Wednesday, November 29, 2017

City Council, November 27th - Apartments on Silverton Road

The blog took a holiday over the long weekend, and we skipped the customary preview of transportation and related matters at Council on Monday. There wasn't much of significance to note, so it didn't seem very important.

One matter might be a little interesting to return to in passing, however.

Standard three-story walk-ups, set on a parking lot
The Lansing Neighborhood Association appealed the Planning Commission's approval of a 96 unit apartment complex on Silverton Road.

Maybe when you dig into it there are some real, substantive problems, but on the surface it looks like a pretty classic instance of NIMBY argument. The neighborhood association said "It would be preferable that this complex not be built at all." There's no grappling with our housing problem, the citywide needs for multi-family housing and for affordable housing.

Council was not persuaded by the criticism generally, and made only a minor adjustment by amendment. From the City's summary:
Council voted to amend the Planning Commission Design Review/Conditional Use/Site Plan Review/ Driveway Approach Permit. This requires the developer to build new public sidewalks near the apartments.
In the testimony from the neighborhood against the project, "livability" operates in multiple ways, not internally consistent: It is simultaneously as housing spaced far enough apart for a certain kind of privacy that requires car travel and convenient car storage, and housing deployed in ways to make it easy to walk. It is also remarkable that housing one block from an Elementary School is judged "unsafe." A block walk is great proximity to a school! But kids might get in the way of cars and their drivers. The text and its argument is not internally coherent, and the disposition of cars is an important ingredient in the stew. It shows how our notions about housing are totally contaminated now by autoism.
The proposed use of this property is not compatible with surrounding property. It is located in a single family residential area on the south and part of the west sides. Most of the homes in the area are single story residences. The proposed three-story buildings would significantly reduce the privacy for those homes on the south side of the property. Building an eight foot wall would not really help, as the second and third stories would be higher than the wall. This definitely impacts the livability of the established neighborhoods.

There will be 151 parking spaces in this apartment complex. That is seven more than the required amount for 96 units. In the general area, it is not uncommon for families to have upwards of five vehicles per household. In addition, it can be expected that some of these apartments will be shared by several unrelated people (roommates), each of which will have a vehicle. There is no on-street parking on Silverton Road or Lansing Avenue. Where will these people park their extra cars? They will find streets in the area that have available on-street parking and utilize those spaces. The residents that live on those streets will no longer have access to parking in front of their houses. This also impacts the livability of the established neighborhoods in the area....

Development of the complex has the potential to create a very unsafe environment for many residents in the area. This complex is located approximately 1 block from an elementary school and a middle school is located down the street. There are many people who drive their children to these schools, but there are also many walkers.
The argument against shared housing and "extra cars" also shows ways that class and income are deployed for what looks like a clear exclusionary purpose.

It is not difficult to read all this and to be suspicious - or worried - that there is actually a robust exclusionary subtext that cannot be named outright.

The materials in the Staff Report also contain a clear statement of the ways that parking requirements add to the cost of housing. Deleting a building to add parking stalls made the project not pencil out:
[T]he applicant prepared a sketch indicating that the deletion of 12 units in Building H, the building closest to the adjacent residences, would result in a net increase of 14 parking spaces.... The applicant stated that an 84-unit project would no longer meet lending standards due to the cost of the land, the fixed-cost site improvements, and the cost of construction of the project. The project would not be feasible with the reduction in units. [italics added]
The incoherence is hardly limited to this particular project. A more general case of it is discussed in the Strategic Plan, and an update to our Comprehensive Plan will have to contend with it. We ask the City to preserve scarcity and upward pressure on home value and home equity, to help build household wealth; and we ask the City to create more affordable housing and to make housing less costly.

Strategic Plan:
Incoherence on Growth and Development
Anyway, three-story walk-up apartment blocks set on a parking lot on a larger arterial stroad are nothing to celebrate too wildly. They are not "wonderful" or "innovative" or anything more than cookie-cutter. But they do add to the stock of housing, and no matter where we build it, housing gets filtered and helps to relieve the upward pressure on housing costs.

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