Chapter 23.42 General Use Provisions

This chapter is all about use in the most general sense. Here are the essential principals to think about when considering the kinds of uses that are allowed in Seattle:

Principal—The use that is defined by the zoning designations I listed earlier (L3, NC 40 etc.);
Accessory—Incidental and subordinate to the principal use or structure permitted by the zoning designation;
Intermittent—Any use that occurs no more than two (2) days per week and does not involve the erection of a permanent structure;
Temporary—Any temporary structure may be authorized if it is necessary for construction, for example;
Conditional—a use that isn’t consistent with zoning but is allowed by the Council and the director of the Department of Planning and Development; and
Nonconforming—Usually a use that pre-existed current zoning standards or a use that is deemed out of compliance with current code but in the process of coming into compliance.

It may seem that these things are blindingly obvious. And I guess they are. But each of these categories is critical in land use decisions and change in the built environment.

The underlying code designations, say L3, designate a specific use and that use is essentially locked down, unless something changes or was in place when new zoning went into effect. The built environment is constantly changing around us and the zoning designations I will eventually write about are a snapshot of what the City decided it wanted at a specific point in time for principal use.

But there are things that pre-existed that decision. Often those get an allowance. Other times there are things going on that require changes in use for a short period of time. And there are times when a property owner wants to change use for a specific reason. Each of these changes are regulated with a lot of discretion going to the director of the Department of Planning and Development to make the final decision about what can stay, what goes, and what might be allowed with conditions.

These issues can often be even more contentious than new construction. Say I wanted to open up a half-way house for sex offenders with a small auto repair shop and an array of cellular antennae on my single family home in Wallingford. Technically I could probably pull that off, but it would require a lot of political support from the City to grant me the use changes I would need to do these things in the face of neighborhood opposition.

This is also the chapter that sets the rules for our special barnyard animal friends.

Sadly we’re only allowed “one farm animal for every 10,000 square feet of lot area.”  And real pigs aren’t allowed. So my dream of running a bacon and cheese farm in Laurelhurst will have to wait until after the revolution.

Two points on this chapter and then I will move on.

First, this chapter highlights the importance of the director’s role at DPD. The code can’t possibly conceive of every single kind of variance or need for a conditional use. The code is constantly bouncing back and forth between “you can’t build anything above thus and such height unless it covers such and such  percentage of the lot provided that the surrounding area contains x percent of y” and “the director will determine whether such a use will be allowed.” Some passages of the code are highly prescriptive and others leave it up to the director.

This isn’t uncommon at all. Any rule or law or code is going to require some interpretation. The emerging issue I see with the code is that because it has been written over many years by many hands, the approach to certain problems ends up being different. Sometimes the code sets out iron clad requirements and other times it allows director discretion. I’ll say more on this later.

Second, on the matter of animals.

Front Yard Rooster

This picture of this fine feathered friend was taken in Mexico. The village of San Pancho is a study of what single family neighborhoods should aspire to be. The pattern of development in San Pancho is hodgepodge, making it difficult sometimes to tell whether an open door is an entrance to a restaurant or someone’s living room or both.

And they have roosters. Lots of roosters. They also have guys in trucks driving around with loudspeakers urging people go to the local market. The thing that we can learn from San Pancho is how quiet and buttoned down our single family neighborhoods truly are, and how more diversity in use and design could lead to more social cohesion and walkability. The recent controversy over backyard chickens and Seattle’s prohibition of roosters is testament to just how noise averse we are. Being prickly about use is something we need to get over.

More on these two ideas later. But beware, if I have my way Laurelhurst will be a lot louder.

Photo credit: lightfoot from

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One Response to Chapter 23.42 General Use Provisions

  1. Pingback: Chapter 23.44 Residential, Single-Family: Subchapter III Accessory Uses | Seattle's Land Use Code

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