Moratorium on cluster homes OK'd

"Marina Navarro says she moved into Blackberry Hill, the city's only cluster subdivision, because she could buy a brand-new house there for less than $130,000.For her money, she got a two-story, three-bedroom house and a view of a vacant, wooded lot across Third Court South.It's nice, Navarro said. The environment's OK. The scenery is OK.But some people wonder if cluster subdivisions make for good scenery. This week, the Federal Way City Council unanimously agreed to extend a moratorium on cluster subdivisions through the end of the year while staff members study whether the city should toughen up its regulations.In the interim, council members likely will visit Blackberry Hill and cluster subdivisions in neighboring cities. Cluster subdivisions feature houses with smaller-than-average lots, as low as 3,600 square feet in some cases, though most developers qualify for closer to 5,000 square feet.Blackberry Hill got approved before tougher regulations that set a minimum lot size for houses in cluster subdivisions of 3,600 square feet if developers meet certain conditions, said Kathy McClung, the city's deputy director of Community Development Services.Neighbors live closer to one another and have smaller backyards. Useable open space - such as a playground or basketball court - replaces big backyards. The city requires developers to set aside 15 percent of their total land for useable open space.Developers usually want to create a cluster subdivision when wetlands prohibit them from building houses on a portion of their property, McClung said. Wetlands don't count toward that 15 percent of open space.With a cluster subdivision, developers can build the same number of houses on the property as they would have with a standard subdivision. Those houses are just squeezed together on part of the property, instead of more spread out.The number of lots is not increased, McClung said.People who live near the sites of five planned cluster subdivisions worry about increased crime and traffic, and decreased property values.Rob Foster, who lives near the planned Silverwood development, said he has no desire to ban cluster subdivisions outright - There's a place for them. But he says he's happy the council will give their regulations of the subdivisons more scrutiny. Hopefully they'll have a chance to sit back and re-evaluate the ways things are done, Foster said. Mike Rutter, who also lives near the future Silverwood cluster subdivision, visited Blackberry Hill and wasn't impressed.To be perfectly frank, I didn't like what I saw, he told the council at its Tuesday night meeting.Residents of Blackberry Hill say there are pros and cons to cluster subdivisions. Sometimes Navarro regrets the small size of her yard and the closeness of her neighbors in Blackberry Hill.Navarro's yard, especially the strip behind her three-bedroom house, leaves little room for a garden or for her big dog to romp. The lots in the neighborhood, located on Third Court South off 312th Street, range from 2,900 to 5,000 square feet; Navarro's is at the lower end of the range.It comes to mind, she said, looking around her wee front yard. You just have to do without and go along with it.Angie Cook and Myles Higashihara moved into the subdivision a year ago at the urging of friends, who also bought a house there. She said they can't hear their neighbors, even given the close proximity of the houses.We're probably the noisiest, in fact, Cook said.Cook said she doesn't mind having a small yard. It's better than living in an apartment, she said. I like having at least some yard. "

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