SMALL LOT LEGISLATION UPDATE

In September 2012, the Council adopted an ordinance (Council Bill 117572)creating interim standards preventing new small single family lots from being created using old property lines that the City does not currently believe should be used to define buildable lots. The legislation also limited the size of houses that can be built on lots that are significantly smaller than the underlying zoning. These interim standards will be replaced by new permanent land use code provisions now being prepared by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Council. DPD has published their initial proposal for the permanent legislation, and we are looking for comments and suggestions prior to beginning the formal legislative process.

The initial legislation was developed in response to concerns from residents that some houses were being built on small lots delineated by using an archaic provision of the land use code. Neighbors did not know that these building sites could be created, and the City did not currently intend these old lines to be used to define legal building sites. Neighbors were also concerned that some of the houses being built on these sites were not compatible with the surrounding houses and/or proportional to the size of the lots.

The City supports infill development in single family neighborhoods, including on legally established undersized lots. However, these lots should be clearly and legally delineated, and neighbors should be aware of the potential for new houses to be built. In addition, new houses on undersized lots should be modest enough to be proportional to the size of the lot.

After reviewing policy options, meeting with neighborhood and developer groups, and taking comments at a public meeting, DPD has suggested the following parameters for permanent regulations:

  • Create a permanent provision that disallows the use of historic tax records and mortgage records to create undersized lots. This closes the loophole that created lots where neighbors never expected them to exist.
  • Set a uniform absolute minimum lot area of 2,000 square feet, to apply to lots qualifying under all lot area exceptions. Under the interim standards, lots qualifying for an exception based on pre-1957 records, such as historic plats or deeds, had to have an area of at least 2,500 square feet.  Different absolute minimums apply to other exceptions, such as lots reduced by street condemnation, or lots resulting from two-house/one-lot short plats.  The proposed regulation would make this uniform, provide consistency and predictability, and preserve the opportunity for infill development.
  • Limit structure height for new buildings and additions to existing houses on lots that are less than 3,200 square feet to 18 feet, plus a five-foot pitched roof. Under the interim standards, structures on lots less than 3,750 square feet in area were limited to 22 feet in height plus a five-foot pitched roof. This proposal reduces the upper limit of the lot area range from 3,750 to 3,200 square feet in light of the fact that the projects that have generated the most concern generally have been on lots that were 3,200 square feet or less in area. The base height limit is proposed to be reduced from 22 feet to 18 feet, consistent with what is allowed for cottage housing in RSL and Lowrise zones.
  • Add other provisions that will limit problematic development and provide some regulatory flexibility with appropriate notice. These include measuring the size of lots using the largest rectangle to prevent weird extensions, allowing additional height on small lots as a special exception with public notice and the opportunity for an appeal to the hearing examiner, and several other provisions that will clarify and provide consistency in the treatment of small lot projects.

DPD is also considering a proposal to allow undersized lots to be developed if they have an area at least 80 percent of the mean area of the lots on the block, as long as such lots are at least 2,000 square feet. This is designed to allow lots that are compatible with existing development in older areas of the City with smaller lots. Creating a new lot under this provision would require public notice and an opportunity to appeal.

You can reference the entire DPD memo at

http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/planning/smallsinglefamilylots/overview/default.asp

 We are looking for thoughts on this proposal. Please send any comments to both my office and DPD: richard.conlin@seattle.gov and andy.mckim@seattle.gov by Wednesday, April 3.  After this stage, DPD will prepare a more detailed set of recommendations to take through environmental review, and will then submit legislation to the Council. The Council will receive comments and hold a formal public hearing. Our goal is to complete work on the permanent legislation before September.

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