DADU proposed code change amendments

city council is debating which of the proposed code changes will go into effect and offering their own amendments

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a DADU used as a short term rental prior to grandfather's retirement

As city council prepares to vote on the proposed code changes to Seattle's single family zones, even amendments have been proposed.  These include owner occupancy restrictions for short term rentals and allowance for bike parking. 

Here is what we think is important.

  • The proposed code changes would remove the owner occupancy requirement. An amendment would add a 1 year requirement for the 2nd ADU. We believe that owner occupancy should be required for all properties with ADUS for a period of time (3 years).

The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors note that the EIS does not take into account the increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement. Owner occupancy for a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.  

  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.

A proposed amendment by Lisa Herbold would prohibit short term rental use for new ADUs. It would be far better to maintain the owner occupancy requirement. Allowing owner's flexibility is crucial to long term planning for those contemplating building an ADU.  The higher rate of return for a short term rental (STR) allows more ADU's and DADUs to be built.  A majority of the homeowner's we work with plan to use their cottages as short term rental at some point.  The magnolia cottage pictured above was rented out as a STR for a few years, which paid for construction, prior to the owner's father moving in.

  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council. 

Two proposed amendment would monitor ADU permitting and use this seems like a good idea.

  • Garage Space should be included in FAR calculations. 

The current proposal would allow the exclusion of up to 1,000 sq. ft. of garage space for ADUs. This is effectively a parking subsidy. A better solution would be limiting the exempted area to 200 sq. ft. or enough space for one car. One proposed amendment would allow 25 sq. ft. to be excluded for bike parking, seems unnecessary.  

Comments may be submitted to Lisa Herbold lisa.herbold@seattle.gov

Childhood Home Creates Options for the Future in Eastlake

In 2010 Colette and her family purchased her childhood Craftsman home in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood.  As Colette and Chris noticed similar houses nearby being replaced by rows of apartment buildings, they considered ways to preserve their own home and history. That meant improving and maintaining the original house, and also creating an income stream to secure their options for the future. A backyard cottage turned out to be just what they were looking for.

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How did the idea of building a backyard cottage come about?

Colette: My husband Chris and I moved back to Seattle in 2010 with our two children and were able to buy my childhood home from my family. The home needed extensive work so we did it at a very slow pace. Once the main house was close to being finished we noticed that many houses on our block were being sold to developers. What was once a quiet Craftsman lined street was turning into rows of apartment buildings.

That got us thinking about how to preserve my childhood home and invest and grow with the neighborhood. It was simple: build a backyard cottage and use it as a short-term rental to pay off the new debt, and later have a guest house. We also began to see it as a great investment into our retirement and something we can leave to our kids. We can live in the cottage when the kids are gone, or perhaps we can fly off to Italy and let the cottage and house support us in our next stage of life. The cottage suddenly gave us positive options for the future. 

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What did you enjoy most about the process?

Colette: I loved every part of the process. Because our lot was small and there were only a certain number of ways to build our structure, the design part became quite easy. Bruce and Stefan [of microhouse] were great at listening to what we wanted and were always willing to change things to get them right. 

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At one point in the build we had some large joists delivered that were used as our entryway ceiling and our loft floor. Garrick, our builder, set them up for me and loaned me his sander so I could work on them before they were installed. I really enjoyed that they allowed me access to work on projects for the cottage.

I was also able to design the inside of the cottage to fit furniture I was buying along the way. Walls were made to fit vanities and all the lighting was installed to my specifications for the fixtures I had bought. 

What challenges did you face during the process?

Colette: My biggest challenge in this process was my neighbor. They didn’t like what we were doing. They objected to noise, dust, and anything that needed to go over their property line. It became quite ugly and it was a sad break to a 30-year friendship.

For me, living through construction was pretty fun. It was great to look out the kitchen window and watch walls go up. Garrick and I became friends and it was easy to have him around. He was missed when the project ended. 

How long did the process take?

Colette: It took about a year to get the plans down just right. The build began just before fall of 2017 and ended in the spring of 2018.

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Is there anything you would do differently if you had to do it over?

Colette: If we ever decide to build again I would work with Bruce, Stefan and Garrick again. It was truly a pleasure. 

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What’s your favorite thing about your cottage?

Colette: I love the size of our cottage. It looks narrow and small from the outside, but when you enter it seems much, much larger. It feels like a trick of the eye. I love the shiplap wall we built as a focal point. I love that the appliances all fit into the kitchen I assembled. I love that I was very much a part of the build and that my ideas and creativity were used throughout. 

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Understanding Seattle's Proposed Land-Use Code Changes

City council has proposed significant changes to the Seattle Land-Use Code with the aim of increasing the construction of backyard cottages (DADUs) and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These changes, in the making for years now, have been delayed by a lawsuit and appeal brought about under SEPA regulations. Seattle City Council held a public hearing to discuss the proposed code changes Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and possible vote on amendments and the proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

What do these changes really mean for Seattle and for ADUs?

The proposed code changes include many items that are minor and could have been completed years ago. These include modest increases in size and height of allowed cottages, details about dormers, and the location of entries. The more significant changes proposed are as follows:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot

  • Removing the off-street parking requirement

  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement

  • Increasing the household size limit for a lot with two ADUs

  • Establishing a new limit on the maximum size of single-family dwellings equal to one half of the lot size (FAR = 0.5)

This DADU was built for a grandparent in the Bryant neighborhood

This DADU was built for a grandparent in the Bryant neighborhood

Owner Occupancy

Of these we believe the owner-occupancy requirement is most important. Currently the owner is required to live on the property for a minimum of six months of the year.

The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors believe that it will lead to the destruction of large numbers of existing homes and their replacement with duplexes and triplexes. They also note an increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement.

Our Recommendations:

  • The original proposal to sunset owner occupancy after a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.

  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.  

  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council.

The builder plans to maintain ownership of this DADU and sell the primary residence using a condominium agreement

The builder plans to maintain ownership of this DADU and sell the primary residence using a condominium agreement

Floor Area Ratio Limits

The EIS finds that the most significant way to reduce tear-downs (i.e the removal of naturally occurring affordable housing) will occur by introducing a floor area ratio (FAR) limit. Currently the size of new houses is limited by setbacks and height limits. The trend in new construction is for very large houses (with correspondingly large price tags), which are typically beyond the means of median income earners. The FAR limit would reduce the size of what can be built but exclude ADUs and DADUs from the restriction. The goal being to prevent tear-downs and to encourage rather the construction of ADUs and DADUs.

Our Recommendations:

  • Approve a FAR limit of 0.5 for new construction.

  • Exemption of ADUs and DADUs from the FAR limit.

The City Council held a public hearing to discuss these proposed changes on Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and potential vote on the amendments and proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

We encourage you to voice your opinion with your council members and look forward to moving ahead with sensible legislation.


a chef's kitchen, custom beer taps and abundant light

The owner built this backyard cottage as a rental but fell in love (with the cottage) during the design process and decided to rent out his house instead. Designed to emphasize custom details, this DADU reflects of the owner’s lifestyle.

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The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. As the height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot, the maximum allowable footprint for this cottage was 328 sq. ft. 

It features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room. 

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area. The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area. The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.

The kitchen is located along one wall making it both compact and simple. A movable kitchen island creates a flexible work space and accordion doors open onto a new patio filling the ground floor with light. 

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Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors

Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors

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A door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

A door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps. A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.

Custom-built beer taps. A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.

Custom-built beer taps. A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.

The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.

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The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight. A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves, a shower under the other with beautiful tile work featured throughout.

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Seattle DADU code changes - almost there?

Closing arguments will be submitted on April 21st, and responses due April 26th, in the hearing concerning proposed land use code changes affecting backyard cottages and other ADUs. 

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this backyard cottage provides a home for proud grandparents in Ballard


Two years ago the City of Seattle proposed a number of code changes intended to promote the construction of DADUs and ADUs. Those changes include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot

  • Removing the off-street parking requirement

  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement and requiring one year of ownership when creating a second ADU

  • Modifying development standards that regulate the size, height, and location of DADUs

  • Increasing the household size limit for a lot with two ADUs

  • Establishing a new limit on the maximum size of single-family dwellings, excluding ADUs, equal to one half of the lot size (FAR = 0.5)

The city contends that the proposed changes will be radical enough to spur a wave of new construction in residential neighborhoods while not adversely impacting them. Others disagreed. In hearing an appeal brought by the Queen Anne Community Council, the Seattle Hearing Examiner ruled that City's original SEPA response was not adequate. This ruling launched a full blown study (EIS) into the potential environmental impacts of the proposed code changes. The Final EIS was issued last fall and the findings were again challenged. The appellants claim the EIS does not fully assess the impacts of increased development in residential neighborhoods. For the appeal, Tree PAC (concerned with the potential loss of urban tree canopy due to increased development), have joined the Queen Anne Community Council.


Whats Next?
If the Hearing Examiner rules that the EIS is sufficient, the City Council will consider legislation to implement the proposed Land Use Code changes as early as early summer.

PIngpong, Prince, and Permits: a backyard Cottage Story

Fremont residents Paul and Caroline’s backyard cottage project started as a teardown and rebuild of an aging garage behind their main house. The original goal? To have a new space for their pingpong table. But the plan evolved into a two-story structure of 800 square feet, with living space on the second story. Paul designed and built the backyard cottage and microhouse handled the permitting and land use requirements.

This interview with Paul and Caroline has been edited for length and clarity.

Read More

upcoming workshops

backyard cottages for fun and profit

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Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Bruce Parker from Microhouse and Stefan Hansmire from Hansmire Builders to learn more about how to plan for and establish a realistic budget for your cottage. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. 


Upcoming workshop dates:

Thursday, March 7,  7:00 pm 
Phinney Neighborhood Center.
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
Admission Price: $15 members, $25 general public

Register

backyard cottage open house Friday September 21st

Learn more about backyard cottages and meet others who have built or are thinking about building a backyard cottage! 

Colette and Chris built this backyard cottage as a short term rental. Their cottage cottage takes advantage of the sloping site to create a unique three level design.  It features a generous master suite, a living room with vaulted ceilings and an 2nd bedroom/office on the top floor.  2 Bedroom, 2  Bathrooms. The cottage will be open Friday September 21st from 4:30 to 7:00 pm. Email info@microhousenw.com for more information.

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how big? - a look at Seattle's backyard cottage rules

The first question we typically answer is what can we build? As the cost of building a backyard cottage is not insignificant, it makes sense to make a careful analysis of both the governing regulations and the potential for each site. It seems obvious that an erroneous or incomplete knowledge of land use and building codes can lead to expensive mistakes and delays.  What might be less obvious is that lack of informed planning may also lead to a failure to realize the full potential of a particular site and use. 


FAQ: backyard cottage allowable size - in Seattle backyard cottages are limited to 800 sq. ft. in size -- referred to in the land use code as Gross Square Footage

This 3 bedroom cottage has a footprint of 800 sq. ft. and a full basement

This 3 bedroom cottage has a footprint of 800 sq. ft. and a full basement

This Columbia City property is shared by two sisters who are planning to build a family compound with separate houses. They were worried that an 800 sq. ft. cottage would not be adequate for a growing family. They felt that it was important for the cottage to have a kitchen, living, full bath, and 2 bedrooms on the main level in addition to a separate family room, office and 1/2 bath.  A tall order for 800 sq. ft..

For them, the solution was to add a basement level -- as below grade basements are not counted towards the allowable area. This also reduced the height and bulk of the cottage which is another consideration when adding a DADU to a typical Seattle lot. Fortunately, the owners have a couple of things working in their favor. One is that they have a relatively large lot which allowed them to build 800 sq. ft. on one level. The other is that the owner's father is a contractor and who built them a scaled mock-up that we could use to help model the visual impacts to on their yard. In this case, the cottage was designed to be just large enough to block the view of a series of new apartment buildings, but not so large as to adversely shade their yard. 

FAQ: backyard cottage allowable size - storage areas, attics, garages, and carports are included in the allowable area.

It is important, but not always easy, to get a handle on how a cottage will feel in the backyard. We often start by pacing out the dimensions of typical cottages with our clients. We think of 400 sq. ft. as being the minimum footprint for a single level 1 bedroom cottage. However most cottages we design have a 2nd floor to maximize living area while keeping the footprint to a minimum. 

   This one bedroom backyard cottage has a footprint of 336 sq. ft.

 

This one bedroom backyard cottage has a footprint of 336 sq. ft.

Just getting started? We recommend attending one of our backyard cottage tours, which happen periodically throughout the year. They provide an opportunity to get a sense for the size of DADU's both inside and out. You can use the widget at the top of the page to sign up for our open house invite list.  

 

Looking for backyard cottage ideas? Please visit our work tab.

backyard cottage rule changes

This morning SDCI staff briefed the city council on proposed changes to the land use code affecting backyard cottages. The changes are part of omnibus code update, a collection of amendments that are relatively small in scale, and have a limited scope of impact, into an “omnibus” bill. 

If you were hoping, as we were, that clarification on gross square footage or parking or other hot topic items you will be disappointed. However, if you live in a shoreline area you can now build a backyard cottage. The original legislation concerning backyard cottages prohibited DADUs on lots if any portion of the lot was within a shoreline district.  It is not clear what the intent of the original legislation was. Now that it is proposed to be eliminated, should we expect an explosion in the number of beach cabanas in Seattle?  Unlikely, since 2009 we have only spoken with two potential DADU builders who were impacted by this restriction. Of course, they will be quite happy.

Meanwhile, the more significant proposed DADU code changes, those that are part of the ongoing EIS process, are scheduled to go before Seattle City Council this summer.

backyard cottage - would you move into your own backyard?

The owner built this backyard cottage as a rental but fell in love (with the cottage) during the design process and decided to rent out his house instead.  
 

This backyard cottage features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms that open with accordion doors onto a patio with a gas fireplace.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room.  The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. The height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot. This lot was particularly small limiting the allowable footprint to 294 sq. ft

This backyard cottage features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms that open with accordion doors onto a patio with a gas fireplace.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room.  The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. The height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot. This lot was particularly small limiting the allowable footprint to 294 sq. ft

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area.  The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.   

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area.  The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.

 

The kitchen is located along one wall is both compact and simple.

The kitchen is located along one wall is both compact and simple.

Accordion doors open up the cottage to the new patio with gas fireplace.  A movable kitchen island is the perfect accessory to the compact kitchen.  Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors.  The joists were spaced to accommodate the owner's weight lifting rack.

Accordion doors open up the cottage to the new patio with gas fireplace.

A movable kitchen island is the perfect accessory to the compact kitchen.  Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors.  The joists were spaced to accommodate the owner's weight lifting rack.

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Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps.  A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.  

Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps.  A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.  

A pocket door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

A pocket door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. 

The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. 

The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.

The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.

The shower is tucked into an under eave space. 

The shower is tucked into an under eave space. 

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The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight.  A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves.  

The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight.  A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves.
 

The owner built a new patio with a gas fire place.  The stairs from the house were rebuilt align with the cottage.

The owner built a new patio with a gas fire place.  The stairs from the house were rebuilt align with the cottage.

backyard cottage workshop tomorrow, March 7th

Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages and meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage?  If so you might be wondering, can I build a backyard cottage on my lot and how much does it costs to build a backyard cottage?  To answer these questions we periodically assemble experts in the design, construction and of financing backyard cottages. Our workshops offer a unique opportunity to have your questions answered in an informal setting. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   Wednesday March 7th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Blue Building Room 1. Phinney Neighborhood Center 6532 Phinney Avenue North


Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Microhouse and Ncompass Construction to learn more about backyard cottage design, construction, and use. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. 
 

Microhouse and Ncompass Construction

$15 PNA member, $20 Public