The Seattle Planning and Community Development Bureau (OPCD) is currently reviewing its options for Pre-Approved Additional Housing Plans (ADU) to simplify their creation.
Back in July, Seattle City Council passed long-awaited reforms to ADU laws that include backyard houses and mother-in-law apartments. Legislation allows more (and larger) ADCs to be built and relaxes some code requirements – for example, on-site parking requirements have been removed, which was a difficult and sometimes expensive requirement.
Because ADUs are largely built by a typical home owner rather than a developer, building them is a challenge. Not only is the budget likely to be smaller – approval fees could run into thousands of dollars – but the paperwork is quite onerous for laypeople. Approval can take a few months or most of a year, depending on the circumstances. It only becomes more difficult and costly when plans are rejected and have to be resubmitted.
A faster process will help reduce fees – and other costs such as design costs could also decrease. OPCD spokesman Jason Kelly tells us that pre-approved plans reduce review time, “both reduce the cost of reviewing the approval and give homeowners more confidence that projects will be approved.”
While the idea of pre-approved plans had occasionally been circulated during the five years that reforms were in place, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan officially got the ball rolling. After the bill was signed, her office issued an executive order directing various city authorities to work on making these projects more viable, including pre-approval of construction plans. Other guidelines include a low-interest finance pilot, a new city location to help homeowners control the process, and an ADU working group.
OPCD works with builders, architects and designers on what the plans might look like, but also receives public feedback through a survey. Many architects and builders already have warehouse and prefabricated house plans for ADUs – for example, the builder Node already has several rows of cottages. Some companies have even developed a specialty around ADUs and have built up deep portfolios in recent years.
Designs by Microhouse, Best Practice, Cast Architecture and Live-Work-Play are used as illustrative examples in the city’s survey. Users are asked to rate design review elements of the elements of the house – dimensions, roof shape, window style – and then rate what is important in ADU design, such as architectural diversity and accessibility.
Kelly says the city is not currently working with specific architects on pre-approved plans, but can provide details when filings begin. Kelly said the jury’s review plans include members of the Seattle Design Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Construction Codes Advisory Board, as well as representatives from the Design Review Boards. “They will have the expertise to review all aspects of the submitted plans,” says Kelly.
Matt Hutchins, Principal at Cast Architecture, says that not all architects are happy with the process. “There is a heated debate among residential architects about how this somehow devalues our work,” Hutchins emails us.
“I’m not worried that trying to solve this problem will somehow devalue my work,” said Hutchins, a long-time ADU champion to help address the Seattle housing crisis individually and as a member of More Options for Accessory Residences to Help (MOAR). “On the contrary, it is a chance to shine and do something good that is great for the job. Hopefully my colleagues will see the value too. “
The original version of this article reported that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) was leading the project and that an ADU draft in the survey was from Model Remodel. It has been corrected to take into account that it is OPCD or Live Work Play.