January 14 – Backyard Cottages, SEPA, and Assessing Growth Impacts

While it may seem like so much happens around us that is beyond our control, Washington citizens have more tools than citizens in most of the US. Washington is one of only 16 states which has enacted environmental policy legislation based upon NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, initially passed in 1969.  And it is one of just 5 states which have made citizen review of development possible.

Recently the Queen Anne Community Council successfully appealed to the Seattle Hearing Examiner the City’s Determination of Non-significance of the impacts that could be caused by the proposed changes to rules regarding the productions of backyard cottages and mother-in-law units (DADU, ADU – Accessory Dwelling Units, Detached Accessory Dwelling Units) in Single Family zones.

Beginning in 1993, Washington State law allowed local governments to allow permitting of “accessory apartments” subject to certain local limitations (RCW 43.53A.215; RCW 36.70.677).  The City of Seattle initiated a pilot program in 2006 allowing DADUs on single-family zoned lots, and in 2010 adopted regulations which allowed either an ADU or a DADU on single family lots throughout the City.  By the City’s own count, as of December 2015, only 221 DADUs had been built. City code limited such units to a maximum size of 800 square feet of gross floor area.  Between 2012 and 2014, DADUs averaged 632 square feet, and were built at an average cost of $55,000.  Rents for these units were reported ranging from $650.00 – $1,800.00 per month.

In 2104 the City Council requested a report from the Department of Planning and Development regarding the status of such development and also analysis of policy changes which might increase housing through production of more ADUs and DADUs.  The Office of Planning and Construction Development [OPCD] determined, in its report of October 2015, that given existing land use codes, which limited such development to lots of 4,000 square feet or more, there were 75,000 single-family lots upon which DADUs could be built.  OPCD noted that with a reduction of the minimum lot size, to just 3,200 square feet, the City could permit another 7,000 units, on up to 82,000 single family lots.

Curiously, expansion of ADU/DADU options was one of the HALA recommendations, but did not make the cut from Mayor Murray on work items to be pursued.  However Councilmember Mike O’Brien, working with OPCD, prepared a draft ordinance which would, among other provisions:

  • allow both an ADU and a DADU on the same single-family 3,200 square foot lot;
  • allow an increase in floor area size of a DADU to 1,000 square feet (excluding garage/storage areas);
  • change the ownership requirement so that a 50% owner would only be required to occupy the property in the first year the DADU was built, and could be an absentee thereafter;
  • allowing an increase in the total amount of lot area which could be covered by residential structures to just over 46% for small lots;
  • allow an increase in the total rear yard space for a DADU which was up to 15 feet high;
  • and increasing total rear yard permissible coverage to 60% (as measured from the centerline of any abutting alley);
  • totally remove the existing requirement of on-site parking for any ADU/DADU within an urban center or urban village; and
  • ease restrictions on locations of building entrances, roof structures, increases on interior living spaces and “projections” from DADU structures.

OPCD prepared a SEPA environmental checklist, with limited acknowledgement of some potential impacts, such as from vacation rentals (not regulated), parking, and transportation, as well as public utilities were “negligible,” and thus issued its Determination of Non-Significance.

This issue had been watched carefully by many, including the Land Use Committee of the Queen Anne Community Counsel who appealed the decision to the Seattle Hearing Examiner arguing that the proposed ordinance could not go forward to the City Council for action until a full Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared.

After multiple days of testimony, and briefing which continued over a 6-week period, Seattle Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner issued an opinion on December 13 which found in favor of the QACC, and ordered that the City must complete the entire SEPA process.  That process will include the ability of citizens all over Seattle, and not just in Queen Anne, to review potential impacts of the proposed legislation and to offer official comment.

Our featured guest speaker is Seattle architect Martin Henry Kaplan, Chair of the QACC and former Planning Commission member.  While serving on the Seattle Planning Commission, he helped author the current Backyard Cottage legislation.

At our January meeting we will explore the history of Seattle’s decision to allow and encourage more intense development in Single-Family residential zones, the failure of OPCD to acknowledge the impacts of the proposed ADU/DADU legislation through the SEPA process, and the implications of the Hearing Examiner’s decision on future zoning decisions that could have significant environmental impacts.

Join us for what should be in informative conversation.

A native 3rd generation Seattleite, Marty Kaplan has been principal of honored Seattle-based architectural firm Martin Henry Kaplan, Architects AIA for over 30 years.  Besides practicing in many areas of the U.S., he has consistently contributed his time and expertise to local community service serving on boards such as AIA Seattle (5 yrs), the Intiman Theatre (10 yrs); Pike Place Market Historical Commission (6 yrs); Seattle Planning Commission (2005-2012); Blaine Co Idaho ARCH Community Housing Trust (4 yrs); Queen Anne Community Council and Land Use Review Committee-LURC (14 yrs), South Lake Union and Mercer St Stakeholders Group (11 yrs); Uptown UDF Stakeholder (7 yrs) and many others.  He ran for Seattle City Council in 2009.

[Special Notice:  Our February Meeting will include the SNC Annual meeting.  SNC is a Washington Non-Profit Corporation.]


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