Emergency! Seattle City Council is Doing it Again

Almost as if to prove my point, the Seattle City Council is considering an emergency proposal to prevent “a rush” by property owners to build cottages on small and odd lots in single family neighborhoods. Wallingford neighbors rallied and the Council listened. So next week the Council will try to squash any further effort to build more housing on “undersized lots.” The planners down at City Hall have determined and reported that

development approved under current standards is often out of character with surrounding conditions and inconsistent with the policy intent of allowing infill development on undersized lots. Interim measures are proposed in order to prevent a rush to obtain permits and develop properties in a manner that is not appropriate while this issue is being studied.

Yeah, right. Hold my coat while I call rush to call my architect. I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank if they somehow fail to pass this.

Go to the window of your big, tall, cottage, stick your head out, and yell . . . .

Once again Seattle engages in a long process (the original cottage discussion went on for years), passes legislation to allow more cottages, otherwise known as Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, in single family neighborhoods only to hit the panic button when a few angry neighbors don’t like what they see.*

Instead of highlighting these small lot cottages as really awesome feats of architecture, engineering, and free market capitalism the Council goes into emergency mode. Why? Because the benefits of developing this new housing is “accruing to developers who are familiar with arcane historic property and tax records.” Imagine that. Get knowledge of the code and tax records and use it to create housing and some extra cash (and some jobs) and that’s a bad thing. Shame on you for knowing arcane things! Only DPD and central staff should know arcane things. Didn’t you get the memo?!

Here’s the grab bag of other reasons why this is such a big emergency:

  • Development is occurring on lots that are so small that they are out of scale with the surrounding development pattern, and neighbors never would have expected that they could be separately developed.
  • In some cases it appears that a lot, although it was technically treated as separate in an historic record, most likely was never held with any intention that it might someday be separately developed.
  • Houses being built on undersized lots are sometimes taller than surrounding homes, or otherwise present imposing façades or inelegant forms, likely due to the desire to maximize potential floor area subject to constraints such as yard requirements that limit the potential building footprint on a small lot.
  • Because the development of a house on an undersized lot requires no discretionary review, it triggers no public notice. Neighbors often become aware that the lot is to be separately developed only when construction begins. No administrative appeal is available; the only recourse is to go to court under the Land Use Petition Act, and the opportunity to do that is subject to a very tight deadline.

The last one is truly farcical. Wait, let’s put our fingers on the scale in favor of NIMBYs, not the hard working, arcane-stuff-knowing people who managed to find a way to legally build more housing for fun and profit. And oh my God, Batman, this housing might be taller than the houses around it. Any central planner knows that something can’t be taller than the things around it!

The Seattle City Council can vote to make changes to allow more and different housing in single family neighborhoods, but then when someone actually figures out how to do it, make rules to stop it in its tracks because it’s too damn tall and the next door neighbor didn’t get a chance to veto it. Welcome to what I call the Seattle Problem, trying to make good things happen, but then making rules that makes those things harder to achieve.

The good news is that the Council needs a two thirds vote to do this. Please contact them and tell them to say “no!”

The chair of the committee is richard.conlin@seattle.gov

Vice-Chair Tim Burgess
Member:
Mike O’Brien
Alternate:
Sally J. Clark:

 * Just to be clear, my point is not to suggest that the small-house-on-a-big-lot “emergency” was caused by Detatched Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) or cottage legislation passed a couple years ago. Instead, what I am pointing out is that the DADU legislation had the intent of creating more and different kinds of housing in single family neighborhoods. Shutting down the big houses on small lots is inconsistent with the principles those of us fought for during the stuggle to allow DADUs all over the city.  

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6 Responses to Emergency! Seattle City Council is Doing it Again

  1. Matt Gangemi says:

    Note: your bold links near the bottom all go to e-mailing Richard Conlin. I just sent Mr. Conlin an email asking him to stop Mr. Conlin’s proposal, thinking I was sending it to Mr. Burgess! Oops.

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  4. Jason says:

    Just stumbled upon your site. In all your posts, you haven’t discussed the issue in a way that makes me believe you understand the issue as it exists. What is occuring that concerns One Home Per Lot (which I am participating in from the outskirts) is that the spirit of the zoning rules are not being followed. I purchased my house knowing the zoning on my block (SF5000). I understood the 75/80 rule that essentially allowed houses to be built on 3750sqft sized lots. I didn’t anticipate a house being built on a lot down the block that is effectively less than 60% of that lot size. What has happened, which caught Conlin’s attention, is there is a pattern here of a subset of developers who are finding the properties that fit the exceptions that allow houses to be built outside the generalized rules, and putting houses in a density greater to the intended zoning.
    Simply, if I spent the time and effort to buy a house in a SF5000 block, I expect that zoning to be followed. If I didn’t care, I would have bought the house I liked in the multi-family zoned neighborhood instead.
    These houses are popping up in frustration to people with these reasonable expectations.

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