And that’s what Dan Duffus did.