With all legal challenges currently settled, the Seattle City Council is pushing forward with revised legislation meant to make it easier and more financially attractive to build accessory dwelling units in single-family neighborhoods.

The Queen Anne Community Council lost its appeal of a final environmental impact statement addressing the proposed land use code changes on May 13, the FEIS being required by the Seattle Hearing Examiner after QACC challenged the Office of Planning and Community Development’s determination of non-significance in 2016.

“Given the groundbreaking nature of some of the features of the proposed legislation, it is impossible to know whether none, some, or all of the ill effects claimed by Appellant will come to pass,” Deputy Hearing Examiner Barbara Dykes Ehrlichman wrote in her decision, adding that’s a policy debate the city council now faces.

QACC Land Use Review Committee chair Martin Kaplan, who spearheaded the appeal, cited that line from the hearing examiner’s decision during public comment before the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee on Wednesday, May 29. He said the environmental impact statement should have been able to inform the council and public of the potential impact of the land-use changes and how to mitigate them.

Under the proposed changes, lots in single-family zones could have an attached accessory dwelling unit (AADU) and 1,000-square-foot detached accessory dwelling (DADU) unit in lots with a minimum of 3,200 square feet, or two AADUs.

Providing off-street parking would not be required, and the property owner would not have to live in any of the dwelling units. One year of continuous ownership would be required to build a second accessory dwelling unit.

Lots with two ADUs could house 12 unrelated people, which QACC argued would result in up to nine cars per single-family lot. The city anticipates one vehicle per ADU. If a property is already required to provide an off-street parking space, creating an ADU would not allow that property owner to eliminate that parking space.

District 7 Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she wanted to find ways to minimize off-street parking impacts, suggesting something like restricted parking zones, where a homeowner and ADU resident would each have a sticker authorizing them to park there.

She also wanted to address concerns about the loss of tree canopy in the city in general, but revised legislation in one of her committees isn’t likely to be ready by the fall budget season, she said. If a single tree on a lot were prohibiting creating an accessory dwelling unit, she said, she’d like to consider allowing a homeowner to make a payment to replace the tree elsewhere.

If a second ADU is created in a new structure, such as a backyard cottage or carriage house (DADU), it must meet a green building standard, which is a code change not included in the preferred alternative studied in the FEIS. A DADU on a 30-50-foot-wide lot would be allowed to reach 15 feet in height, or 18 feet with a green roof.

Mother-in-laws (AADUs) have been allowed since 1994, and backyard cottages since 2010. Only 600 DADUs have been created since then, which represents less than 1 percent of eligible single-family lots, according to draft legislation sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

Annual average ADU production in Seattle is at 160 units, far lower than the average 732 in Vancouver, British Columbia, or the 270 produced in Portland.

Those building ADUs in Seattle are primarily white and wealthy homeowners. Councilmembers at the May 29 committee meeting stressed the importance of not only making ADUs affordable to build but also
affordable to rent.

Aly Penucci with Central Staff addressed a proposal by O’Brien to require a second ADU on a property only be allowed if it were rent- and income-restricted. That kind of incentive zoning would require a 50-year term of affordability under state law, she said, which likely would discourage homeowners from developing a second ADU. Councilmembers responded favorably to the potential for a loan program the city could offer to homeowners wanting to construct an income-restricted accessory dwelling unit, which Penucci said would not fall under the same restrictions as incentive zoning.

“I think there’s opportunity going forward to find that sweet spot to help out homeowners,” O’Brien said, particularly those with affordable housing creation as their motivation for creating an ADU.

University District resident Ruedi Risler expressed concern about the legislation not requiring owner occupancy, which he said would result in real estate investors buying homes and turning them into boarding houses for college students.

Penucci said the city found removing the owner-occupancy requirement had a significant impact on increasing the number of ADUs built in Seattle. In addressing concerns about speculation, Penucci said developers and investors generate more profit from selling large homes than from renting out three units.

Architect Sheri Olson, who serves on the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle’s Housing Task Force, delivered the group’s support for the draft legislation. As a residential architect, Olson said, she has heard a lot of interest from homeowners looking forward to the land-use changes taking effect.

Emily Johnston, a member of the climate justice organization 350Seattle, also expressed support for the legislation and a desire to create her own accessory dwelling unit once it becomes less restrictive.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, and then meet a week later to potentially vote the legislation and any amendments out of committee.