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Laurelhurst Community Club                                                             

Serving the Laurelhurst community since 1920

                                                                                                                September 15, 2009

Council President Richard Conlin

Councilmember Sally Clark, Chair,

Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee and

Members of the Committee and the Council

600 Fourth Avenue, Floor 2

P.O. Box 34025

Seattle, Washington  98124-4025

RE:  C.B. 116528, Proposal to Legalize Detached Accessory Dwelling Units Citywide


Dear Council President Conlin and Members of the City Council:


The Laurelhurst Community Club Board of Trustees has reviewed the Mayor’s proposed ordinance that would legalize detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) citywide, the Director’s report, the guide to backyard cottages in southeast Seattle and other materials.  Over the past few years, we have participated in focus groups and public forums on the issue.  With this background, we offer the following comments on the proposal and the September 9th decision agenda of the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee.


The Laurelhurst Community Club believes that the current proposal falls short in providing adequate protections to single-family neighborhoods, that it will result in loss of open space and trees and will create added parking problems and congestion.  We oppose Council Bill 116528 and ask that you reject this measure or substantially amend it as suggested below.

The proposed ordinance should be amended to prohibit conversion of detached garages and sheds into DADUs.  This is important due to the lack of adequate parking in most neighborhoods and the fact that the Code allows eight unrelated people to live in the combined dwellings.  With conversion of a detached garage into a DADU, there will be no place for the homeowners to park, other than on already congested streets.  If eight people live on site, it is expected that some of those individuals will have cars.  Even if a less number of people live in the garage unit, at least some car ownership can be predicted, particularly in areas that are not served well by transit—such as Laurelhurst. 

The Portland DADU ordinance prohibits conversion of detached garages located in the side, front or rear setback area to DADUs, with few exceptions.  Seattle should follow this example should it choose to legalize DADUs citywide.

DADUs should only be allowed as conditional uses.  Under the proposed ordinance, DADUs, as well as currently authorized attached accessory dwelling units, are allowed outright in single-family zones.  As an alternative to this approach, we urge you to consider requiring a conditional use permit for these units.  This process would give neighbors notice of the proposed change and an opportunity to appeal DPD’s decision—important in light of the potential impacts of each conversion or development of new units. 

The proposed ordinance should be clarified regarding the square footage that is allowed for DADUs.  DADUS are limited to 800 square feet.  However, page 4, footnote 1 specifically states that the gross floor area of an accessory dwelling unit may exceed 1,000 square feet if the portion of the structure where the accessory dwelling unit is located existed as of June 1, 1999.  It is unclear whether this provision applies only to ADUs or to both ADUs and DADUs.  It logically could apply to both.  This means that those with illegal and nonconforming DADUs would unfairly benefit. 

The DADU proposed ordinance should reconsider the effectiveness of allowing tandem parking.  There is no evidence that allowing tandem parking as opposed to off-street parking has worked for Seattle’s neighborhoods.  What happens is that because tandem parking doesn’t work, more cars clog already congested streets.  It makes no sense to accept the proposition that the property owner and tenant would rotate who pulls into the driveway parking area first and then change the parking arrangement to accommodate each other’s schedules each day—who goes to work first, whether one or the other has an evening meeting or has to go to the grocery store, etc.  Tandem parking should not be allowed for DADUs or ADUs.

The DADU proposed ordinance should address the ineffective provisions relating to parking waivers.  In the proposed ordinance, there is a provision for one off-street parking place for each DADU.  The problem is that there are provisions for waiver of the parking requirement and these waiver requests under the attached accessory dwelling (ADU) law have been liberally granted by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) with no notice to impacted neighbors.  It is expected that this would continue with DADUs.  The Director’s report states that no parking waivers have been issued for DADUs under the current limited program, but does not address waivers for ADUs.  There is currently no requirement to provide notice to neighbors of parking waiver requests.  Neighbors should be given notice of waiver applications and an opportunity to comment—as they should be given notice of DADU and ADU applications. 

The proposed ordinance for DADUs and ADUs should require permanent owner occupancy.  The current requirement is six months and DPD may waive the requirement for three years for good cause such as job dislocation, sabbatical leave, education or illness.  Homes with DADUs and ADUs should be truly owner-occupied on an ongoing basis, other than for good cause for short periods.  Without owner-occupancy, the family home with an accessory apartment becomes a commercial investment.  In contrast with absentee landlords, homeowners in residence can be expected to have an immediate, active interest in who rents these extra units, and are more likely to work to ensure that the impacts which result from this increase in the density of development will be manageable. We need that assurance of owner commitment firmly in the Code.  The current six-month owner-occupancy requirement is insufficient. 

The DADU proposed ordinance should address the inability of DPD to enforce the owner occupancy requirement.  Because legalizing DADUs citywide is essentially duplexing single family neighborhoods, it is particularly important that DPD have the tools to enforce the owner occupancy requirement.  In the McCready cases (123 Wn.2d 260 & 124 Wn.2d 300 (1994) and 131 Wn.2d 266 (1997), the State Supreme Court invalidated civil warrants and by implication determined that agencies may enter private residences only with permission from the tenant or other authorized person.  Prior to these cases, the City was able to seek administrative (civil) warrants to gain entry to buildings.  An owner-occupancy requirement with no ability to enforce the law is meaningless.  With no such requirement, homes with DADUs and ADUs essentially become dwellings with absentee landlords.  Many absentee landlords do not take care of their rentals in the same manner that an owner living in the home would do.   This is unfair to homeowners who maintain their homes to comply with the Code and the character of the neighborhood.

The proposed ordinance should provide more accountability and monitoring.  This proposed ordinance requires minimal reporting on the part of DPD to enable the Council to assess the effectiveness of the program and to address issues that have surfaced.  All that is required is information about the number and locations of DADUs and ADUs and the number of parking waivers granted. 

The City of Portland has required extensive monitoring reports to its planning commission with information about the various issues, neighborhood involvement, a report on enforcement activity that has occurred, an analysis as to whether the regulations have achieved the stated objectives and an examination of the number of accessory units permitted or built.  Seattle should require similar monitoring and accountability due to the major impact upon its neighborhoods.  Enforcement issues should also be thoroughly reviewed.

We agree with the recommendation discussed in the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee that the proposal should be amended to require DPD to provide the height and square footage of all permitted backyard cottages as well as data about the lots on which they are located (e.g. lot size and coverage) and whether they incorporate a garage.  DADUs should be mapped and photos taken similar to what has been done for those legalized in southeast Seattle.  We agree that these supplementary reporting requirements would help DPD and the Council to track the development of backyard cottages over time and determine whether any related changes to the Land Use Code may be needed in the future.      

A six-month grace period for existing illegal DADUs should be added to the legislation with substantial penalties for non-compliance with Code requirements.  The goal here should be to ensure habitability, safety and Code compliance as soon as practicable.  Inspections should be mandated for existing illegal DADUs.

Existing illegal DADUs should be included in the cap of 50 DADUs per year.  Including these illegal units and maintaining a reasonable cap will help regulate the pace of DADU development during the first few years of the program and ensure that changes occur gradually and that Council is able to respond to emerging issues.

The maximum height of a DADU should be 18 feet with a roof pitch similar to the main house.  This is how the Portland ordinance is written and Seattle should follow that example.  The proposed ordinance appropriately provides for heights proportionate to lot width with the minimum height at 12 feet.  But it allows heights up to 23 feet and different kinds of roofs.  Lower heights help to address bulk and scale issues and shading.  Different roof styles have the potential to change the character of a neighborhood.

Living space below grade should not be exempt from the 800 square footage limit.  This will avoid the problem that has occurred in southeast Seattle where there is a huge 1400 square foot DADU where that structure is out of scale.

It is a misnomer to call detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) “backyard cottages.”  Councilmember Rasmussen correctly pointed out at a recent committee meeting that some of the existing “backyard cottages” in southeast Seattle are larger and taller than the principal home.  (Please see page 11 of the Southeast report as an example.).  This language should be changed on page 5 of the proposed ordinance.  In 2004, when the Mayor first introduced the measure and received little support from the council, the units were referred to as DADUs.  The same terminology was used in 2006 when the Council legalized DADUs in southeast Seattle.  Now, it seems the “backyard cottage” terminology is more politically acceptable.  The proposed ordinance should honestly reflect what the units are—detached accessory dwelling units.

Thank you for considering the comments of the Laurelhurst Community Club.




Adrian Whorton, LCC Land Use Committee                 Jeannie Hale, President

4533 West Laurel Drive NE                                           3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle Washington 98105                                               Seattle, Washington  98105

206-729-3443                                                                  206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631                                       



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