Author Archives: alanneely

Alan, Tree Cutting Rock Star!

Trees In Seattle

Can you cut down a tree in Seattle?  Safe answer is always no.  But in actuality it depends.

We just went through this exercise on a tree covered lot in West Seattle.

On Developed Lots:
  • You cannot remove any “exceptional trees.”
  • You cannot cut down more than 3 non-exceptional trees 6 inches or greater in diameter each year.
  • You can remove trees determined to be hazardous through a hazard tree assessment by a certified tree risk professional.

First you need to determine if any of the trees are “Exceptional Trees” meaning: “a tree or group of trees that because of its unique historical, ecological, or aesthetic value constitutes an important community resource, and is determined as such by the Director according to standards and procedures promulgated by the Department of Planning and Development.”

I am happy we cleared that up.  Any questions on what an exceptional tree is?

First place I look is the “Heritage Tree List”   If your tree is on this list, you are pretty much done. Unless it presents a hazard.

The next place to look is Director’s Rule 16-2008.  This directors rule gives species of trees and DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) trees need to qualify for Exceptional Tree designation.

If your tree is an exceptional tree, it can still be cut down, if it is a hazard. To have a tree blessed as a hazard you will need a Tree Risk Assessment Form filled out by a “qualified” professional.  Which is defined in Tip 331 b.

Qualified Professional – A qualified professional shall have a minimum of three years of experience in tree evaluation and hold a current Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ), as established by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

After your tree has been deemed hazardous you get to fill out a “Hazard Tree Removal Application.”  You can file your hazard tree removal application the Public Resource Center (PRC), located on the 20th floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower at 700 Fifth Ave.

OR, call me.  I have a few phone numbers of excellent tree removal specialists.




75/80 Rule

Seattle’s 75/80 Rule for Lot Subdivision


As Platted Now

We just tried to purchase a 12,000 square foot lot zoned SF 5000, one house per 5000 square feet of land.  When it was originally platted in the 1930’s it was platted as three 4000 square foot lots.  But, somebody built a house straddling two of the lots in the 1960’s.  We had a meeting with DPD, took all the neighbors lot sizes to the meeting, and the decision was made since the house is straddling two lots, the two 4000 square foot lots have been combined.  So we are left with one 4000 square foot lot, and one 8000 square foot lot.  The question is, can we re-subdivide the lots back to the original 4000 square foot lots?  Answer, No.  See below.


Original Plat Map showing all 4000 square foot lots.

DPD has a 75/80 rule that will allow  you to short plat lots into parcels less then 5000 square feet.   (SMC 23.44.010 B.1.a)

1)      The new lot/lots created must be 75 percent of the general minimum lot area for the zone.

2)      At least 80 percent of the mean area of the lots on the same block face and within the same zone.

5000 square foot lot x 75% = 3750 square foot lot is the smallest allowed.
IF 80 percent the mean of the neighbors lots is 3750 or less.

Neighbors lots: 5000, 4400, 4000, 6000, 5300, 5500, 4000 = 34,200/ 7 lots = 5520 * 80% = 4,886 square feet is the smallest allowed on this block.

Steep Slope Exemption

Steep Slope exemption.

DPD has a handy “Tip”, they use to be called, “CAM”, client Assist Memo, I guess that sounds too official, now it is called a Tip.  In this case Tip 327a.

Seattle has designated certain areas as Environmentally Critical Areas, ECA,s.  They even created Seattle Municipal Codes to regulate their development.  SMC Chapter 25.09

Before and After Grading Profiles Picture

Before and after grading profiles are kept in the SDOT Vault

In-short to develop an area is designated by the city as a Geological Hazard you will need approval from the director. In the case of Steep Slopes you can get an exemption per SMC 25.09.180 A, and B2.  The easiest exemption to receive is 25.09.180 B.2.d.  Which to paraphrase states: if the steep slope was created by “right of way improvements” (when a road was built) you should get a steep slope exemption.  SDOT even keeps records of slopes before and after roads were constructed in their “Vault”.

What is meant by “right of way improvements”? Think of a gentle slope and a road is built across the slope, some dirt is piled on the high side of the road, and some dirt is pushed down hill.  Now both sides of the road have a steep slope, created by “right of way improvements”

Below is an excerpt of 25.09.180:

B. Impacts on steep slope areas

1. Development is prohibited on steep slope areas, unless the applicant demonstrates that the provisions of subsections 25.09.180.B.2 or 25.09.180.E apply.

2. Provided that all the provisions of this Chapter 25.09 and all applicable provisions of Title 23 and Chapters 22.800 through 22.808 are met, subsection 25.09.180.B.1 does not apply when the applicant demonstrates the development meets one of the following criteria. In determining whether these criteria are met, the Director may require a geotechnical report to verify site conditions and to evaluate the impacts of the development in the steep slope area and shall require such a report for criteria in subsections 25.09.180.B.2.c and 25.09.180.B.2.d. The geotechnical report is subject to the provisions for third party review in subsection 25.09.080.C.

a. Development is located where existing development is located, if the impact on the steep slope area is not altered or increased; or

b. Development is located on steep slope areas that have been created through previous legal grading activities, including rockeries or retaining walls resulting from rights of way improvements, if no adverse impact on the steep slope area will result; or

c. Development is located on steep slope areas that are less than 20 feet in vertical rise and that are 30 feet or more from other steep slope areas, if no adverse impact on the steep slope area will result; or

d. Development is located on steep slope areas where the Director determines that application of subsection 25.09.180.B.1 would prevent necessary stabilization of a landslide-prone area.


Links useful for research:

List of DPD Tips:

Entire Seattle Municipal Code can be found here:


Sub Contractors: Adversaries or Allies

We have post titled: “To Pre-Pay or not to Pre-Pay”.  In that post we speak of prepaying subcontractors,  basically don’t.

But on the other hand… Treat your subcontractors with respect.

MOST subcontractors are just people out there trying to make an honest living.  In every project mistakes are made.  If you decide to build a house or townhouse and act as a general contractor, you will make mistakes.  Get over it.

Most subcontractors will do their best to prevent you from making mistakes.   But, like you, they will make mistakes too.  Plumbers/electricians will drill through beams in the wrong places or cut out floor joists to make room for toilet drains.  Drywallers will use long screws and put a screw through a wire or water pipe.  We could go on for pages.

The question becomes how to handle it.  Most of the time they will fix their errors then tell you about it.  If it is out of their expertise they will just tell you about it.  They may try to hide their mistake, which upsets me.

When you see a mistake, politely ask about it.  If you have no idea how to fix it, ask them for ideas.  “How should we fix this?”  Almost always they’ll fix it.

HUGE mistakes are generally not too bad.  One of my neighbors townhouse projects was framed with the top floor three inches too tall. The city inspector caught it.  Vaulted ceilings were framed in, beautiful exposed 6″x14″ beams 15′ in the air.  The roof sheathing installed.  On the plans were two different measurements.  The home owner/contractor saw it, but never asked.  The framer saw it and never asked.  P1010470The architect did not know his mistake existed. To a layman it may seem a disaster.  But the three met on site, had a discussion, called in the structural engineer, who said support the roof, cut the studs shorter, lower the roof back down. It was three guys two days.  $40 an hour x 3 guys x 16 hours = $1900 in labor and few hundred in materials, mainly new top plates.  Now the problem came of who pays?

The homeowner offered to pay.  The framer was too embarrassed to let him.  So the homeowner had the framer do other work, (build decks, and side the house)

If the homeowner started the conversation by shouting, screaming, pointing fingers and declaring war – the process would become a long drawn out mess. As it was it was less then a week start to finish.

I guess what I am saying is, it is not a battle of who is right, or who is in control.  It is a battle of trying to build a house and get it done, quickly.  The less drama, the better.  There is enough drama with the Weather, Building Department, OSHA, L&I, Utility Companies all things you can’t control.  And must do what they ask. (more or less)


Pre-Pay, or Not to Pre-Pay

I talk to, and advise home owners or builders just starting out.  Often times they call to ask how to get money back from a subcontractor.

I always ask, “Why do you need money BACK from the subcontractor?”


Then the tale starts of prepaying for materials or worse, prepaying for labor.  Don’t prepay money to a contractor or subcontractor for anything.  Ever. 

I’ve done it.  Prepaid for stone.  It was to show up the next day. Never arrived.  After two weeks of leaving screaming voice mails into the poor guys phone, he called back to say he was in the hospital, crashed his motorbike leaving my house.  Ok, now I feel like a jerk.

Another time prepaid the contractor for 1/2 the kitchen cabinet costs.  He arrived about a week later with new rims and tires for his truck.  I called the cabinet company, the cabinets were not ordered.  Don’t pre-pay!!!  That is it, NEVER again.

Reputable sub-contractors do not need funds upfront.  If your pushing a subcontractor into jobs larger then he normally works on it can be a stretch for them to carry costs, so be reasonable, work with them.  Offer to pay for the materials. WHEN THEY ARRIVE ON THE JOBSITE.

Sometimes you need to special order items, kitchen cabinets are a typical item.  The sub contractor, kitchen designer or contractor will ask for an advance for a deposit.  Don’t give the subcontractor the money.  Call the supplier/manufacturer directly and pay that way. Sometimes the contractor will be strongly opposed to this.  Probably because they drastically inflated the cost of the cabinets or materials to you.  Just tell them, “Sorry this didn’t work out.  I was really looking forward to having you do my kitchen.”  If they want the job they’ll work with you.  If they are flat out lying and no deposit is required, then they’ll disappear, which is a good thing.

Another great topic is how do you pick a contractor… In a few words the handshake test.  If I don’t think a person will honor a handshake deal, I don’t do business with them.  (But ALWAYS back it up with a contract!)


Current Projects 2014-2015

Our current project is an 8 unit Rowhouse Development near Green Lake. This project is a Four Star Star BuiltGreen™ Development.  We will break ground around January 1st, 2015 and looking to rent out the executive housing by August of 2015.
  • Rooftop Live Decks, for growing vegetables, with Natural Gas Barbecue Hook ups
  • 18 SEER Ductless Minisplit Heating and Air conditioning System
  • Tankless Water Heaters
  • Koa and Caramelized Stranded Bamboo Hardwood Floors
  • Travertine Marble Floors in the Master Bath
  • Hide-a-Hose™ Central Vacuum Systems
  • Granite and Quartz Counter Tops
  • Stainless Steel Appliances
  • Samsung Front Load Washer and Dryer in each unit
  • Garage for each unit

If you are a contractor looking to bid on this project, please contact us.


SF5000 and Seattle’s Single-Family Zoning

For the city of Seattle’s building departments, DPD, own documentation on Single Family Zoning, here is a handy PDF File created by DPD. singlefamilydpds021570

Cliff notes for Seattle’s Single Family Zoning:

Single Family Zoning

A lot Zoned SF5000, simply means Single Family – one house per 5000 Square feet of land.  Likewise SF7200 would be one house per 7200 square feet of land or lot size.  Remember there are acceptations to every rule.

For SF5000, SF 7200, and SF9600 the following apply

Setbacks (in most cases):

  • 5′ yard setback is required
  • 20′ front setback
  • 20% of lot depth for the rear setback

Building height is limited to 25′. BUT, narrow lots height can increase to 30′.  Sloped lots you are allowed sloping lot derivatives and can add an additional 5′.  Steep pitched (Greater then 4:12 pitch) another 5′ is granted.


  • One space per dwelling unit, unless lot is less then 3000 sqft, then zero parking.
  • Parking must be within the structure OR the rear or side yard.  Special circumstances will allow for parking in the front yard.
  • Parking entrance preferred from the alley.
  • If access to parking is off then street then one 10′ curb cut is allowed per 80′ of street

In some neighborhoods, RSL, Residential Small Lot, is allowed:

  • RSL – One house on a 2500 square foot lot
  • RSL/T Tandum houses – two on a 5000 square foot lot
  • RSL/C Cottage Housing – four houses on a 6400 square foot lot.

If you have any questions regarding zoning for your lot, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Seattles MultiFamily Zoning – Cliff Notes

Multi-Family Zoning

Here is a handy guide published by DPD with the “Cliff Notes” if you will for Multi-Family zoning in Seattle   multifamilyzoningdpds021571

Seattle changed the Multifamily Zoning regulation in early 2011. DPD added calculations based on Floor Area Ratio (FAR).  These ratios have been used for Commercial Zoning for years.  DPD also changed the building code encouraging environmentally friendly construction.

Bulk and Scale of a building

Or, what is FAR?

To determine bulk and scale of new construction in multifamily zones Seattle currently uses FAR (Floor Area Ratio). For instance to get an educated guess on how large of a building that can be built on a L1 zoned lot that is 5000 square feet apply the appropriate FAR, which is a different value for Cottage Houses, Row Houses, Town Houses, or Apartments.  The FAR varies between 0.9 to 1.2, or 4500 square feet of structure up to 6000 square feet – depending of the type of building and how “Green” or environmentally friendly it will be, how close to an Urban Village and Light Rail.  But in general here are the FAR ranges:

  • LR1 FAR varies between 1.0 to 1.3
  • LR2 FAR varies between 0.9 to 1.2
  • LR3 FAR varies between 1.1 all the way up to 2.0

Number of Units

To determine the number of units DPD still has a unit calculation based on lot square footage such as: 1 unit per 1600 sf of lot or even the ever prized “No Limit” to number of units.

  • LR1 varies between 1 unit per 2200 sqft feet of lot for townhouses to no limit for rowhouses
  • LR2 varies between 1/1600 for Cottage Houses to No Limit for rowhouses, townhouses and apartments, depending on the green building performance and other factors.
  • LR3 varies between 1/1600 square feet to No Limit.

Luckily all the information is on their “Cliff Note” pdf file: multifamilyzoningdpds021571

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