Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien is pushing to have a vote on the legislation by the full council by July 1.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien is pushing to have a vote on the legislation by the full council by July 1.

The public weighed in on legislation that aims to remove barriers to developing accessory dwelling units at the Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee public hearing on Tuesday, June 11.

The ordinance will reduce the minimum lot size needed for developing a detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU) on a single-family lot to 3,200 square feet, increase the maximum allowable size of DADUs to 1,000 square feet, remove the owner-occupancy requirement and off-street parking requirements, increase the maximum allowed household size on single-family lots from eight to 12 in lots with two accessory dwelling units (ADUs), increase the DADU height limit and introduce a floor area ratio (FAR) limit for single-family lots.

The ordinance, which is sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Brien, will go back before his Sustainability and Transportation Committee on June 18, where amendments will be considered, and is expected to come before the full council for a vote on July 1.

Councilmembers O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold, Abel Pacheco and Kshama Sawant attended the June 11 hearing.

Central Staff member Aly Pennucci presented the ordinance and its proposed amendments. She said revisions to the Land Use Code are expected to more than double the number of ADUs in Seattle over the next 10 years. With revisions, Pennucci predicts 4,400 new ADUs. Without revisions, only 1,970 new ADUs are expected.

Laura Loe, a Queen Anne renter and cofounder of More Options for Accessory Residents shared the group’s message of support for more ADUs, as was the reason for MOAR’s creation.

“Any barriers that we put in place, I really caution council to be sparse with amendments, if any at all,” Loe said. “Because anything we do is one more family that can’t live in our city.”

While speaking, another member from Loe’s group held up a sign imploring Seattle to choose either McMansions or ADUs.

Marc Cote said he is in favor of O’Brien’s ordinance. He is the executive director of Parkview Services, a nonprofit that provides “stable affordable rental housing for low-income people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IIDs),” according to its website. 

“Lifting the owner-occupancy requirement would allow us to develop up to 20 more units on our existing properties,” Cote said.

Queen Anne Community Council Land Use Review Committee chair Martin Kaplan spearheaded QACC’s challenge of the final environmental impact statement for the ADU legislation. He said he is a density advocate, but the proposed legislation “encourages mega-buildings,” “will push families out of Seattle” and is “reckless.”

“Is that what we want? I don’t think that’s what you want,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan has since provided a letter from QACC to the Seattle City Council outlining their issues and proposing amendments the neighborhood group wants to see.

Ruby Holland is in favor of the ordinance. She said “ethnic cleansing” of people of color is common and ongoing in Seattle, citing the Chinese Exclusion of 1886 and Japanese Internment of 1942. She also said the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) follows Seattle’s tradition of “ethnic cleansing.”

“My solution for Marty Kaplan: Create an urban village in his neighborhood and declare them at high risk of displacement,” Holland said. “I promise you: they will fall in love with ADUs and DADUs. Mike, I appreciate your efforts to save Seattle from itself.”

Some speakers questioned the impacts more ADUs will have on Seattle’s carbon footprint.

Jerry Bartlett said he supports the ordinance, but a mega-house was recently built next to his home. He is concerned about “solar infringement,” although ADUs are not necessarily mega-houses.

“My sun sets at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, not 9 o’clock,” Bartlett said. “The plants on my property, the trees on my property are suffering because they do not have direct sunlight … there would be less CO2 uptake which would reduce climate change related issues.”

Sierra Club member Bill Sampson said he is in favor of the legislation. He said the Sierra Club supports denser housing because it cuts down on carbon emissions from transportation.

“If people live in more dense areas, that promotes more walking, more biking, more public transportation. And so, this promotes more safe, healthy and sustainable communities,” Sampson said.

Other Seattleites who spoke at the public hearing included a grad student, a realtor, architects, nonprofit representatives and parents whose grown children struggle to find affordable housing in Seattle and vice-versa.

“I really value the comments across the spectrum, and I really appreciate the respect you all showed for each other today,” O’Brien said at the conclusion of the June 11 hearing.

Some of the potential amendments are to have SDCI provide information about becoming a landlord, prohibiting short-term rental use (Airbnb) in ADUs and to require one parking space when adding a second ADU, according to Pennucci’s presentation.

 “My goal is to have this done by July First, or really close after that, in whatever form we can get it to the council,” O’Brien said.