Now that the new legislation is in place, it is time to upload an updated Quickstart Guide for 2019. Keep in mind that we couldn’t get too deep into the weeds here, so if you have questions, please contact us and we can walk you through the changes in more detail.
Seattle is facing a housing shortage, a climate crisis, and an increasingly inequitable city. Allowing more dwelling options, at various sizes and price points, is a great strategy to combat all three. Enter the Residential Small Lot Zone, Seattle’s attempt to add less expensive dwellings in dense, amenity rich urban centers without disrupting the historical fabric of single family detached houses.
As part of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), Seattle is rezoning many of the Urban Village parcels currently zoned ‘Single Family’ to ‘Residential Small Lot‘ (RSL). RSL exists under the code right now, but is applied to only 7 acres of zoned land in Seattle and has narrowly defined housing types and restrictions that have kept it from wider acceptance. Under MHA, RSL will be expanded to 768 acres and include about 6200 Single Family Lots. The proposed code has been rewritten from the ground up, so let’s dig in and see what it is likely to produce for Seattle’s neighborhoods.
Reading the definition of RSL, it is hard not to feel sorry for this hard working zone.
It has to be a little of everything to everyone. It is uncommon for a zone description to get into issues of affordability, children, and the desires of its residents. We don't expect the description of General Industrial 2 (IG2) to make judgments about dockworkers’ life choices. Or Downtown Office Core-1 (DOC-1) to wonder about whether people in Downtown Office Core 2 (DOC-2 ) feel development there is appropriate.
Nevertheless, it exposes a question. What is the mission of RSL? Is it a transition between Residential zones? Is it meant to capitalize on the proximity to urban centers by putting residents close to amenities, jobs and transit? Is it fighting displacement, or fostering density? What need does it serve, and what is the positive vision of that zone? Right now, it is formulated with a little of everything, including some new stuff, and takes elements from single family, multi family, bridges residential and building code with a dash of high minded mission to address family housing and affordability. It is a little like this:
The Nitty Gritty: What does it look like on paper?
What does RSL look like?
And again, after a generation of development doubles the number of dwellings:
Prototypes for RSL Zoning
We've taken the liberty to suggest some prototypes, based on traditional 'missing middle' multifamily, optimized for this zoning.
Bungalow Court (or the Walk Up Model)
For lots greater than 11,699 sq.ft, this bungalow court has (6) 3BR 1466 sq.ft. primary units, and (6) 733 sq.ft. 1 or 2BR ADUs. This walk up is really a module that can be arranged into twos, threes, any grouping based on density limitations.
Double Up Duplex
Our idea is for a stacked duplex, 1500 sq.ft. configured for an ADU, optimized for the allowable FAR on a minimum 4000 sq.ft. lot. We'd target Passivhaus green building standard, integrate green roof, pv, and rainwater catchment.
Recommendations for code tweaks!
Here are fourteen ways we can improve the Seattle’s MHA’s totally rewritten Residential Small Lot zone, BEFORE it goes into effect:
1.Exempt RSL from MHA fees. New dwellings created in the RSL zone will be subject to MHA, but will anyone built a rent restricted house? No. Therefore, fees due at permit issuance could be as high as $45,650. It will have a dampening effect on any homeowner looking to build a second house on the back of their lot. Many of those homeowners will build an ADU instead (not subject to MHA fee), eliminating the upside of more smaller homes in the marketplace.
2. Allow ADUs to function as MHA performance! MHA performance is 50% for lots under 5699 sq. ft.. Meanwhile ADUs are by definition limited to a smaller size, and making them affordable would be closer in spirit to the original intent of the ordinance.
3. Eliminate new Maximum Net Unit Area limit. Maximum Net Unit Area is a new, unique limitation that only applies to this zone, and nowhere else. It is Floor Area per Unit, and it is often in conflict with the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for the parcel. There are no MNUA exceptions for existing houses or additions, meaning many of Seattle’s classic bungalows in RSL zones will suddenly become non-conforming, unable to do a ‘bump out’ or even a SECOND story addition. Because basements count toward MNUA, but not FAR, expect a lot of new buildings with basements apartments.
4. Start FAR at 1, give .25 bonus for more dwellings. The FAR is .75, lower than any Low Rise zone, and effectively lower than Single Family zoning (only governed by height and lot coverage). If RSL is meant as a transition between multifamily and single family, it is more restrictive that both.
5. Lower the density ratio to 1 to 1500. Fourteen percent of the newly minted RSL lots will not even support a second dwelling. Why go through this process then wipe the development capacity of 900 lots off the table? Rounding up for density at 1.85 * 2000SF means any lot under 3699SF is still a single family lot, but MNUA effectively limits all dwellings to an FAR as low as of .59.
6. Allow more than one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). All these lots are in urban centers, where we are planning to put almost all our growing population. Many lots or owners aren’t going to want to built a full second dwelling. Meanwhile, SFZ will soon allow two ADUs per primary residence. This flexibility will preserve many existing houses, and provide homes for new residents right in the urban villages.
7. Exclude ADUs from MNUA. An accessory dwelling unit counts against the MNUA, meaning many average houses wouldn’t be able to build a cottage without sacrificing square footage in the primary house.
8. Resist the urge to Design Standard. The two Design Standards for RSL are ridiculous. Different color walkways to the house in back? Why? We don’t expect such ham fisted wayfinding in multifamily zones where there’s likely more front doors. One of the great strengths of the proposed code is that it did away with the many of the restrictive types, like ‘tandem housing.’ Let’s not dilute it with well meaning micro management, only to find out that we’ve created a less than graceful solution (remember the platypus!).
9. Allow exceptions from MHA when preserving existing houses. Subdividing existing houses into multiple units will be penalized by the Design Standards, and be subject MHA fee, at the full price for the area of units. The MHA fee calculation is gloss floor area/total units X net increase of units. A 3000 sq ft house, converted into a triplex from single family, would pay MHA on 2000 sq ft as if new, or up to $41,000. That neither incentivizes preservation or the creation of more affordable housing.
10.Take out limit on number of apartments. The stigma of apartment living results in one of the most efficient (and revered) forms being outlawed. The code is clear: RSL outright outlaws more than three apartments regardless of lot size. No cute Capitol Hill fourplexes.
11. Eliminate owner occupancy requirements. We don’t require owners to live on site in other multifamily zones, owner occupancy requirements will severely limit the number of accessory dwelling units and they reinforce a fundamentally class based stigma against renters.
12. Change all residential zones to ‘Residential’. We now have three titles for zones where residences are the only use; Single Family, Lowrise, Residential Small Lot. While RSL is being treated as a unique bridge between SFZ and LRZ, it should be part of a continuum of dwelling per square foot. Streamline!
13. Amend Seattle Residential Code to cover up to four apartments. Building codes switch to the more demanding SBC for anything more dense than a duplex and ADUs are considered as such. When buildings should be getting more efficient, like stacking a third apartment on top of a double decker, there is a quantum leap in construction cost, driven by code compliance.
14. Allow Live Work and Corner stores. In midrise zones, having residential suites at the street level seems forced. Two blocks from the center of an urban village, having an office space legible from the street makes total sense. Allowing corner stores would expand the walkshed so more people will walk to pick something up, rather than drive to a supermarket.
We have been working with a couple who are planning on moving out of the original house, and into a new backyard cottage. Â We're pushing the limits within the ordinance--almost exactly 800 square feet--in order to build a 2 bed room, bath and a half cottage. Although the house is small, the spaces inside feel just right. Â And we'll be able to include a lot of high finish touches and crisp details because we aren't spending money on lots of square footage. Having a finite perimeter and volume really focuses the mind on the priorities of the design.
The character of the house the client's wanted is very craftsman and the scale and roofline fits right in with the neighborhood in general--certainly not the scary developer vision that opponents of the ordinance summoned during the public hearings. Â It reinforces that these projects are for people with a vested interest in both their property and their neighborhood and are very sensitive to the impact on their neighbors.
Here is another view which shows off the walkout patio off the dining space, the entry mudroom and the band of windows that wrap the living room, dining and kitchen:
We are also going to integrate a rain water harvesting system, radiant floors on a super efficient combination boiler, vaulted ceiling upstairs, and a extra height crawlspace with a rat slab to make up for some of the storage space lost in the downsizing. Â For floor plans, follow the jump below:
First floor plan:
Second floor plan:
We are very excited to begin a new project for the Sunset Hill neighborhood to transform an abandoned City Light substation parcel into a pocket park. Â Based on the input from the community thus far, the program is very intriguing: Â a community space with an artist-in-residence caretaker, powered by a serious photovoltaic array. There may be more or different elements as the project evolves in the community design process, and as we navigate through various City agencies and funding sources, but fundamentally this has all the values we expound as a firm: Â sustainable building, energized public space, housing options/density, and Â an interactive process that invests people in the civic life of their neighborhood.
In 2008, I designed a structure with a similar program for a Dwell Magazine conceptual competition:
Set at the east end of Crissy Field in San Francisco, this Community Room/Exhibit Hall creates an anchor for a new sculpture park. The hall is a multipurpose space, more infrastructure than building--for public events, private events, exhibits, etc. The glass sliding panels open the hall to the public, the park and the views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A small caretaker's residence is situated on the second floor, using the broad roof of the Community Room as a vegetable garden, eliminating the conflict between the public park and the private residence. The glass screen walls provides security, and electricity--the design on the glass is created with a photovoltaic interlayer, which powers the house and hall. Stormwater is captured, stored and used to irrigate the roof garden.
While this little conceptual project may help to inform the Sunset Substation, I'm excited to apply some of this experience in designing a real world pocket park.
The big opening is tonight from 5 to 9, between 1st and 2nd just south of Pioneer Square--
Yesterday we hoisted the installation in place. While we still have to do lighting, the impact is great! From the end of the alley, the installation looks like a lonely cloud hovering there, and only once you get beneath it can you see the message "WASTE NOT."
We are working on a collaborative art installation for the Nord Building's upcoming Alley Party, sponsored by two non-profits, Feet First and the International Sustainability Institute.
Feet First is an advocate for walkable communities, and ISI works on documenting global best practices for urban sustainability. Â They have been working with their neighbors to transform alleys from nuisances to assets. Part of the program to invigorate the alleys as a vibrant urban places is their Alley Parties. Â Each one incorporates art, music, food and drink to draw people into the alley and give people a different perspective on what they can become.
This Thursday, CAST, in collaboration with Christopher Ezzell of E Workshop, and Vashon Island artistÂ Shahreyar Ataie, Â will open an art installation that will float over their the Nord Building's section of alley, using about 600 recycled 2 liter bottles. Â It will be up through the New Year.
So come one and all! Â Did I mention there will be food, drink and music?
Alley between 1st and Second, just South of Occidential Park
314 First Avenue
November 3rd, Â from 5 pm to 9 pm
CAST has been involved in a number of Â pro bono projects over the years, such as parks, community gardens,Â community centers,Â art installations, and smart development, and one of those, the Interbay P-Patch,Â is being published in an upcoming book on pro bono design by Public Architecture. This project was originally headed up by Nathan Walker, and after he left town, we've continued our involvement, adding a kiosk, arbor and most recently cool signage at the street.
We're really excited about the P-Patch, one, because it is a project that is near and dear to our hearts, and two, it can inspire more firms to offer their expertise to help civic and community causes, and more citizen groups to see that if they can dream it, they can build it.
With the impending vote on the backyard cottage ordinance, everyone in the office has been doing a little daydreaming about the DADUs and what they would build. Â I have been working on a idea that started with a little ink drawing. It's now developed into a preliminary model/floor plans. Â I've flipped the shed roof to have more volume in the shop/studio and worked out the bathroom so that my shop could easily be converted into an open kitchen/living space.
I have also been working out a simple steel structure, clad with structural insulated panels for easy construction and minimization of waste. Â The goal is prefabrication of the components offsite, then assemble.
I'd love to try out using a geothermal pre-heating loop, with a hydronic radiant system run of a domestic hot water heater and test the new PV shingles, but that might get a bit expensive.
We're almost there--the committee passed the measure to allow backyard cottages in Seattle.Â Next stop will be City Council. There are some notable amendments to the ordinance--the 50 per year allowed cap has been eliminated.Â The heights have changed somewhat.Â A discussion to limit the cottage height to no more than 15' above the primary residence's roof (which would affect sloped lots primarily) was tabled without conclusion.
The discussion is a little strange, in that some of the requirements being tossed around are more stringent than for building a single family house.Â Case in point--if this relative height limit section passes, you will need a topographic survey to prove that the cottage conforms (not required on a new house if well within setbacks and under height), thus added about $2000 to the pricetag for the drawings.Â This doesn't make any sense if the city is serious about this as being an affortable option.
Another case in point--Councilmember Rasmussen was leaning toward a neighborhood notice, similar to a MUP, but the neighbor's recourse, provided the cottage design fits the requirements, is nil.Â The cottage is a Level 1 decision (no notice necessary, just like a new single family house), but creating such a provision would form a special class of notice ("Here is what is happening next door, but there is nothing you can do about it.Â Thanks for coming down.").
Unfortunately, I had to run out before the discussion on the privacy issue, another NIMBY favorite, but in the end the ordinance is one step closer to fruition.
You can see the entire meeting online at the Seattle Channel here. Â Backyard Cottage discussion starts at 107.30.