Seattle City Council OK’s “backyard cottages” around the city

Some have voiced excitement – some have voiced concern. End result: The Seattle City Council voted this afternoon to allow so-called “backyard cottages,” which have been permitted in Southeast Seattle as a pilot project, to be built around the city – with one big change – they were going to issue only 50 permits per year, but now there’s no cap. Read the announcement here:

The Council today adopted legislation to allow the construction of backyard cottages on eligible lots in single-family zones throughout the city. Backyard cottages also referred to as “detached accessory dwelling units,” have been permitted in Southeast Seattle since 2006, and approximately 20 have been constructed since that time.

“This is a smart and modest step to create affordable housing options, help someone pay their mortgage, get older on their property, or to make a room for a son or daughter moving back home,” said Councilmember Sally J. Clark.

After more than a year’s work involving public testimony, surveys, meetings in the community, briefings, and tours, the Council voted to carry over the development standards from Southeast Seattle to the rest of the city. Backyard cottages will be limited to 800 square feet, including garage and storage space. The legislation also prohibits the construction of backyard cottages on lots less than 4,000 square feet or located in a Shoreline District.

The property owner must live in either the principle structure or the backyard cottage for at least six months out of the year. Other requirements include a side yard setback of at least five feet and limiting the total lot coverage of the principle residence, backyard cottage and any other accessory structures to 35 percent.

The legislation also states that if a homeowner currently has an attached unit, such as a basement or attic apartment, those homes would not be eligible to build a backyard cottage.

Amendments to the legislation include reducing the maximum permitted height to 22 feet unless the lot is at least 50 feet wide or served by a rear alley. It also eliminates the earlier proposed cap of 50 on the amount of cottage permits allowed per year.

“We learned a lot looking at the cottages in Southeast and the older ones in the North neighborhoods,” Clark said. “This will be a tool that gives people a new housing option while preserving single-family density and building rules.”

14 Replies to "Seattle City Council OK's "backyard cottages" around the city"

  • matt November 2, 2009 (4:22 pm)

    The council’s comments focused on the exhaustive community outreach, successful pilot program and benefit of having this housing choice for Seattle.

    Excellent work by the planning commission, DPD and council.

    For more on the process, we have been tracking the issue on our blog:

  • WSB November 2, 2009 (4:28 pm)

    Thanks, Matt – if you get involved in designing any of these for West Seattle, we’d love to do a story – TR

  • Matt November 2, 2009 (7:38 pm)

    If we have the opportunity, we’d be happy to share the process with your readers.

  • GreenSpaces November 2, 2009 (9:20 pm)

    I have always been a huge supported of this program and I am so happy this is finally going city-wide. This is going to be HUGE in creating some in-city affordable housing that is mixed in with great neigbhorhoods. Hurrah!!

  • John_Arch5cents November 2, 2009 (9:54 pm)

    These are going to be great additions to the city of Seattle. I have spoken with many people at my booth about wanting one. I expressed that to the council and they took it under consideration and removed the 50 unit cap, (well it helped ;) Architecture 5¢ has setup to help people with questions about the new ordinance. We will keep you guys posted on the questions that come in.

  • Concerned November 3, 2009 (8:16 am)

    This is a bad idea. People already have the option to add on to their homes. Opening up the backyards to this sounds like a back door way to subdivide small city lots. The potential for abuse is huge.

  • Lisa K-M November 3, 2009 (8:19 am)

    We have two projects in design and are excited to move forward. This is a wonderful option for Seattle families.

  • JumboJim November 3, 2009 (4:30 pm)

    Concerned is right. This is just furthering the de-greening of the city. Sad to see.

  • Travis November 3, 2009 (5:55 pm)

    Why do some people automatically assume an idea like this will be abusive and ruinous to our city. Did you know you are required to have your design and build approved by the city? How do you figure people will abuse this? I think this is, not only, going to create the opportunity to build some really great, affordable, and sustainable structures it will give home owners the opportunity to make some money back on their investment. It will also assist people in being able to afford to keep the homes they’ve purchased and create job opportunities for the carpenters in this city that have been hit very hard by the housing and economic crisis. Where is the bad in that, I ask you?

  • TK November 3, 2009 (6:55 pm)

    Dang! we started a 700 square foot garage build at 14′ high knowing this was going to happen soon. We were going to make it a loft! then my neighbor turned us in and we chopped it down to 11′. arghhh!!!!

  • zero-to-life in West Seattle November 3, 2009 (6:57 pm)

    I wish we could go back in a time machine and replace some of the townhouses with backyard cottages. Something tells me having the property owner living on site at least half of the year will lead to better-behaved tenants and better maintained properties. Some of the townhouses are well-thought out and cared for, some of them are not.

  • zero-to-life in West Seattle November 3, 2009 (6:58 pm)

    …and yes, I would like one.

  • Ric & Diane West Seattle November 3, 2009 (7:37 pm)

    We have been waiting a long, long time for this. Thanks Seattle City Council, good job!

  • ian November 3, 2009 (7:58 pm)


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