Downtown condo living, complete with easy access to transit, shopping, a short walk to work, no maintenance yard and best of all, the view. It was the birds-eye view of the city, the mountains, and the breathtaking sunset that sold you on the place – no one mentioned it was only temporary.
What happens when the view that came along with your 33 story condominium disappears because a neighboring building is built only 18 feet away? That is what happened to Benjamin Shanfelder when he purchased a unit in the downtown Seattle Cosmopolitan building in 2005.
He realized that other condos were slated for nearby developments, but at the time, the height restrictions limited the number of floors of an adjacent building. The rules were changed and a 34 story condo was constructed right next door, eliminating Shanfelder’s view, sunlight and privacy. Whose responsibility was it to inform the new tenants that the city regulations had changed? According to city requirements, the developer and the adjacent property owners should be notified; however, future tenants are on their own to discover these new developments.
A new construction does not automatically assume the condo owner will lose their view. Different areas of the city have different separation requirements based on density. Some areas require no separation where as others mandate a minimum 60 to 200 feet.
Potential buyers cannot depend solely on their realtor or developer for zoning information. A bit of research before purchasing their property may save some nasty surprises down the road. Here are some areas to consider:
Get as much information as possible from the developers regarding nearby proposals for developments, zoning restrictions and whether they have invested in air rights for the surrounding real estate to protect views.
Visit the city planning office and look up the zoning laws for the nearby sites.
Look up the addresses for any project applications and add your name and email address to the notification list for changes or new developments.
Speak to the city planners about possible changes to the existing zoning laws.
Let your comments be heard at design review hearings about future projects.
Spend the extra money to hire a land-use lawyer to complete this due diligence on your behalf.
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