Category Archives: Suburban cities

Housing Summit 2014: how to get more housing on less land

The following post is by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Housing affordability and the impact of the Puget Sound region’s dwindling supply of buildable land was the focus of the recent Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ (MBA) 2014 Housing Summit in Bellevue.

“Accommodating Housing Needs with Less Land” included presentations by top national and regional housing experts and a panel discussion with state legislators and homebuilders.

Are we running out of room to build new houses here?

“There is an explicit link between the availability of buildable lands and housing affordability,” said MBA Executive Director Shannon Affholter. “The Summit served as a starting point in a frank discussion about what’s working, and what’s not, in meeting the Growth Management Act housing targets and the region’s growing needs.”

A presentation by Todd Britsch, regional director for Metrostudy Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis to the housing industry, underscored the immediate challenge to the buildable land supply: based on projected population growth, King County has 3.87 years of supply remaining of assumed total inventory, and only 3.29 years of supply in Snohomish County.

“We’re seeing lot prices absolutely skyrocket, and the numbers are staggering. It’s a long-term issue and we have to address it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And if we don’t, the Puget Sound region is going to become the next San Francisco Bay Area, where only the ‘elite of the elite’ can afford to own a home.”

Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, land use attorney at Cairncross & Hempelmann, noted that GMA-mandated Buildable Lands Reports generated periodically by counties don’t provide a full and accurate picture of future trends.

“The reports compare housing targets to the actual growth. The reports must determine whether sufficient land exists to accommodate population projections.  Unfortunately, the reports are not required to include a feasibility component or an assessment of affordability.”

A lively panel discussion focusing on legislative solutions included Senator Joe Fain (R) 47th District, from Auburn; Senator Marko Liias (D) 21st District, from Mukilteo; Representative Jay Rodne (R), 5th District, from Snoqualmie; and Representative Larry Springer (D), 45th District, from Kirkland. Other participants included homebuilders Mark Kaushagen of the Pulte Group and Lynn Eshleman from Pacific Ridge Homes.

Individual panel members cited specific action items that could advance the goals of housing availability and affordability, including:

  • couple housing demand with affordability in future planning
  • passage of a transportation package and infrastructure financing bill
  • comprehensive review of the Urban Growth Boundary and its possible expansion
  • require cities in King and Snohomish counties to do a planned action on remaining undeveloped lands to assess infill housing opportunities
  • eliminate redundancies in the review and permitting process, and establish a meaningful time limit in which permits can be outstanding.


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Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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Tours galore including net zero energy zHome, Brightwater, Seattle Design Festival

September and October are always busy months in Seattle’s green/sustainable scene. This fall, however, there seems to be a wealth of tours of really interesting projects.

  • zHome

One of the most interesting opportunities is the chance to tour Issaquah’s zHome project. Issaquah says zHome is the country’s first net zero energy multifamily

An aerial view of the zHome project. Image courtesy zHome.
complex. The 10-unit townhouse development in the Issaquah Highlands has truly been a labor of love. Originally set to be complete in the fall of 2009, the project has just opened after surviving three contractors and a devastating recession. Brad Liljequist, Issaquah’s dedicated project manager, said each unit has been designed to use 5,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year compared to the 14,000 hours of energy a townhouse normally uses. The team began with tight design, and will produce needed energy from a 65,000-kilowatt-per-year solar array.

Free tours will be held on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October 30.


  • Home Builders Association of Kitsap County Headquarters

Across the water in Bremerton, the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County has improved their headquarters in an effort to create a live demonstration of energy efficiency upgrades for builders and homeowners. The project used six strategies including better air sealing, adding more insulation and adding new efficient lighting to upgrade the space. Tours feature first-hand techniques on saving energy and lowering utility bills. Tours will be held hourly on Sunday, October 23 and Saturday, October 29 from 12 to 4 p.m. Tours are at 5251 Auto Center Way, Bremerton.

  • Seattle Design Festival

If you can’t wait and want to see something now, I suggest you head on over to the Seattle Design Festival’s website here. Though some tours have passed, a

number are still to come including a tour Friday on art and architecture called “Let the Streets be Your Museum!” and tours Saturday and Sunday of Ravenna bungalows.

However the one not to miss is Saturday’s grand opening of the Brightwater Center. It looks like the official Seattle Design Festival tour is sold out! However, the grand opening celebration is free, open to the public and features plant tours so you can still see the space if you’re interested. More info here.

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With Finn Hill Junior High, team learned from past mistakes

In this week’s DJC, I’ve got a story on the replacement of a school in Kirkland called Finn Hill Junior High that has a number of interesting elements to it.

First, the project will have a 400-kilowatt photovoltaic system that will produce almost half of the school’s energy. Second, the school is “net zero energy ready,” meaning it could produce all its own

Image courtesy Mahlum. Finn Hill from the air.
energy if the Lake Washington School District chooses to blanket the rest of its roof with solar panels. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, the school benefited from mistakes made at another school. Mistakes that might not have been discovered or identified without post occupancy surveys.

Oftentimes when little things go wrong on a project, nobody notices. The benefit of a post occupant study is that it looks at how a building performs once it is actually in use, allowing the team to go back and fix any problems that may have come up. Unfortunately, post occupancy studies are not always (or often in some cases) required on projects. Meaning something tiny – the wrong setting or a switch that was never flipped – can waste energy for years.  It can also be unclear who pays for post occupancy studies, though many firms in the Seattle area are using them more and more.

But most firms won’t tell you when something’s gone wrong. However Mahlum has spoken publicly about failures a previous project – Benjamin Franklin Elementary – had meeting its energy goals.  The failures were fixed but the really cool thing is that the firm is willing to talk about what it did wrong

The Finn Hill Junior High School entry, courtesy Mahlum
and then talk about what it has changed and is now doing right. Pretty much no one will tell you these things on the record. Anne Schopf, design partner at the firm, has advocated for more sharing of such information to let firms learn from other’s mistakes.

Anjali Grant, project manager with Mahlum, said the school lost a lot of heat at Ben Franklin through its ventilation system. At Finn Hill, heat recovery units will capture heat in the ventilation system. There will be a mixed-mode system, allowing it to be naturally cooled when it is warm out and mechanically ventilated when it is cold to preserve heat.

It will do a post occupancy study of Finn Hill about a year after it has been occupied. “I think its really important to go back and check out the numbers after a project is done and occupied, otherwise you don’t really know anything. It’s really a good value for everybody,” Grant said.

For the new year, I wish other firms would tell you, easily and simply, what they’ve done wrong and what they’ve done right. A tough wish I know but like Grant says, it’s a good value for everybody. Feel free to email me at or comment here if want to share your Seattle area experiences.

Happy holidays.

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New home on Whidbey Island made of cargo containers

Just got a press release on a new home built of cargo containers that is being craned into place today. The home, called “cargotecture c680,” is on Whidbey Island.

The 680-square-foot project is made of four cargo containers and is multi-stories. It is expected to be complete and holding tours in February. It will have a living space, large view deck, green roof,

Rendering courtesy HyBrid Architecture
workshop and guest area. It was fabricated in a Seattle shop by HyBrid Architecture.

This is the second house in a month the firm has been involved in that’s been craned into place. The other, a home for Rob Humble of Hybrid, was developed by GreenFab and craned into place last week. However that project was built of modules, not cargo containers. To read that story, click here.

The press release says that the house is located on a beach that looks over container ships passing throuhg. “The containers HyBrid used for the project were almost certainly on those ships at some point in the past decade,” the release says. Isn’t that poetic?

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