Seattle Aims to Ease Building of Backyard Cottages
A legal ruling earlier this week will allow the Seattle city council to move forward on legislation to ease restrictions on building backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in Seattle. The legislation had been held up by a legal challenge brought forward by a neighborhood group. However, on Monday a hearing examiner determined that the environmental review from the city was adequate to move forward.
“We need to use every tool in our toolbox to boost the supply of housing—and that includes knocking down barriers for homeowners to build more backyard cottages and in-law units.” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The City Council could be briefed on legislation by the end of the month and have a possible vote scheduled for June 18th.
Why Backyard Cottages?
Backyard Cottages—also known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—are seen as one piece of the puzzle in creating more housing options. Seattle is plagued by a housing affordability problem, as the median home price hovers around nearly $700k. Easing restrictions on the permitting and building of backyard cottages and mother-in-law units could potentially help increase density and add affordable units without changing neighborhood character too drastically.
Under current law, building ADUs is bogged down by financial roadblocks, restrictions and a long permitting process. This results in older homes being torn down in favor of larger, modern homes with sky-high price tags. Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien addressed this issue, saying, “We are seeing a lot of developers tear down single-family homes, and what they build is a bigger single-family homes. And we want to encourage folks to not do that and instead maintain existing family homes and build backyard cottages or in-law units.”
What Does This Legislation Do?
Councilmember O’Brien has championed the ADU legislation. His proposed bill would allow the following changes:
- Establishes a maxmimum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) that limits the size of the home relative to the size of the lot at .5 (so for a 6,000 sq ft lot, a home could be 3,000 sq ft)
- Allows two ADUs on the same lot
- Allows ADUs on smaller lots
- No longer requires off-street parking for ADU units
- No longer requires owners of properties with ADUs to live on-site
- Increases number of unrelated people allowed to live on ADU lots from 8 to 12
- Increases size limit of detached ADUs to 1,000 sq ft
- Increases height limits and allows more height in exchange for green building strategies
Note: This is the proposed legislation, so it remains to be seen whether this is the final version of what is passed. ADUs would be allowed and are encouraged to exceed the FAR restrictions for single-family lots.
What is the Impact?
According to the Urbanist, approximately 75,000 lots in Seattle are eligible to build an ADU or DADU, which equates to 60% of all single-family lots. This could translate to a considerable increase in the building of ADUs. The city’s Environmental Impact Statement estimated that 2,500 more ADUs could be built—almost double the current number—and that 500 less homes would be torn down.
Overall, revising Seattle ADU legislation could represent a significant opportunity for current homeowners to add value and income to their homes. It could help homeowners with aging relatives or younger children stay in the home or develop an income stream from a rental property.
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