DEVELOPMENT: New rules for backyard cottages and in-law apartments? Your thoughts sought as environmental-review process begins

The city is looking to change the rules regarding backyard cottages and in-law apartments, but is under orders to do an environmental review of the process first, as the result of a challenge by a community group in Queen Anne. The review process has just begun, according to a city announcement today requesting your comments – via e-mail as well as an upcoming West Seattle meeting. Here’s the announcement:

Today we announced the beginning of the environmental review process to study the potential effects of removing barriers to building accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones. ADUs include backyard cottages, known as Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs), and in-law apartments, known as Attached Accessory Dwelling Units (AADUs).

The first phase of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process is to determine the scope of the study, and we want your input on what to consider and analyze as we explore allowing more ADUs in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

ADUs are small, secondary dwelling units inside, attached to, or in the rear yard of a single-family house. The City’s proposal involves allowing both an in-law apartment and a backyard cottage on the same lot, removing the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements, and changing some development standards that regulate the size and location of backyard cottages. Based on a decision from the City’s Hearing Examiner in December 2016, we’re preparing an EIS to review the potential environmental impacts of this proposal.

During the scoping phase, you can help us determine the alternatives we’ll study, potential environmental impacts to consider, and possible measures to avoid or reduce the effects of the proposal. Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 1, 2017. You can give us your input in several ways:

by email:
by mail to Aly Pennucci, Council Central Staff, PO Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025

in person at our two public scoping meetings.

One of those meetings is in West Seattle: Tuesday, October 17, 6:00-7:30 pm. at High Point Community Center, 6920 34th Ave SW.

An important thing to note: The meeting is NOT going to be a deep dive into the proposal – as noted here, it’s been added to the agenda for what was already an “open house”-style meeting about an even-more-complicated issue, whether to change the city’s Comprehensive Plan to remove language that, for some neighborhoods, conflicts with proposed HALA upzoning. That part of the meeting affects three specific “urban village” areas of West Seattle – The Junction, Morgan Junction, and Westwood-Highland Park – but the dwelling-unit part of the meeting involves neighborhoods citywide. We first wrote about the city’s plan in July.

45 Replies to "DEVELOPMENT: New rules for backyard cottages and in-law apartments? Your thoughts sought as environmental-review process begins"

  • TJ October 2, 2017 (11:13 pm)

    Yep, anything to keep cramming people in here, because the briliant minds downtown seem to think Seattle needs to absorb new arrivals to the region. It’s not like there aren’t vast areas in the region that can’t handle it. Rezoning for more box apartments, apodments, adu’s, backyard cottages. Not sure whats left? Tree houses? 

    • Wsrez October 3, 2017 (12:43 am)

      Agree. Tree houses. Lol but I better not laugh too loud because it’s probably in the works. Why don’t other Seattle neighborhoods have to worry about lot dividing ie Laurelhurst?

      • ScottA October 3, 2017 (8:06 am)

        You might be surprised that Laurelhurst has experienced squeezing in full sized houses using historic lot line loop holes.  Neighbors were not too happy to say the least.  Here’s a streetview:

        I support these changes since they are small housing units that would be great for younger or older single people.  My only edit would be the parking space rule could be eased only at properties with fully built-out streets (i.e. curb, gutter and sidewalk).  I’m OK with parking being scarce but not when it means cars are blocking sidewalks or there are no sidewalks at all.  SDOT and SDCI better start coordinating efforts.

    • PG October 3, 2017 (9:33 am)

      Traffic is already horrible, I think it’s better to have more people closer to jobs, and not develop all our  “vast areas”  leading to more traffic and urban sprawl.

  • dsa October 3, 2017 (1:15 am)

    C’mon, downtown Seattle.  The reason you are forced into an EIS is because  this is not wanted.  Going to the effort to create an EIS, and going through the hoops to get your way only angers people.   The only alternative is “No Build”.  Please back off.

    • Felix Grounds October 3, 2017 (7:17 am)

      We’re going to build one!

      We’re going to live in it and rent the otherhouse….it’s going to be aeesome, it’s going to ease our financial burden as we head for retirement.

      YAY DADU!

    • JVP October 3, 2017 (12:19 pm)

      I support allowing people to rent out their basements or having a DADU.  We’re growing, we’re getting priced out, so this is a good way to get a few more places to live (the people are coming whether we want it or not) while helping a few of us get some extra income to stay here.

      Sorry, but you can’t stop the kind of growth we’re having.  Government likes to think they can create growth or stop growth.  In reality, they don’t have much control over either.  

      Fighting this kind of thing will only price us all out even sooner.

  • Skeptic October 3, 2017 (7:12 am)

    If people want to build ADUs to give themselves more space for their family or for long term rentals, I’m fine with that.  I see this as another step toward the complete AirBnB hotelification of your residential neighborhood.  We need to follow the same path as Vancouver, B.C. and prohibit nightly rentals of ADUs.

    • alki_2008 October 11, 2017 (8:46 pm)

      Huh?   Nightly rentals are still available in Vancouver, BC. 

  • DH October 3, 2017 (7:30 am)

    Glad to see this happening finally. To be clear some people, including homeowners like myself, welcome these changes. My backyard is huge and can easily handle another house as could most the houses on my block. Better there than in the mountains. Time for West Seattle to realize it’s urban not suburban. Go density!!!

    • WS Guy October 3, 2017 (8:42 am)

      You can already build a backyard cottage under existing rules.  

      This change will allow, among other things, an owner to develop properties without living in any of them.  That way the wealthier among us can develop property without the downside of having to share their primary residence with a renter.

      I’m not sure whether there’s any exception to the new renters rules.  The landlord must accept the first qualified applicant and may not use a criminal background check as a means to limit risk to the property or the neighbors.

      In other words, out-of-city/out-of-state owners will be able to 3x the occupancy of rentals in your neighborhood, without screening the tenants.

      If there’s one thing you can count on in Seattle, it’s that developers will get what they want.

      • DH October 3, 2017 (3:16 pm)

        Yes, current rules allow a DADU but this change adds some improvements I’d like to see. 

        • WS Guy October 3, 2017 (5:51 pm)

          I’m pro-DADU too, but I think the owner occupancy requirement is important and should not be removed.  If you want to augment your income that’s a great usage.  If you want to buy up homes to manage a rental empire from your Mercer Island mansion, that’s not.

          If you agree, then don’t just look as the policy as one monolithic package to support or oppose.  Tell the City about the specifics.

          • Also John October 4, 2017 (8:57 am)

            @WS Guy….  I agree too.  I built a DADU about 3 years ago.  I live in the DADU and rent out my house.  I share my yard with the renters and interact with them daily.  Of course I’m not going to pick the first person through the door.  I interview every possible tenant.  I want to make sure I get along with them.  I don’t believe the City understands this.  It’s different for the landlord that actually lives on the same lot with the renter….and actually interacts with the renter.  I have a wonderful young couple living there now and I couldn’t be happier.  My rent is below the asking price elsewhere, because I want to help, but also because I want to pick who I want to share my life with.  Again….the City, I feel, is disconnected from this.   

  • LK October 3, 2017 (8:29 am)

    Good.  I’m in the planning stage of converting my detached garage into a studio and was dismayed at the number of regulations in place.  I’m right on the border of the ‘urban village’ in west seattle.  My neighbor across the street can tear her house down and build 5 condos if she wants to, but under the current code, I would not be allowed to do my conversion.  Growth is happening whether we like it or not; converting an existing unit on my property should be up to me as a homeowner as long as I follow the proper safety standards.

    • CeeBee October 3, 2017 (11:31 am)

      the current regulations would allow conversion in any zone, regardless if inside or outside UV.  So your parcel must not have the space dimensions that qualify it for your garage to be converted.  What exactly is the regulation that is preventing you?  I’m curious because they may be relaxing some of them and you would qualify under then newer proposed rules.

      • LK October 4, 2017 (8:03 am)

        Thanks CeeBee,

        That’s exactly it…my 3,375 sq ft lot is below the 4,000 sq ft minimum.  Some neighbors 2 doors down also outside the urban village had their garage converted to a studio, but they are the second owners…not sure how they got approved, but their lot cannot be much bigger than mine.  Not sure if the city will consider a variance, since it’s an existing structure?

  • Fish First! October 3, 2017 (8:33 am)

    So what happens to our environment when all the ground that was previously open and could absorb and filter our rain, is now built or paved over?

    The Sound as we know it will not be the same. No salmon, leading to no orcas, leading to just a dead body of water full of Seattle’s nasty run-off waste water.

    But, who cares, right? So long as their are more people here, that is all that matters. After all, people are an endangered species!

    • matt hutchins October 3, 2017 (9:41 am)

      The Stormwater Code is very stringent and now forces most sites to deal with rainwater on site, rather that dump it into gutters leading to the Sound.   

      Since the impervious area for extra parking is sometimes bigger that the cottage they serve, there is a big environmental benefit to eliminating this requirement, for infiltration, tree preservation etc. 

    • JVP October 3, 2017 (12:24 pm)

      You make a great argument for allowing DADU’s and more density in already urban areas.  The city is already mostly impermeable (and codes require new stuff to have more infiltration), and has storm water infrastructure.  The city is the right place for more homes.

      Out in the rural areas, forests, farmland is where new construction will have really dire effects for stormwater runoff, spiky hydrology on our rivers, and is terrible for the Sound.  Rural homes tend to have bigger roofs and way bigger driveways/parking/concrete areas.

      • KM October 3, 2017 (12:48 pm)


  • shufflerunner October 3, 2017 (8:35 am)

    I’m all for this. We’ve been working for over a year now to
    get plans and contractors lined up to put in an ADU and we haven’t even started
    the permitting process yet. It allows us to add space to our living situation
    without disrupting our day to day (which is a life saver with young kids). I
    would really like the city to reconsider Tiny Houses as long as they are parked
    on private property and have utilities. It’s a better option than parking RVs
    on the street for extended periods (cough cough Tim Burgess) and is much more
    affordable than a traditional ADU. As long as the aesthetic was similar to the
    main structure on the property I wouldn’t mind seeing them around. It’s way
    better than someone’s busted camper. 

  • KM October 3, 2017 (9:41 am)

    I think the proposed changes would make the DADU rules better, except 6 month thing.  Currently it would be a huge benefit to me as a low wage single mom to build a unit on my 10000 square foot lot. But I can’t. My house is set back and the buildable space is in my front yard, not allowed with current rules. I could subdivide and build a shoebox house on the front lot. Two similar $800,000 houses were built in the last year behind me. I don’t want that. I want to stay in my house and rent a tiny house to other people that make wages like mine.

     The gentrification argument is ridiculous.  DADUs are not going to replace the earning potential of tight packed high-end housing.  But it will appeal to people like me and a lot of my immigrant and non-white friends are interested too.  Maybe that’s really the concern, small houses probably appeal more to many in the immigrant community than the they do to the traditional “first time home buyer”. Maybe it would slow gentrification. 

    • shufflerunner October 3, 2017 (11:40 am)

      KM, sounds like your lot is very similar to mine. We hired an architect who has done ADUs in what most would consider a front yard (i.e. anything in front of your house) and it sounds like the city actually classifies   a front yard as a set distance back from the street. It’s like 30 ft. or something. So in theory you still could build a unit. Especially if it does not stick out closer to the street than the surrounding houses. Take that with a grain of salt – we have yet to clear the permitting process and the costs of building a unit are very high in Seattle.  

    • Hutchins Matt October 3, 2017 (12:21 pm)

       if the existing house is under 1000 sq ft and conforms to the setbacks, you can build a dwelling unit in front, and legally treat the old house as the mother in law, provided that the two are physically connected. there are some rules about how they measure attachment, if I recall, mostly you have to be able to get from one to the other via the inside of the primary dwelling. 

    • KM October 3, 2017 (12:48 pm)

      Whoa! Two of us on here. Sorry for username the mixup!

  • WS neighbor October 3, 2017 (9:42 am)

    As someone who lives in a tiny house with a growing family, I’m looking into more options of what I can do on my property.  We can’t afford a higher mortgage with the current market in Seattle.  However, we could hopefully tear down our old garage that is only used for storage, and build a structure that could house my parents when they come to visit. Seattle needs more options, but hopefully decisions will be made to better the life of current residents, not simply put money in pockets.

    • Jethro Marx October 3, 2017 (1:26 pm)

       hey neighbor;

      If you proceed with your plan I’m sure someone with actual expertise will advise you but don’t start the process by tearing down your existing carhold; the rules for a new structure of any kind are very different from the rules for “remodeling” an existing structure, even if said remodeling consists of one part of one wall of the existing structure and a @#$%load of new building on top of it.

       Sure, these new regulations will undoubtedly benefit developers more than your average dude, but that’s the way of our world– the rich get richer, usually because their capital gives them abilities the plebeians don’t have. That doesn’t mean developers are evil. How many of us could hold on to our high horse if we had to choose between keeping our house/neighborhood arbitrarily “cute” or significantly changing our financial situation by building an adu or a box or even (shudder) a row of “row houses” on our lot?

       The criticism of boxy buildings smacks of art critics decades ago saying Pollock wasn’t making good art. So some of you pine for a craftsman style which is ill-defined and based on hilariously outdated building techniques– vg fir used to only be suitable for the servants’ quarters. Stuff changes.

  • Boski October 3, 2017 (9:44 am)

    They may lessen the laws but there are still the setbacks, parking, and lot coverage constraints that will prevent many from getting permits to build. Democrats love making laws and that’s why I have trouble getting onboard with these people. I bought the property, am gouged for taxes and tax hikes, school re-zoning (for even more horrendous options), etc. A home adjacent to mine was demolished and the developer built a 30ft box next door that is just…ugly as can be. No style, no character, just a big house the city can take in more on and I have to look at it. I’ve been peeing in their flowers to cope with the stress. 

  • Just Wondering October 3, 2017 (10:17 am)

    My brother, who lives near Greenlake, is very proud of the  ADU he built in his backyard.  It is a studio so the “bedroom” is in the “dining and living room”, with a small fridge and a microwave with no stove.

    My first apartment was bigger and had a separate bedroom!

  • Rick Cook October 3, 2017 (12:56 pm)

    Everybody should be entitled to a “loophole”.  Soon,you’ll be able to buy them from the city.

  • fiz October 3, 2017 (1:38 pm)

    Way to go BOSKI!  😳

  • Bob Dobbs October 3, 2017 (11:20 pm)

    What happened to the growth pattern called “Urban Villages”?  ADUs and DADUs are totally different with respect to growth and shouldn’t be lumped together. ADUs basically rent out the basement. DADUs build an entirely new building in the backyard.

    Nobody seems to view the Single Family neighborhoods as the area around Urban Villages to absorb density once the Urban Villages are built out.  (That’s weird)

    Oh, and DADUs are a tree cover killer, too, with no code affordances to check the clearcutting loss of them.

  • matt hutchins October 4, 2017 (3:31 am)

    Urban villages have been very successful, perhaps too successful. 77% of our growth has gone there (and it only makes up 7% of the city’s land area)  (from the MHA EIS page 3-14).  And almost all the future growth is planned there. 

    So the question should be is it healthy for a city to push all new development and residents into the urban villages, while we can’t even agree to make it easier to build a few more little cottages in the 2/3rd of the city zoned Single Family?  That sounds like a long term recipe for inequity and strife. 

    DADUs are not inherently a tree killer.  Tree preservation code and stormwater code  apply.  Beyond that, people generally work hard to preserve trees in designing these cottages, because they see trees as an asset just as you do.  It is the extra parking area which is difficult to plan for (extra impervious area, limited pratcical location, fixed sizes and backout distances).  

    • NH October 4, 2017 (7:10 am)

      Thank you. I for one am excited about this potential change. My mom is nearly 81, fiercely independent, and would never want to live in my basement. If she could have a separate cottage, however, it could work. It seems ridiculous to have to include a parking space for her when she won’t be driving. And we can’t keep expecting certain neighborhoods to take all of the impact of growth.. eventually it’s going to have to be shared.

      • Also John October 4, 2017 (10:15 am)

        @NH,  My sister and I built a 624 sf cottage in her backyard for my now 82 year old mom.  It has worked out wonderfully!  The cottage really blended in nicely with the main house and the yard.  We did have to provide a parking spot for the cottage.  The parking is parallel with the alley.

  • Seattlite October 4, 2017 (3:59 am)

    Seattle is going to hell in a hand basket.  Are there not any city leaders with common sense?

  • KK October 4, 2017 (5:39 am)

    We built a DADU in our back yard on top of our existing garage structure.

    Hopefully it will give us some additional income in our older years so we can age in our community, which we are quite attached to. A revision of the parking requirements would have given us more design options for sure. 

    After going through the not too difficult process and signing a covenant that we will live on the property I remain strongly against the provision that will get rid of that requirement in the new rules. 

    There is currently a developer doing a  DADU permitted project down the street from us that hasn’t lived on the property one minute. This kind of inconsistency drives me crazy!!

  • matt hutchins October 4, 2017 (4:15 pm)

    Wow! if this were a straw poll, cottages would win in a landslide!  

    Pro:  scotta, jvp, dh, ws guy, lk, shufflerunner km, nh, pg

    Building one now: Felix

    Built one or knows someone who has: also john, just wondering, kk, me. 

    That is 14 people for cottages, 6 people against, 5 whose position is unclear.  It goes to show that these are popular and we should do more to support them.  

    PS: You know what you didn’t hear:  a single person living next to one with a complaint. 

  • fiz October 17, 2017 (5:18 pm)

    We desperately want to age in place. The best way to do it is to turn over the big house (and its upkeep) to one of our kids and move into a DADU. We are anxious to review the new rules, whatever they are, as we also don’t believe our input will make a difference.

  • Steve October 17, 2017 (6:44 pm)

    Wow, now EVERYBODY can be a landlord! Or, slumlord as Sawant likes to say. Rows and rows of cars on the street. The requirement that the owner must live on property will be typically disregarded, and unenforced.  Once they turn into Air BNB’s, you won’t know who the heck is living next door.  City of Seattle will soon add a tax to it, of course, in the “interest of affordable housing” , and inspections, pushing the cost up further.  Great idea. Go for it!

  • CJ October 18, 2017 (1:05 pm)

    Will the City establish maximum occupancy rates for the ADU and DADU?  Adding one car per unit is a lot.  Adding more than one car per unit is too much.

  • CJ October 18, 2017 (1:08 pm)

    Will ADU and DADU change school assignments?  It’ll be a lot cheaper for me to keep my home and rent an ADU near a desirable neighborhood school.  That way I can use the ADU as my “official” address, since  I can’t afford to buy a home near my preferred public schools.

    • AC October 23, 2017 (10:51 am)

      You’re trying to take up TWO housing units in Seattle, because you want to have a better school assignment? The point in this legislation is to allow for MORE families to live in Seattle, not allow wealthy people to have multiple residences. 

Sorry, comment time is over.