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.
To celebrate the final Environmental Impact Statement that came out last week, we’d like to highlight some of the less obvious but clear reasons for progressive Seattle to embrace the new ordinance covering Accessory Dwellings.
1. Many ADUs end up being affordable, even if they are admittedly expensive to build. I have made the case over and over that we should approach ADUs with our eyes open as to the cost and not put too much faith in them as a cure-all for our housing crisis. But, in surveys collected from Vancouver, Portland, Ashland, Eugene, Edmonton, the Bay Area, a large percentage (generally around 20-25%) of accessory dwellings end up being rented for nothing, very little or well below market rate. Voluntary affordability, where the owner has prioritized the benefit of having family, friends, or even good tenants as neighbors over the potential rent they could demand if they were more ruthless landlords is a major benefit of this form of housing.
Voluntary Affordability in Portland. https://accessorydwellings.org/2014/08/07/do-adus-provide-affordable-housing/
Voluntary Affordability in Edmonton. https://accessorydwellings.org/2017/09/08/garden-suites-in-edmonton-a-private-investment-in-the-public-good/
For example, I have friends who have not raised the rent in 9 years for their upstairs mother-in-law apartment because they love the tenant but she’s on a fixed income. It’s a sweetheart deal they want to last as long as she can handle the stairs. These anecdotes are the rule for homeowners who’ve ‘DIY’ developed an extra unit on their property.
In Portland among owners who live in their ADU, 41% of the primary residences where offered for FREE. Meanwhile, we’re fighting tooth and nail over an inclusionary zoning program that might create 6–10% of new housing as rent restricted. The reality is that a naturally occurring housing type people desperately want to build all over is also 2 1/2 times more likely to create truly affordable housing than our best big policy idea.
2) Making Mother-in-Laws and cottages pencil financially counters wild speculation on McMansions. In the Draft EIS, the City ran different financial models for potential development outcomes. In the draft EIS, 46% of the possible scenarios resulted in tear down/replacement McMansions being the most profitable investment. It was only in cases where the land value was high and the lots were large that adding an ADU and DADU made sense. But if you value the neighborhood and want to curb the momentum of displacement and gentrification, supporting options where a second or third household can add rental income suddenly flips the proforma against the disruptive scourge of McMansions.
3) Renters are Seattle’s majority and any related stigma is out of touch. Owner occupancy restrictions are the biggest impediment to the creation of more housing and keep lower income renters out by limiting the number of options for less expensive dwellings to exist. The checkered history of zoning as a substitute for outlawed racial or class covenants is well documented.
More than 20% of Seattle houses are already rentals. We don’t have a restriction on renting out a detached house and has very few expectations of landlords (more might be in order) yet neighborhoods still thrive. Both tenant and landlord are by and large responsible neighbors. Ask any renter, and they will tell you that they are just as committed as property owners to the neighborhoods, support the local businesses, and participate in civic life. As the majority of Seattleites, renters make up the underlying tax base that funds our government, parks, police, and transit (renters pay property taxes too, just through rent).
4) Besides, owner occupancy restrictions should be illegal. Limiting WHO can use land, as opposed to what the land’s function is isn’t really the job of the land use code. Making property ownership the prerequisite to use is unique to ADUs and has been challenged elsewhere. Other jurisdictions, such as Alberta Canada explicitly allow residency without ownership wherever residences are allowed for that reason.
5) Finally, extra dwellings are already everywhere. While people might worry that allowing a ADU and a DADU without owner occupancy restrictions will lead to no less that the ‘destruction of our most unique resource, Seattle’s single family neighborhoods,’ the reality is that there is a long history of small multi-family dwelling coexisting with and even predating the now dominant paradigm of stand alone houses for solitary households. Turn of the last century neighborhoods, like Queen Anne and Wallingford (pictured above), valued for their amenities, walkability, and housing stock, were developed mostly before zoning. They are filled with the highest concentration of small multifamily buildings, house more than 10,000 households, but you might never know it from the street. Honestly that is part of their charm and vitality. If the worst thing is that there are a few more families per street, I think our neighborhoods are more than resilient enough to handle it.
Every dot is at least one extra household that doesn’t need a stand alone house.
*In the photo above every structure is a duplex, triplex or fourplex, with the exception of the tallest white structure on the left.
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:
The ordinance Â to allow backyard cottages in the other three quarters of Seattle just passed 9-0! Â The council's comments focused on the exhaustive community outreach, successful pilot program and benefit of having this housing choice for Seattle. Excellent work by the planning commission, DPD and council.
Usually, the city's process oriented decision making can be cumbersome, and having spent hours in meetings, testifying, and communicating with council, I feel vindicated that our involvement has helped in some small way to bring some innovation to the Single Family zoning.
We're excited to design some of these--in part because of the opportunity to foster multi-generational housing, and the option of building a smaller free standing structure rather than building an addition. Â Plus, it is a really fun scale--I think more people will be thinking about bonus studios rather than housing units.
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.
The Planning, Land-Use and Neighborhood Committee is planning on voting on the Backyard Cottages on October 8th. Â Last chance to make yourself heard on this issue! It will be a packed agenda, with discussions of the Multi-family code revision as well as the design review process (which will be mandatory in Multi-family).
Here at CAST we have been watching the Seattle City Council very closely over the past few months as they contemplate passing an ordinance that would allow homeowners to construct backyard cottages, or DADUs (detached accessory dwelling units), on their property... The measure is of particular interest to me as I'm a proponent of multigenerational living. If passed, the ordinance would provide greater flexibility for Seattle homeowners who wish to bring their families closer together. Curious what the ordinance would mean for my own property I spent a little time putting together some plans...
For my own property I envision a studio space above our existing garage that will provide a place for friends and family to stay during extended visits...
If you live in Seattle and are interested in seeing the measure passed by the council, please take a minute and email your Seattle city council members with your support:
Planning Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee: Sally Clark; firstname.lastname@example.org (Sally is the committee chair and in charge of getting the measure to vote) Tim Burgess; email@example.com Tom Rasmussen; firstname.lastname@example.org Jen Godden; email@example.com (alt. member)
The remainder of the council is: Richard Conlin; firstname.lastname@example.org Jan Drago: email@example.com Bruce Harrell; firstname.lastname@example.org Nick Licata; email@example.com Richard Mciver; firstname.lastname@example.org
We have been working hard to get the City of Seattle to agree to allow Backyard Cottages, or DADUs (detached accessory dwelling units). It gives owners opportunity and choice to provide additional housing for rental or a studio, will increase property values and does so in a measured way that is conscientious of neighbors and the single family neighborhood fabric. The current legislation will allow fifty per year--so it will have a minimal effect on neighborhood character. Â If anything, I'd like to see more of them.
I find it amazing that this is at all controversial, considering you can put an detached accessory building or garage on your lot which may not be as tall, but can take up to 1000 square feet of your back yard! Â The argument that this proposal will lead to less trees and green space in Seattle is a red herring.
And since attached accessory dwellings are already allowed outright, it also doesn't make sense that this proposal will lead to more density. Â More likely, it will lead to more people choosing to build a small cottage than expanding their existing house to provide for the mother-in-law. Â Two smaller structures are better for the scale of the city than more larger houses.
Carriage houses are successful component of many cities' neighborhood fabric and we'd like to see them allowed in Seattle too! Â If they were, I'd build one--my neighborhood and site would be perfect for a little cottage--so here is my first pass....
I need a shop space, my wife needs an home office, and both of us need a place for our parents when they are in town for extended visits.
The building's footprint is roughly 40 x 14 with an airy studio (or 1 car garage with ample storage), and a guest bedroom and bath on the first floor. Â Stairs lead up to a loft office overlooking the garden. Â The design has some additional flexibility built in--the garage can be built with the rough in for a kitchen, so with minor changes, we'd have a 2br/1ba cottage.
We have been talking to an excellent local contractor with experience in prefab about teaming up to deliver a few prototypical designs for a fixed price (including ground work) somewhere around $210 a square foot, but one-off custom stick built cottages will be competitive in price, and adapt to the unique conditions of each site--existing lot coverage, location of existing buildings, solar orientation, parking, matching materials etc.
Before we do any real development, the City Council needs to green light the ordinance. Â So you support the legislation, email the council!