Mandatory Housing Affordability passed City Council yesterday, and as part of that, about 7000 urban Single Family lots will now be able to have two or three primary residences (plus ADUs) on site. I’m pleased that we were able to suggest some amendments that will make the zone more workable, improve flexibility for sites where people would like to preserve the original house.
What is RSL?
In a nutshell:
1 primary residence per 2000 sq ft of lot (one ADU per primary residence allowed)
if your lot is smaller than 4000 sq ft, you could still do two residences.
Floor Area Ratio : .75
Lot coverage: 50%
Maximum size of any single primary residence: 2200sq ft.
While conceived as a kind of new ‘cottage’ zoning, it is better suited to compact 2 1/2 story urban houses.
We’ve come up with a prototypical design which maxes out all the limits, and it still feels pretty good within the existing streetscape. It is a 1500 sq ft upper unit, with main level suite, and open living/dining/kitchen (w/ twelve foot ceilings), two typical bedrooms and a second master on level two, with a patio/kitchen garden on the roof. In the basement (half below grade to avoid being counted toward F.A.R.) we’ve designed a 1 bedroom/1 bath Accessory Dwelling Unit, which could easily be integrated into the primary house, set up to generate revenue to help with the mortgage, or be co-owned like a two party condo association.
Because it is a relatively compact volume, with flexibility about solar orientation for a range of urban sites, hopefully we’ll get some owners interested in pursuing Passive House green building standards!
There is a real opportunity, once you start combining lots, to also aggregate the open space, and get back to that Courtyard Bungalow type that we used to build before zoning made them by and large illegal. Since parking isn’t going to be required for most, the market is going to dictate, but hopefully we’ll be spared a lot of impervious area creating more run off issues.
What is the RSL market and will any of it be affordable?
While I’m pretty excited about the eventual potential of this zone, there are very few neighborhoods where this is going to pencil (i.e. high priced, high demand markets).
1) it is happening where land values are going to be the highest (urban villages), but with the low density limits, land costs cannot be spread across more than 2 or 3 units for the most part—at minimum $300K of any newly developed unit is going to be for land value.
2) With low densities, it will be nearly impossible to provide new rent restricted housing on site. Nearly all development will pay the MHA fee (up to $45,650 per unit). With the ‘downzones’ to RSL that Council enacted with the late amendments taking many Lowrise areas a step back, it ensures than most of those areas will never see rent-restricted housing.
3) Similar to Vancouver’s market where the high cost of detached housing is tempered by ‘mortgage helpers’ like Laneway houses, ADUs are really the only new less expensive option, and that is purely because of the size of those units.
Methow Housing Trust’s Canyon Street Neighborhood.Read More
Clients : Reichert Studio
Heidi and Darin
Structural Engineer: TSE Engineering
Keith Ryan PE
Envelope Engineer: RDH building Science inc
Abridged project team at the awards left to right : Luke, Dave, Stefan, Darin, Heidi and Jeffrey
New projects in construction all over! Here is a juicy preview of projects to come!Read More
Rainier Beach Urban Farm Classroom building is taking shapeRead More
"Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An' if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know … Should I stay or should I go?" - The Clash
Ahh, the question that keeps re-modelers awake at night. It may seem like an achievable idea but trying to maintain a normal lifestyle in the middle of a construction zone is a test for most families. Before you commit to this restless journey we encourage you to consider the following complications.
A general breakdown of the positives and negatives of remaining in your home.
- Save the cost of renting
- Avoid the hassle of relocating your family and items
- Rise and Shine - Construction days start early
- Construction is Dirty Business - Prepare for dust and debris
- Restricted Area - Limited access to parts of your home
- Black Out - System upgrades will require coordination and may be inconvenient
- Time is Money - Any delays in schedule will increase the project's price tag
- Power Tools are not Subtle - Construction sites are extremely noisy
- Health Concerns - Every remodel comes with a certain amount of risk of exposure to lead and asbestos, especially in older homes
Also of consideration when living in a construction zone is the associated health risks. The severity of this exposure is dependent on several factors including how well the construction area can be sealed and the age of the home being renovated. Homes that pre-date the 1970's are extremely likely to contain lead paint which can pose serious health hazards; especially for young children. If the area of remodel can be completely quarantined then it's worth further consideration, but if your separation plan is a thin plastic sheet, start packing your bags.
The final significant consideration is all about you; well your sanity. You will have an exclusive front row seat to the destruction and chaos occurring in your own home. Yes, you are excited about a transformation but being privy to the raw construction process may result in more stress than intrigue. This again is dependent on the level of compartmentalization achievable and your temperament.
If you are asking our opinion here it is - if you have kids, and are renovating your kitchen plus a few other spaces - GO. If you are not remodeling with children in tow and the area of construction can be sectioned off then consider staying. The potential for monetary savings is limited but the metal taxation is real so take some time to think about the trade-offs.
Still can't decide? Use the diagram below to figure out your situation.
After a 4 year process, we've finally started construction! We can't wait to see it take shape--it fits right into the trees perfectly!
Will Seattle’s move to make more Backyard Cottages lead to a more sustainable city or just amplify environmental impacts?
You might think that more DADUs would lead to more environmental impacts—after all, construction takes fantastic amounts of resources (including capital). Being in the backyard, DADUs should increase of impervious area, lead to the loss of tree canopy, compound parking conflicts, and stretch City services even thinner, right? Isn’t the shadow of neighbor’s potential cottage going to forever keep me from growing the perfect heirloom tomato?
Last month, Marty Kaplan, under the aegis of the Queen Anne Community Council QACC, appealed a SEPA Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) with regard to changing certain characteristics of the Accessory Dwelling code.
Right off the bat, it is important to clarify that a DNS doesn’t state that there will be zero environmental impact, but as city wide code, it is impossible to evaluate impact on each individual lot without a real project associated with the lot. This is a ‘Non-Project Action.” While you may be affected by something built next door, until there is a project conceived there, the City has no method to evaluate its environmental impact. In fact, the original backyard cottage ordinance was given a DNS, an inconvenient fact not lost on the Kaplan, since he helped craft it while on the Planning Commission.
Today I finished testifying on behalf of the City on the Appeal, to establish a plain truth: Even if the City could evaluate the site by site impacts, they would show the City allows any single house to be much larger than any combination of house + DADU. Additional DADUs or larger DADUs are a reduction of environmental impact in comparison.
Furthermore, the number of people allowed to live there stays the same (8 people per lot), although more of them would be new renters much to QACC’s dismay. Energy code, tree protections, stormwater code, etc all stay the same under the new code. The impervious area actually goes down--by eliminating the parking requirement. How can there be significant environmental impacts, if the rest of the code is identical and the only difference is the number of families (not people allowed) per lot?
The SF zone is a zero sum environment—there is only so much buildable area, and if you choose to build a cottage, its lot coverage must deduct from the maximum size of the main house. And because it can’t be as tall, there is less available volume. It is a prima facia case, and in my mind, underlines the DNS.
As a proxy for all the land use regulations, we created a schematic diagram to illustrate the potential buildable envelop as a single family house, house with an accessory structure, and a house with a DADU. We repeated the diagram under the new ordinance. In all cases, the biggest volume was the solitary single family McMansion allowed by right today.
You only need to walk by a tear down house replacement and a backyard cottage to understand how the argument about which is better per QACC’s concern about neighborhood character is inverted. The QACC’s exhibits inadvertently made this exact point by showing an entire street of adorable bungalows replaced en masse with windowless 35’ blocks, completely obscuring whatever cottages in the backyard.
Which is where the tomatoes come in the picture. One witness testified that if the ordinance goes through, and cottages were built on all sides of his small lot (possible, but very, very improbable), there wouldn’t be any sunlight left for his tomatoes. He should be all for the new code—every new cottage built is a hedge against a speculative developer tearing down the old bungalow and putting up a maxed out single family house. And that which would really put his garden in the shade.
Do you want a glass wall but don't want to feel exposed in your cottage? In this design, we've placed a rusted custom cut steel screen wall just in front of the cottage, which will eventually be overgrown by flowering vines, creating privacy for both cottage and house, soft dappled light in the main floor, and a custom element that gives the cottage a distinctive feel which is both natural and a little bit industrial.
This second design takes advantage of a steep corner site to make a sunlit treehouse with a iconic form and stripped down modern details. The end of the gable house peers out at a mature maple and the Olympics in the background. The cottage has an inverted plan with vaulted living spaces up, and sleeping downstairs.
The third one sits delicately between some large heritage trees (made much more difficult by the city's somewhat inchoate Tree preservation plan requirements). The big porch is a natural extension of the public spaces of the house, with the private spaces screening views to the primary residence.