Almost What We Don’t Build Anymore

This is the Opal Condominiums at 16th and Pike, just a few blocks south of the older two-story apartment in discussed in this post. It has some obvious similarities. Why, in this case, did the developer not go with a townhouse 4-pack?

The Opal is three stories, with six units and underground parking (the parking entrance is off Pike at the south end of the building). My guess at why this project was feasible: the units are high-end and there is a small number of them. The selling price of the units was apparently high enough to offset the cost of building the underground structured parking. The slope of the site also helped. And with only six units, the number of stalls, and thus the parking area could be kept relatively small.

The Opal replaced a funky, 2-story early 20th-century house that was split up into four apartments. Rent was absurdly cheap — I know cause I lived there for a year in 1995. It had a shack of a garage off the alley that was mostly full of the owner’s junk. The residents parked on the street.

As this example demonstrates, the City’s parking requirement all but makes it inevitable that on small lots, developers will build low numbers of expensive units rather than higher numbers of affordable units. The proposed development at 1126 34th Ave in Madrona is another example. If expensive urban land is used to store cars, someone has to pay.

Requiring parking is in direct conflict with at least three of the City’s key sustainability goals: to provide affordable housing, to increase density, and to reduce car-dependence. Seattle residents who howl about parking whenever new development is proposed might do well to think a little more deeply about the big picture. If and when their constituents become more rational about parking, the City leaders will follow.