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.


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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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.