Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hearing Examiner Halts Seattle’s ADU Ordinance

[Note:  This article first appeared at NWCitizen

In a decision that may have an impact on the planned update of Bellingham’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance in 2017, Sue Tanner, the hearing examiner in Seattle, remanded to the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) for further work their environmental impact Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) on the SEPA Environmental Checklist prepared for an update to Seattle’s ADU ordinance . Although the decision is not binding on Bellingham, aspects of the hearing examiner’s decision should have an indirect effect on the decision process on ADUs here.

As reported in the Seattle Times, “Seattle must halt a proposal to allow more and larger backyard cottages in order to conduct a more thorough review of potential environmental consequences, including the possibility that it could lead to gentrification.” Tanner’s decision states, ““The record demonstrates that the challenged DNS (determination of non-significance) was not based on information sufficient to evaluate the proposal’s impacts…” In fact, most of the questions in the SEPA checklist are answered “not applicable”. To think that the SEPA statement provides any useful information whatsoever in determining the long-term effects of the creation of ADUs in all of Seattle’s single family zoned areas is a risible notion.

As in Bellingham, certain ADUs are already allowed in the city of Seattle. The Seattle ordinance would greatly expand their use by allowing ADUs on smaller lots and even allow building of a cottage and an ADU on single lot, thus creating three dwelling units on a single family zoned property. The hearing examiner also found that the OPCD was not only the proponent but also the decision maker on the DNS, a clear conflict.

Not surprisingly, the same issues raised by Bellingham citizens during the Comprehensive Plan update this year were in play in the Seattle decision. These issues are the impact of parking, affordability, gentrification, public services/utilities, height/bulk/scale and lifetime effects. The examiner found that these aspects were not sufficiently studied.

Here, the city can expect a substantial push-back by citizens who, although generally supportive of carefully planned use of ADUs, suspect that Bellingham’s ADU ordinance update may be used to effectively eliminate single family zoning creating severe negative effects on the character of neighborhoods. The year 2017 may prove to be an interesting one for housing and land use decisions.