I love Backyard Cottages and I design them in the work that I do. I also design rental suites for single-family houses, basement apartments, and flexible shared houses, too. I encourage my clients to develop sustainable homesteads over time on the lots they own and live on that can accommodate up to 8 people who the owner-occupant may or may not be related to.
Increasing the 8 to 12 is fine. I’d love to see those 12 people own 4 or less cars. We are 8 at my shared house now, and have 6 cars that are not used all that much. I’m sure that as transit becomes more of “a choice that a person in the free world will make”, as transit planner Jarrett Walker says, we’ll all be glad to have fewer cars. But we’re not quite there yet and meanwhile, storing cars somewhere other than the public right of way makes sense, so moderate private parking requirements are fine with me.
About 12 years ago when we finally broke through in Seattle to allow Backyard Cottages, I was amongst the biggest proponents. Even Carnation allowed Backyard Cottages, but Seattle Didn’t.
Around that time, I was rebuilding my house on the old 1954 rambler foundation to the maximum allowable height of 35′ to the roof peak. The master plan for my site includes a really sweet apartment-above-garage style backyard cottage, too, and as soon as I have enough money saved, I’m going to build it and I can’t wait. Most of my neighbors also wish to have backyard cottages on our alley and we already have laws that allow them.
What we needed were a handful of tweaks to that decade-old ADU legislation. What we really did not need was to to take a sledgehammer to it. It’s clear to me (admittedly a bit of a land use policy wonk) that the proposed changes are special-interest driven and quite politically charged and that disappoints me.
I’m a conservative progressive and I see that the uber-liberal progressives are promoting a land use agenda that is anti-family, anti-group, anti-homeownership, anti-tree, anti-main street, anti-neighborhood, anti-affordability, and anti-social.
It’s all in the name of their deity, which is developer-friendly density. Density used to be a more agreeable concept with me – I am, after all, an old school urbanist with a degree in environmental science and landscape architecture – but I’ve soured on it since it became all about Wall Street.
Supposedly, we can finally put white privilege in check with this “urbanist manifesto” if we just get the owners out and bring the investors in. This proposed legislative “cure” hurts everyone who lives or works in Seattle and wants to afford a piece of the rock and a short commute to work. It does, however, serve the developers, Real Estate Investment Trusts and global investors quite well by basically putting the local residents and workers on the menu.
Fool me once (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda that had no affordability or livability in it) shame on you. Fool me twice (ADU Legislative Changes), well NO, just NO.
Here are my amendments that could fix what I see as the biggest bloopers of the proposal:
1. Maintain owner-occupancy requirement
-Curtails investment speculation by REITs and global investors
-Prevents shallow-rooted communities and family/group habitat degradation
-Increases homeownership (the ultimate rent control)
-Increases affordable rentals (owner occupants provide cheapest rents)
2. Eliminate .5 FAR (Floor Area Ratio), substitute .2 FL* (Footprint Limit) for primary residence
-Building up not out allows taller houses on smaller foundations which allows for more natural drainage, gardens, trees, and more.
-Still allows for more square footage that can accommodate more residents in the future. A bigger house is definitely better as the transition of parts of Capitol Hill from single families to groups and ADUs showed us.
-Encourage stick-framed pitched roofs for primary residences and DADUs with potential for loft, attic or 3rd floor living area now or in the future vs. flat roof with no potential living space.
*i.e. 5000 sf lot x .2 = 1000 sf footprint, 7200 sf lot x .2 = 1,440 sf footprint
3. Require “rough-in” of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical for potential future accessory dwelling unit(s), not full build out
-Encourage flexible floor plans with stacked flats that can accommodate 1 or more family units in the future
4. Apply same height and size limits of DADUs to garages
-Homeowners can “nickel and dime” development of backyard cottages over time which is “housing in the bank” for the future
-Lots of garages are falling down, but current 16’ height limit for garages (12’ to plate + 4’ to roof peak) limits future potential for carriage houses over garages.
5. Encourage most DADU development to occur on lots with alleys
-Create separate size limits for DADUs on lots without alley access
-Alleys create buffer between backyard cottage and rear yard neighbors
-Parking off alley is easy and accessible – reduces use of on-street parking
6. Maintain 40% allowance for rear yard lot coverage by DADU rather than increase to 60%
-Covering more of the ground is not sustainable, encourage smaller footprint
-Build up not out, 40% rear yard lot coverage is plenty
7. Require additional parking spot for DADU (backyard cottage), but not an additional parking spot for ADU (apartment in house)
-Make exceptions for lots where an additional parking space is not possible or practical
Please share this list with your councilmember and the mayor. Thank you.