City Council passes emergency rules for ‘small-lot development’

After an intense round of public comment – which ended with heckling from people who wanted it extended – the City Council voted unanimously today to pass emergency rules targeting a particular form of so-called “tall skinny house” development. Here’s the news release:

The Seattle City Council today approved legislation that puts interim controls in place on small lot development in Seattle.

While the City has generally been supportive of urban infill development, some single family development approved under current lot size exceptions, has resulted in structures that are out of character with surrounding conditions and inconsistent with the policy intent for infill development. Interim measures were adopted today to allow adequate time for analysis and discussion of permanent standards.

“This legislation is not about density – the modest number of homes that can be built under this loophole are not a significant addition to the housing stock. And it is certainly not about affordable housing,” said Councilmember Richard Conlin, Chair of the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee. “Rather, it’s about replacing a random pattern with no rhyme or reason, dependent on a developer happening to find archaic lot lines that were not intended to define a buildable lot, with planning in a systematic and thoughtful way.”

Interim measures were adopted so that development is more proportionate to the lot size. The proposed interim measures would:

· Limit application of the lot size exception to lots with an area of at least 50 percent of the minimum requirement for the zone; prohibit development on lots that are less than 50 percent.

· Disallow reliance on historic tax records as a basis for qualifying for the lot area exception.

Limit the height of development on lots less than 3,750 square feet to 22’.

The City Council adopted the following schedule as part of the legislation, calling for the City to adopt permanent regulations within a year:

(Editor’s note – To see the timetable, in table format we can’t easily replicate here, go to this city webpage and scrolling down)

13 Replies to "City Council passes emergency rules for 'small-lot development' "

  • Peter September 10, 2012 (8:41 pm)

    Headline: City council revokes your rights to use your private property, takes “emergency” action to limit housing supply and raise the cost of living in Seattle.

  • Ajax September 10, 2012 (9:06 pm)

    Peter, you might like Houston. There is essentially no zoning there so you can do whatever you want with your lot and your neighbors are just SOL if they don’t like that you run an auto salvage business in your front yard. Housing prices and overall cost of living is very low.

  • Nancy September 10, 2012 (10:40 pm)

    Thank you, City Council, for doing the right thing. It won’t help my West Seattle neighborhood, but it will help other neighborhoods. Three doors down from my house last month stood a cute bungalow. This month in its place stands TWO, YES TWO tall, skinny, ugly ‘houses’. Thank you again, City Council. Let’s stop this insanity!!!

  • marty September 11, 2012 (9:31 am)

    Good! Too bad it didn’t happen 10 years ago….

  • Denny September 11, 2012 (10:53 am)

    Wonder if this has any impact on houses that are currently in the process of being built? They just finished excavation and are laying down forms for a monstrosity on a half lot next to us. I guess if permits are in place then it’s too late but glad to hear that something might be done to prevent further damage to the neighborhood.

  • WSratsinacage September 11, 2012 (1:39 pm)

    Amen Marty.
    Wow, I’m pleasantly surprised the council would vote this way. They seem to have wanted to allow free reign in the past, atleast with West Seattle. As the Dems say, follow the money .. someone is getting paid or something that rhymes with paid.. :o

  • Wetone September 11, 2012 (4:58 pm)

    The big $$$$ land developers wanted this as it will force more people their way and help them fill up their big 5 to 8 story apt./condo projects going in everywhere.I would rather look at a affordable skinny single family house than the 5-8 story apt./condo going in everywhere. If the city council cared about the people in West Seattle and many other Seattle areas they would have stopped all the 5-8 story apt./condos there allowing. The roads can not handle the density. Get ready for a daily 45 min commute to I-5 within the next 5yrs. out of W.S.

  • diane September 11, 2012 (6:29 pm)

    There are a lot of buyers that want modern architecture and smaller yards to take care of because they are busy. I have to say I love the modern Dwell architecture as opposed to the true awful skinny houses built during the 90’s.

  • anne September 11, 2012 (7:59 pm)

    Could this new rule have any effect on the continuation of a 3 story, 5 unit structure on a small, single-family residential lot just west of the Junction on Oregon street? It’s still in excavation phase. The design and size of the new structure is out of character and context with the neighborhood, and out of proportion with the lot size. A swath of small trees bordering the alley were removed (prime bird habitat), and a large, old, remaining conifer has been de-limbed to the point of possibly shortening the life of the tree.
    Thank you for posting this news.

  • Seattle Builder September 12, 2012 (12:35 pm)

    This will definitely affect New house and lot prices in the Seattle area.

    As a builder lots are very difficult to find that are build able , steep slope, ECA, poor soil conditions are just a few items that make getting a lot that you can build on very hard . The city getting rid of the historic lot exemption as this does will affect a lot of people and jobs of small builders.

    This is a major change affecting all people involved in the building community.

    I am aware of over 50 projects a year that this decision will impact.

    I am a small builder 4 homes a year but this will add at least $50,000 per lot to my inventory lots.

    This policy will push people to up zone and build more multi family .

    The city prefers higher density rather than single family homes.


  • New WS Homeowner September 12, 2012 (2:21 pm)

    This is way overdue. I have to question why it was an emergency interim change, when this has obviously been going on for years.

    I am disappointed that Seattle City Council is taking action so late in the game, but I’m glad it will prevent someone buying the 900 sqft cottage next door to me and building a 3-story skinny in the backyard.

  • Shoes required September 12, 2012 (3:35 pm)

    Seattle Builder, you may know of 50 projects that may be impacted, but the impact of builders running loose on our neighborhoods has been awful. Look at the cookie cutter cheap cheap cheap townhomes. Yuck. Cheap. Garbage. If you bought one back in the boom, today you’re stuck with zero lot line crud that made builders rich. But the garbage cannot be sold without taking a huge hit. So, I have no sympathy for whiny builders who are interested only in profit and don’t seem to care about the havoc they wreak in the communities they build in but don’t live in. But I’m sure you’re not one of them.

  • seattle Builder September 14, 2012 (1:43 pm)

    This is a good discussion as a builder we follow what the city allows . Its ok that they have changed the design criteria for smaller lots .The way it was executed has probably left some builders in a bad position as the lack of formal notice could affect some projects.

    It will affect lot prices and new supply of homes and New home prices.
    For our company the design process is mostly decided what the city will allow.

    I agree The town houses that have been built are
    a little absurd but it can be explained by all the restriction put on for L1 zoning sites.

    The end result will be smaller homes 22 feet tall on smaller lots not that big a difference, but its going the affect lot prices as there are a lot fewer lots that can support a modest family home.

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