Earlier this month, Seattle City Council approved laws that could facilitate the construction of additional housing units (ADUs) – such as backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments – along with a language that would restrict McMansions in single-family zones. On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the legislation and passed an ordinance directing city authorities to make ADUs cheaper and more onerous to build.
The legislation itself gives ADUs more maximum area to be larger (1,000 square feet), allows two on a lot instead of one, and places a requirement for off-street parking, a sometimes complicated and expensive hurdle for homeowners to jump in . Owners no longer have to live on the property an ADU was built on to rent out.
The measure also has more far-reaching effects: it sets the limit of the area ratio (FAR) in one-family zones, which limits the area of a house in relation to its property, at 0.5. For example, a one-story house might only be half the lot, or a quarter for a two-story house of equal area.
While providing greater flexibility in creating ADUs, it can be extremely costly and time consuming to create one. ADUs are still subject to city approval, which increases the price even before construction and utility costs are incurred.
Durkan signed the legislation himself but added an executive order informing various city authorities dealing with construction, building codes, housing and neighborhoods – the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD), the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), and Office of Housing (OH) – to remove economic and bureaucratic barriers for homeowners trying to build an ADU.
The order instructs the city’s employees to:
- Pre-approve some ADU plans to streamline the approval process and implement shorter deadlines for homeowners using these plans.
- Appoint a new city position to help homeowners steer the process.
- Create online homeowner tools to get more clarity and check feasibility.
- Convocation of an “ADU working group” with lawyers and construction professionals (such as arborists and builders) to run programs for homeowners and make recommendations,
- Use an existing home repair program to run a small pilot project to provide low-interest finance for ADU construction – especially ADUs becoming affordable housing, and
- Monitor ADU development trends and statistics, review part of the city council ordinance that requires regular reports, and add participation in city programs to the mix.
After the mayor’s signature, the new ADU rules will come into force on August 8, 2019.