What commercial things can I do with my artist loft?
June 5, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

How do I figure out what I can do with my weirdly zoned artist loft?

I live in a leased "artist loft" which is in an area in Seattle zoned for industrial use. This particular building has been granted an exception to the zoning rules for residents that use the space for creative purposes. All of the paperwork I've dug up is on the ambiguous side. There is essentially an asterisk next to my building noting that it's a bit different.

I have a lot of different ideas on ways to use the space commercially, e.g. run a small theater inside it. In fact, I could tailor my ideas to the rules if I just knew what they were.

The person who would know a lot of answers to my questions is my landlord, since he's lived in and managed the building for decades, and made agreements with the city to get work/live units in the building. I'm reluctant to go to him for two reasons: 1. He might give answers that are more in line with his desired use of the building instead of what is available to me by law (city regulations, our signed lease) 2. It might cause him to increase my rent by more if he believes I'm more invested in the space. I'm not assuming I'll be in conflict with the guy, and I wouldn't start something important that relied on being kept a secret. I just suspect it is best to figure out what I can do first, before approaching the landlord.

Can you give me any advice here? Also, just advice on the type of professional I might want to contact is good too.
posted by ErikH2000 to Law & Government (2 answers total)
What is the exact phrase used to describe the allowable use(s)? In planning, they're terms of art and they should be defined in the ordinance. In most ordinances, studio space (where work is created) is different from gallery space (where work is sold) or other commercial aspects of the working artist life. The generic terms are "live/work space," "work/sell space" or "live/work/sell space." You should call or visit the city planners staffing the Current Planning/Permits counter, since they'll know the most about the code. If you don't want to reveal yourself just yet, you can call anonymously or talk to the people at your local arts council.

If you know the date the conditional use was granted you can obtain the materials supporting the request through the Planning Department. However, it's likely to have been an "Artist's studio/dwelling" conditional use granted administratively (see SMC 23.50.014) and not all that special... but if the intent was broader there will be additional backup materials.

Out of curiosity I went hunting in the code for you and it turns out that "Artist's studio/dwelling" is considered a subset of Residential (see the definition section). Also from the definition section of Seattle's Municipal Code - "Artist's studio/dwelling" means a combination working studio and dwelling unit for artists, consisting of a room or suite of rooms occupied by not more than one household." From SMC 23.50.014 (B)(1)(d) describing Artist's studio/dwelling space a s a conditional use allowed in the various industrial zones - "The nature of the artist's work shall be such that there is a genuine need for the space."

posted by carmicha at 11:21 AM on June 5, 2012

Carmicha, awesome reply. Thanks very much!

I pulled up the parcel data from the Seattle gov website. The zoning is "IG1 U/85" which I know just means general industrial, and I've looked through the allowed uses for that which include nearly anything short of running a brothel or fight club. However, I know that the top two floors of the building (includes my lease) has some special exception made to allow artists to live there. The city website doesn't mention "conditional use" for my parcel, but does say that "Present Use" is "Apartment(Mixed Use)".

There is a document about 8 years old on the Internet which includes my building in a list of others being considered for designation as historical sites. Here the building is described as including "thirty live-work studios on top 2 floors". So someone scouting sites for the city called it "live-work".

My lease says "The premises shall be used on as an artist studio per Seattle City Codes". Which means to me that even if the city were okay with a more liberal use, I would need to abide by the lease unless I worked something out with the landlord.

I read through SMC 23.50.014 again since you brought it up. I think this would have to be what my lease was referring to. To be honest, it didn't shed much light on allowed uses. The trouble for me is the definition of what an "artist's studio" is, and what sorts of things can go on in there. Can you sell your works? Can you sell admission for people to see your works? I would think that if they don't explicitly say you can't do something and it's allowed by the base zoning, then it ought to be fine. But I don't know.
posted by ErikH2000 at 11:06 PM on June 5, 2012

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