Seattle Hearing Examiner Rules Against the City’s Proposed Legislation to Allow Construction of More Backyard Cottages and Mother-in-Law Apartments in Single Family Zones

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On December 13, 2016, the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner ruled that the City of Seattle must perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before moving forward with proposed legislation that would ease restrictions on the construction of accessory dwelling units and detached accessory dwelling units.  Accessory dwelling units, commonly referred to as ADUs or mother-in-law apartments, have been allowed in Seattle since 1994.  Detached accessory dwelling units, commonly referred to as DADUs or backyard cottages, have been allowed in southeast Seattle under a pilot program since 2006, and citywide since 2010.

The City’s proposed legislation would:

  • Modify certain development standards for siting, designing and constructing ADUs and DADUs.
  • Allow an eligible lot to have both an ADU and a DADU.
  • Increase size limits on DADUs from 800 square feet of gross floor area to 1,000 square feet – the same size that is currently allowed for ADUs.
  • Reduze minimum lot size for DADUs from 4,000 square feet to 3,200 square feet.
  • Remove the requirement for one off-street parking space when an ADU or DADU is established.
  • Require owner-occupancy for a period of 12 months after an ADU or DADU is established.

As part of the legislative process, the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development issued a determination of non-significance (DNS), which found that the proposed code amendment would not have a significant adverse impact upon the environment.  The DNS was appealed by by the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC), a neighborhood group comprised of residents and business owners in the Queen Anne neighborhood.  The Hearing Examiner reversed the DNS after a four day hearing finding that, among other things, the City failed to consider the proposed legislations “impacts on existing housing, including the displacement of some populations.”  This finding was based upon testimony and evidence presented by QACC alleging that the proposed legislation would adversely impact lower income housing and displace vulnerable populations.  The Hearing Examiner ordered the City to prepare an EIS that addresses the impacts on existing housing, the displacement of vulnerable populations and other environmental impacts of the proposed legislation.

Stay tuned to our blog to find out whether the City appeals the Hearing Examiner’s decision – they have until January 3, 2017 to file a land use petition – or whether the City proceeds with preparing the EIS, revises the proposed code amendment or abandons the proposed legislation altogether.

About the Authors

Brandon Gribben

Brandon’s practice focuses primarily on land use and general real estate issues as well as real estate and general commercial litigation. His clients include real estate developers, housing cooperatives, condominiums and individual homeowners

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