Backyard Cottages Are Key to Building Inclusive, Multi-generational Neighborhoods


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I am pleased to share we are one step closer to legislation to lower the barriers to building backyard cottages and basement units in Seattle. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been published.  The EIS evaluates the potential environmental impacts of proposed changes to the City’s Land Use Code intended to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones (also known as backyard cottages or in-law apartments).

The results of the analysis indicate that all of the action alternatives would increase the production of ADUs and would reduce the number of teardowns of single-family homes citywide compared to the No Action alternative.  Here is a brief description of the EIS and Preferred Alternative.  The Preferred Alternative analyzed in the Final EIS represents the changes I intend to include in legislation, hopefully in early 2019.

Some key elements of my proposal will include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Allowing Detached ADUs (DADUs) on lots of at least 3,200 square feet
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement
  • Requiring one year of continuous ownership to establish a second ADU
  • Allowing DADUs of up to 1,000 square feet, the same size currently allowed for AADUs
  • Increasing DADU height limits by 1-2 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
  • Providing flexibility for one-story DADUs accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility, with limitations on tree removal
  • Establishing a new floor area ratio (FAR) standard that limits the maximum size of new single-family homes and encourages ADUs

The Environmental Impact Statement, which commenced in October 2017, represents the capstone on a multi-year effort to explore policy changes that would spur creation of ADUs.

Based on comments we received and the analysis that was conducted, we believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones. What’s more, the addition of ADUs will afford homeowners and renters alike a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at a variety of incomes. This includes family members who want to age ‘in place’, or increase their income through a long-term rental.

Without an appeal to the EIS, we would plan to introduce legislation and take Council action in early 2019.  If the EIS is appealed, Council cannot take action and the timeline becomes more uncertain, depending on the complexity of the appeal and scheduling availability.

I am eager to move forward with legislation and have heard from hundreds of people over the last few years who are ready and waiting for us to move forward.

The Final EIS is available here on our project website and you can also view this piece is a piece published about the EIS in the Seattle Times.

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