Magnolia housing projects

High-density housing plan in Magnolia stirs protest

By Brandon Sprague
Seattle Times business reporter

ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES Four attached metal folding chairs are the only evidence that a school once existed on the lot of the former Briarcliff Elementary School in Magnolia. A proposal for "cluster housing" is upsetting neighbors.
An Eastside developer is hoping to build 39 homes on about 4-½ acres atop Magnolia, with small yards, porches close to the sidewalk, garages in back and streets that would become a "safe, shared space" — in short, a place that would bring neighbors together.

In that last regard, at least, developer John Cochenour has succeeded, though not in the way he had hoped.

Shocked, frustrated and angry, neighbors living around the open tract that once housed the old Briarcliff Elementary school, parking lot and playground have banded together to oppose Cochenour's plan, saying it amounts to sticking row houses or a dense subdivision in the middle of an older Seattle neighborhood of single-family homes.

Cochenour's company, Lexington Fine Homes, which typically builds luxury homes on the Eastside, has applied for a decades-old but little known and rarely used conditional-use permit that city planners have dubbed the "Chip Dip."

Created as part of an ordinance passed in 1986, the Cluster Housing Planned Development Permit (CHPDP) allows developers to build homes on smaller than normal lots when certain conditions are met. In this case, that means lots could be as small as 3, 600 square feet instead of the usual 5, 000 square feet.

Briarcliff Revival Development
Number of homes: 39

Size of development: 4.5 acres

Conventional zoning: Single-family houses on 5, 000-square-foot lots

Cluster-housing conditional-use permit: Allows 3, 600-square-foot lots

Developer Lexington Fine Homes

Projected construction date: Spring 2005.

For more information

Sources: Lexington Fine Homes, Seattle Department of Planning and Development

"Nobody is against a development there, " says Magnolia resident Nick Marchi, a lawyer who, with his wife and fellow lawyer Michele Marchi, has led the opposition. "We're just against the amount of houses they are trying to ram down our throats."

Officials at Seattle's Department of Planning and Development say they are not sure how many cluster-housing permits have been issued by the city, but they could remember only two since the ordinance was passed.

The reason: Vacant plots large enough to house such developments are rare in Seattle.

"It's definitely the exception and not the rule, " says Diane Sugimura, the planning department's director.

The city's first cluster-housing project, Stendall Place, was built in the mid-1980s at Wallingford Avenue North and North 103rd Street. The other, Croft Place, with 28 town houses, is to be built this summer in Delridge.


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Q&A

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What is magnolia projects?

The Magnolia Project is a special Healthy Start initiative to improve the health & well-being of women during their childbearing years (ages 15 - 44). Magnolia Projects was a housing development in New Orleans. !