The Seattle City Council will vote on legislation that relaxes regulations for developing accessory dwelling units in July, after councilmembers passed it out of committee with amendments on Tuesday, June 18.

Sustainability and Transportation Committee chair Mike O’Brien said he has been working on the legislation for four years now, and wants to get the legislation approved as soon as possible. The full council is tentatively set to vote on the legislation, and potentially some lingering amendments, on July 1.

Councilmembers O’Brien, Abel Pacheco, Bruce Harrell and Lisa Herbold went through the amendments on June 18. Kshama Sawant attended the beginning and the end of the discussion, missing the bulk of the council meeting, because she had to leave to support Embassy Suites workers.

The legislation would allow lots in single-family zones to include an attached accessory dwelling unit (AADU) and detached accessory dwelling (DADU) unit in lots with a minimum size of 3,200 square feet, or two AADUs, and would not require off-street parking or that the owner live in any of the dwelling units.

Councilmembers were split on a couple fault-line amendments during the June 18 committee meeting.

Herbold introduced an amendment to prohibit using ADUs as short-term rentals, saying the legislation’s focus is strictly to increase affordable housing and to make sure that the future ADUs built are designed for long-term rentals.

She pointed to data gathered by the Office of Planning and Development in the Seattle 2035 Growth and Equity Analysis that predicts which areas in Seattle are in danger of population displacement.

“We should make sure that policies like the ones before us are not actually adding to those displacement impacts,” Herbold said.

O’Brien did not support the amendment. He likes the intent but said he wants to see a more “comprehensive” piece of legislation on short-term rentals. Additionally, he said the amendment could prevent people from building ADUs since it prevents them from using short-term rental platforms like Airbnb.

“If this prevents them from building it, we’re just a unit short that may not have been used for long-term rental,” O’Brien said.

The short-term rental amendment split the committee — O’Brien and Pacheco against and Harrell and Herbold in favor. It was modified to only prohibit short-term rentals in DADUs.

Herbold’s second amendment also failed to pass the committee — by the same breakdown of councilmembers votes — but could come to full council. It would prevent landlords from acquiring a permit for a second ADU unless they have owned the property for at least a year. Herbold said it would prevent developers from purchasing a property and constructing unaffordable housing in its place.

O’Brien was opposed to the amendment because he believes the final environmental impact statement shows that one-year owner-occupancy or ownership requirements do not affect the speculative housing market. Also, he thinks that one-year owner occupancy will prevent more ADUs from being built in single-family zones.

One amendment the four councilmembers agreed on would allow open railings on DADU roof decks when they reach the maximum height limit. Previously, the legislation would have prevented railings on those DADUs at maximum height, which varies by lot size.  

Other amendments that passed the committee: training new landlords who are permitted to build an accessory dwelling unit; preventing landlords from increasing their lot size by chopping down trees that are more than two feet in diameter and 4 1/2 feet above ground; amnesty for people with unpermitted ADUs; implementing a pilot program that helps low-income homeowners acquire loans to build ADUs, which is expected to provide 5-10 loans to low-income homeowners by 2020; requiring the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to collect data on short-term rentals, ADU owners and tenants and off-street parking impacts.