Amid Small Lot Furor, ‘Alley Skyscraper’ Builder Goes Back on Promise to Move in

“I could not stomach it,” says builder Steele Granger. That’s what he says when asked why he never moved into the skinny, three-story house he built on a tiny lot in Tangletown. It’s a house that ignited a storm of protest from neighbors irate over zoning loopholes that allowed him—and a number of other builders—to erect towering structures in back- and side yards throughout the city.

The relevant zoning codes are now undergoing revision. Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development issued recommendations over the summer, and received so much comment that it is revising them. In the mean time, Seattle City Council is expected this afternoon to extend for six months a moratorium that prevents building on extremely undersized lots.

We first wrote about the small lot controversy back in July of last year. At the time, the issue had not yet gotten publicity, and various neighborhoods concerned about small lot building were just starting to find out about each other. Since then, many neighborhood groups have joined together to start a website and lobby the city. A few of the groups, including one opposed to the Granger project, have also sued over the matter.

While the debate is often carried out in terms of technical zoning verbiage, the passions are visceral and deep. Neighbors say their cherished personal space and privacy is under attack by what they see as “alley skyscrapers” built by profiteering developers. Builders insist they’re contributing to the civic good by creating affordable, environmentally-friendly homes that foster urban density and prevent sprawl.

Which brings us back to Granger. When we talked to the builder last July, he seemed in genuine anguish over the furor he had created. Then 28, and living with his parents, he said he planned to move into his skinny Tangletown home himself, along with his girlfriend. “This is honestly all I can afford,” he said, explaining that the undersized lot, of just over 1,000 square feet, kept costs down. “I’m a good person,” he implored.

Neighbors like Peter Krause didn’t believe him, suspecting that Granger’s talk of moving in was a ploy to quiet the controversy. And in fact, Granger never did move in. A little over a month ago, he sold the house to another couple.

Reached by phone today, Granger says he wasn’t lying last year. “I was going to move into that house. I did lots of upgrades.” But then, he says, his gut-level response kicked in. “I’ve never felt so unwelcome in a neighborhood.”

In any case, the sale illustrated one point about these small lot homes. They often aren’t so affordable. Granger’s construction, despite almost no yard and a living space of just 1,400 square feet, sold for $538,000.

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