Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An alternative to Megahouses

Short plats reconsidered

Readers may recall the dustup we covered earlier this year over the permit requests of two Madison Park property owners who each wanted to short plat (subdivide) their properties. The two applications were coincidentally for different properties located on the very same block. Both of the lots already had two existing longtime rental units on them, and this fact effectively grandfathered the real estate as suitable for short platting under City ordinance, assuming certain conditions were met. The City ultimately approved both applications, in spite of the written objections of many neighbors and the opposition of the Madison Park Community Council (whose letter of protest arrived at City Hall a bit after the fact, as it happened).

As a result of the City’s approval, each of the properties can legally be developed and sold as two separate single-family residences. The owner of one of the properties moved swiftly to do just that. What was originally one lot at 2330 42nd Avenue E. is now two legal lots, 2328 and 2330. This is what the property looked like before the short plat was approved:

The two small cottages that sat on the lot were each in pretty bad condition, according to realtor Theresa Truex of Madison House, Ltd. “They were crummy little see-through cabins, not even remodel-able,” she says. “In fact, the inspector’s comment was ‘You’ve got to tear these down.’” The owner, who originally bought the real estate for its development potential, had initially been planning to build one big house on the site and leave it at that, says Truex. However, the subsequent downturn in the local real estate market significantly changed the economics for speculative Megahouses in Madison Park. The developer rethought his options, and subdividing became an attractive alternative. Developing two smaller, less expensive houses suddenly seemed to offer more market potential—and less risk.

The picture at the top shows what the site looks like today from the street side, and this photo shows how the second house is being positioned:

The new house on the street-side of the property was sold before it was completed, and the owners moved into it in late December. The buyers are a couple that did not want a big property to take care of but wanted to be able to live close to the amenities of Madison Park’s Village, says Truex. The house has about 1,100 square feet of living space and sold for $539,000. The second house, currently under construction on the back of the property, will be completed in early this year. It’s a bit bigger, at around 1,300 square feet; and it will be priced at $769,000. According to Truex, the developer was correct in thinking that some buyers who want new construction prefer “cozy” to Megahouse. It’s unusual to find a small new house anywhere in Madison Park, she notes, and the very quick sale of the first house on this property seems to prove there is an audience for this kind of construction.
“This development, in my opinion, creates a bright spot in the neighborhood,” says Truex. “Where there had been two run-down houses there are now going to be two attractive, nicely built homes rather than one gigantic house.” She says that neighbors have been very supportive of the project, with many of them coming by to give positive feedback to the construction workers. We checked with two of the opponents of the original short-plat permits on that block, and each said they liked what’s being done with this particular property. The small homes have been “designed and executed in a thoughtful manner,“ one of them told us. The other one-time opponent admitted that the new development fits the character of the neighborhood better than the dilapidated structures that originally sat on the property.

So it appears that this two-cottage development, assuming that the second home is successfully marketed and sold, will ultimately be chalked up as a win/win/win: for the developer, the homebuyers, and the neighborhood. Even so, don’t expect the building of cottages to become a trend in Madison Park. There are not that many properties here that can be legally subdivided, so that old economic rule known as “build to the highest and best use” will continue to influence developers. What that almost certainly means for Madison Park is more Megahouses once speculative building makes its comeback.


  1. ....and there is some concern about the real estate market in Madison Park? 1100sf with no land for $ 539,000?

    At least one gigantic house generally has garage-space enough to accomodate its cars. I am assuming these two are parking on the street(?), adding probably as many as four cars to an already ridiculous parking situation in this immediate area.

  2. This makes perfect sense to me - as American standards of living continue their second decade of decline, our housing stock will need to adjust.

    1300 sq ft houses in locations within walking distance of amenities: IN.

    4000 sq ft McMansions requiring 5 gallons of increasingly expensive gasoline to buy drive to buy an increasingly expensive gallon of milk: OUT.

  3. The two homes built on this lot were grandfathered in, prior to codes coming into effect in 1956, and both of these houses were originally houseboats, converted to on-land homes. As long as they were built on the old foundations and/or footprints, they are automatically OKd. So folks, stop this pathetic belly-aching. Only odd situations such as these (and the two houses next door, and the two around the corner, and perhaps just a few more can be built in such a fashion. If you take a look in the Old Town district of Tacoma, you will see the same thing. Perhaps the parking problem should be taken up with the City of Seattle, and/or the Edgewater Apartments.

    Also, perhaps there should be a regulation against parking God-awful old blue pickup trucks, for days on end, and using them as a repository for clippings. Sounds like White Center, doesn't it????? And, the poster who alludes to the humungous McMansions: how many families need a 10,000 square foot home, which guzzles natural gas and electricity - sounds like we have a bunch of narcissists among us???? In Madison Park - how downright shocking!!!! Actually, not at all shocking, considering the overall general area is filled with self-worshipers (probably largely folks who inherited their money, and and therefore have no concept as to the value of money.

  4. The people who bought the first house overpaid for it, plain and simple. In terms of the second house, I have no idea who would pay $750k+ for a 1300sq ft. I'm all for efficiency and living in a great location, but there is no way I would pay that much for what is effectively a tiny townhouse. That is almost $600 per sq ft to have less than 10-15' between you're house and your neighbors place.

  5. Hello: to the most previous commentor - take a look around. On the same block are plenty of nearly $2,000,000 homes within as little as 0' from the property line, legally. Perhaps the commenter should look for homes in Carnation, or Fall City. Guess what: at this moment, you wouldn't even need to install a swimming pool. GET REAL!!!!!!!!

  6. Funny you mention that. Show me on Zillow a house on that block that is $2M. The most expensive is $1.24M and that is a 3000+ sq ft house with pretty extensive upgrades. There are 3-4 houses for sale within 5 blocks that are all approaching 4000 sq feet and aren't even priced at $2M. This isn't 2006-08. There is a 4000sq ft house on 41st that has been on the market for almost 2 years at $1.6M and it is BEAUTIFUL construction with very high end fixtures. That is going for $449 per sq ft.


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