Hearing Examiner Clears Way for Backyard Cottage Legislation

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I am excited to share with you some updates about a longtime legislative priority of mine: making it easier to build backyard cottages and basement units. I believe ADUs have the potential to provide new housing opportunities in neighborhoods where single family homes are unaffordable to many. ADU’s would also allow homeowners to generate supplemental income and adapt to their changing household needs.

On Monday we learned that the City of Seattle Deputy Hearing Examiner, Barbara Dykes Ehrlichman, ruled in favor of the City on an appeal of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for my 2016 Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) proposal. Her ruling affirms that the FEIS meets all applicable requirements and allows the Seattle City Council to act on the proposal. Watch my reaction to the Hearing Examiner’s ruling in the video below or watching on Seattle Channel.

My next step is to introduce new legislation based on the Preferred Alternative that came out of the FEIS as a starting point June 2019. We will be discussing a path forward at the following Sustainability and Transportation committee meetings:

2019 Date Topic
Wednesday, May 29
2:00 p.m.
(special meeting of the S&T committee)
Briefing and discussion on proposed legislation
Tuesday, June 11
5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
(special evening meeting of the S&T committee)
Public Hearing on the proposed legislation
Tuesday, June 18 Discussion and possible vote on amendments and proposed legislation

I want to share with you two important changes to my original proposal:

  • Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits are often used to regulate the size of a building. Floor area ratio is the ratio of a building’s total square footage (floor area) relative to the size of the piece of land on which it is constructed. Under current regulations, there is not a maximum FAR limit in single-family zones. Under the proposal, a maximum FAR limit would govern the size and scale of development of new homes in single-family zones, along with maximum height limit, maximum lot coverage limit, and yard requirements. More information about the proposed FAR requirement to limit the construction of very large houses (i.e. McMansions and McModerns), can be found here.
  • Owner occupancy, under current regulations, a property owner is required to occupy either the main house or the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for six months of the year. They cannot rent out both the main house and the ADU. The current proposal would remove the owner-occupancy requirement. The Preferred Alternative would allow a second ADU only if the property has been owned by the same person/entity for at least one year. I am not convinced that the ownership requirement for a second ADU makes sense at this point and I am asking staff for options to instead include an affordability requirement or a higher level of green building in order to be allowed to build a second ADU. More information about removing this requirement is available here.

I believe lowering the barriers to creating backyard cottages and in-law apartments is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. If you have any further questions, please reach out to Alisha Dall’Osto at Alisha.dall’osto@seattle.gov. 

Thank you,