The Issues – Why Our Appeal?

Background and Issues

In July 2015, Mayor Murray released a year-long study by a team of his 28 hand-picked committee members composed of market developers, affordable housing developers, and mysteriously only one neighborhood representative.  The HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) report listed 65 recommendations to help solve Seattle’s affordability crisis.  12 of the recommendations involved eliminating single-family zoning and encouraging duplex and tri-plex development on every single-family lot throughout our city.

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnist, exposed this secret plan in his July 7, 2015 column titled ‘Get Rid of Single-Family Zoning? These conversations shouldn’t be Secret’

Outrage ensued from every neighborhood and Mayor Murray immediately announced that single-family neighborhoods would be “off the table” and not considered for any change.  Almost immediately he secretly handed over the legislation to Councilmember Mike O’Brien for him to pursue the conversion separate from the Mayor.  CM O’Brien and the City Planners prepared the legislation, which because of its serious environmental impact to over half the land area of Seattle, over 130,000 separate properties and over 350,000 residents, the proposal was legally required to undergo an inclusive, comprehensive and transparent impact study resulting in a publically presented and evaluated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Such a serious study involves many professional consultants, numerous public hearings and reviews, outreach to all neighborhoods and citizens who may be impacted, and a detailed and accountable process for evaluating every environmental impact.  In addition among many requirements, the task would require the City to consider a significant range of alternatives that could accomplish the proposal’s objectives, but at a lower level of environmental impact.

Instead, CM O’Brien and city planners attempted to push this legislation thru without informing or asking you for input, or performing even one evaluation of environmental impacts.  Instead of committing to the legally required EIS, they attempted to short-cut the process, eliminate your voice and any impact study, and instead he directed city planners to create a document claiming that there would be no impacts, and therefore eliminate the requirement to take the appropriate time and advance an EIS. They simply submitted a document titled a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) where they answered over 100 questions concerning potential impacts with a response of “No Impact.”

Between 2005 and 2010 the Seattle Planning Commission studied the opportunity to allow Backyard Cottages (DADU’s) on single-family properties throughout Seattle.  Serious nation-wide studies revealed potential significant environmental impacts from doing so and therefore the current code was advanced and tested first in SE Seattle.  In 2010 the legislation was advanced city-wide and respectful regulations exist today.  Restrictions upon development were crafted to protect over 350,000 Seattleites who have invested their lives and resources living in our single-family neighborhoods.  Originally these added houses were called Backyard Cottages.  Now they fit into several categories including:

  • ADU’s, (Accessory Dwelling Units),
  • DADU’s (Detached Accessory Dwelling Units  / Backyard Cottages)
  • AADU’s (Attached Accessory Dwelling Units / In-law apartments’)

Mike O’Brien’s 2016 original legislative proposal included the following changes to every single-family property over 3,200 sq ft including (current code in green):

  • Allow an ADU and backyard cottage on the same lot – equalling 3 residences per property
    • Current Code-allow either an ADU (Mother-in-Law) or DADU, not both
  • Remove the off-street parking requirement
    • Current Code-require 1 on-site parking space per added unit
  • Modify and eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement
    • Current Code-require owner to live in one unit – not rent both units
  • Reduce the minimum lot size for backyard cottages to 3,200 sq ft
    • Current Code-4,000 sq ft minimum lot size
  • Increase the maximum height limit for backyard cottages
    • Proposal to allow several feet higher
  • Increase the rear yard lot coverage limit and reduce open space and trees to 60%
    • Current Code-40% of rear lot coverage allowable – 50% increase
  • Increase maximum gross square footage limits to 1,000 not including garage
    • Current Code-800 sq ft including garage
  • Add flexibility for location of entry to a backyard cottage to side yards
    • Current Code-entries are restricted from side yard setbacks
  • Increase heights of roof features that add interior space
    • Special provisions for increasing allowances thru dormers, etc
  • Allow for projections from backyard cottages into required setbacks
    • Current Code-strict adherence to codified setbacks
  • Increase opportunities to extend accessory structures into required setbacks
    • Current Code-strict adherence to codified setbacks
  • Modify definition of “Residential use” to include more density

The Queen Anne Community Council appealed this DNS seeking to have the City perform the legally required EIS to evaluate and confirm that all their changes to eliminate single-family zoning would have no impacts as they held.  Our appeal ran from June 2016 thru December 2016.  We received our Decision in December 2016 as we prevailed in forcing the city to complete their legally binding Environmental Impact Statement.

While some advocates believe and write that Queen Anne simply wanted to delay the legislation and prevent further densification, this assertionand spin could not be less truthful.  In fact, the appeal simply held the city to its legally required obligation to perform environmental impacts studies, include important public opinion and input in the process, and in the end advance policies that respect citizen involvement through amending proposals by considering an adequate range of alternatives that could accomplish the proposal’s objectives, but at a lower level of environmental impact to every citizen and neighborhood city-wide.

O’Brien’s legislation was primarily founded upon his claim that removing the regulatory barriers to building Backyard Cottages, and allowing multiple residences on every property, he would solve the City’s housing affordability crisis.  He claimed with no proof that Backyard Cottages (DADU’s) would create ‘affordable housing.’  In our appeal hearing, the City’s own witnesses agreed with Queen Anne and testified that this housing type would not be affordable, but in fact expensive.  The City has now removed all claims of ‘affordability’ attached to their legislation and EIS.  O’Brien claimed as well that this was an emergency and the City had no time to perform the EIS, however the City alone delayed a year to begin their process to produce the EIS through no fault of the Queen Anne Community Council.

The City waited over six months to consider their next steps and eventually commenced their preparation of the EIS in October 2017, ten months after receiving the ruling to do so.  On May 10, 2018, the City released their Draft ADU EIS.  The public had a short window to study the document and submit comments for the city planners to carefully review as they considered revisions to the document before issuing the Final EIS.  See the ‘Documents’ tab above to review the DEIS, Queen Anne comments, and other related documentation, including the Final EIS (FEIS).

Current Status

On October 4, 2018, the City released the Final ADU EIS.  We along with thousands of others citywide have been reviewing the final document and evaluating the ‘Preferred Alternative’ proposal that Councilmember Mike O’Brien is pushing forward within the EIS.  We have discovered that he and the city planners have actually added a number of new conditions that add additional environmental impacts.  And in studying the document and their consultant team conclusions as to the existence of environmental impacts, we have found that many of the city’s studies and conclusions fail to consider significant impacts to every neighborhood and property owner.  In addition, the city fails to explore many other alternatives that could reduce or eliminate potential impacts.  In general, the City ignored hundreds of public and professional comments submitted in evaluation of May’s Draft EIS.  The FEIS remains basically unchanged except for additional deregulations and more significant unstudied environmental impacts.

Final O’Brien Proposal:  He claims no impacts upon you!

We have but one opportunity to present our case to protect our cherished neighborhoods and question the conclusions that the following significant changes have no impacts.  We have listed the proposals of O’Brien’s legislation below with our brief commentary in green identifying environmental impacts that the City has determined in their EIS to have NO IMPACTS!

  1. Allow 2 ADU’s of 1,000 sq ft each on the same lot in addition to a main house plus a garage
  • Your neighbor can build TWO additional 1,000 sq ft houses on their property in addition to their existing house plus a garage without on-site parking and allow 12 unrelated people living on site.
  1. Allow 2 ADU’s in addition to a garage plus a house on the same lot otherwise defined as a triplex
  • See above impact.
  1. Allow 3 residential units in one building (Triplex)
  • Even though O’Brien has denied potential triplex development, he has now amended his proposal to encourage and allow for 3 residences in one building with no ownership requirement – this is called investor triplex development allowing for 12 unrelated residents and NO on-site parking requirements.
  1. Allow a duplex plus a 1,000 sq ft DADU (Backyard Cottage) plus a garage
  • Your neighbor could add a 1,000 sq ft Mother-in-Law apartment into their house which is allowed now. However, in addition, O’Brien has proposed that they would be allowed to add another 1,000 sq ft house (DADU) in the backyard in addition to a garage, eliminating trees, requiring no on-site parking and allowing 12 unrelated residents to live on that one lot and add unlimited cars onto your street.  Just one lot as small as 3,200sf!
  1. Remove all existing off-street parking requirements
  • O’Brien and others continue to suggest that Seattleites no longer have cars and only travel by public transportation and bikes. Therefore, he has eliminated all parking requirements associated with this significant up-zone.  The City’s chief Traffic Engineer John Shaw testified that the average family and single resident in Seattle has 1.2 cars.  Can you imagine on your street 12 unrelated people living in three residences on one small lot with no on-site parking?  The City chose to ignore any neighborhood parking impacts within 5 miles of downtown in advancing their opinion that there will be no parking impacts!!!
  1. Eliminate the Owner-occupancy requirement
  • As a member of the Seattle Planning Commission between 2004 and 2012, Martin Kaplan helped study ADU’s and DADU’s around the country and as a result, helped craft today’s current legislation and regulations. The common and most significant requirement around the country was to include an owner-occupancy requirement for without such a regulation, single-family properties would become immediate targets of developer and investor speculation.  Allowing your neighboring lot to be sold to a developer investment team, who would create 3 houses for 12 people with no parking and no community connections would convert your street and neighborhood into a developer driven multi-family neighborhood, which is already zoned and permitted elsewhere outside single-family neighborhoods in Seattle.  The City has published that these areas of the city already zoned for multi-family development have the capacity to add well over 250,000 living units today!
  1. Reduce the minimum lot size from 4,000 sq ft to 3,200 sq ft
  • There is no evidence throughout the USA that supports this reduction. Seattle’s minimum lot size of 4,000 sq ft is the lowest in the USA.  There is no study anywhere that supports this reduction, especially considering 12 people living on such a small lot with no parking requirements.  In addition, because of O’Brien’s proposal, a developer can increase the allowable lot coverage with buildings from the existing 35% to actually 46% increasing the likelihood of eliminating trees and open space, and potentially adding significant impacts to neighboring properties.
  1. 50% Increase in allowable number of unrelated residents per property to 12.
  • Currently, 8 unrelated people can reside on one lot. In many places, homes have been converted to boarding houses and filled neighborhood streets and yards with cars.  Even though neighborhoods have complained, O’Brien ignores the impacts and actually has increased this number to 12 people who can reside on one lot with no requirements for parking on-site.
  1. Increase the maximum height limit for backyard cottages
  • Not only has O’Brien increased the allowable number of houses per lot to 3 – from the existing 1 Mother-in-Law OR 1 DADU, he is proposing that each can be built about 24” higher than currently allowed further impacting all surrounding neighbors.
  1. Increase the allowable rear yard lot coverage limit by 50% and reduce trees and open space
  • The current code allows you to cover your rear yard by no more than 40% with buildings like garages or a Backyard Cottage. This code has been in place to protect neighborhood trees and open space, in addition to impacting neighboring property owners.  O’Brien is increasing this lot coverage by 50% to allow one to cover 60% of their rear yard.  This will promote the elimination of significant trees and existing neighborhood tree canopy and pose significant impacts to neighboring property owners.
  1. Increase maximum gross square footage limits
  • Current code allows you to construct a 1,000 sq ft Mother-in-Law apartment within your house OR build a 800 sq ft DADU (Backyard Cottage) on your property which includes the sq ft of any garage on site. O’Brien proposes to increase the allowable sq ft of a DADU to 1,000 sq ft NOT including the garage, and allowing one to build 2 ADU’s in addition to the house instead.  So, one could build a house, (2) 1,000 sq ft ADU’s plus a garage on site, with no parking! 
  1. Add flexibility for location of entry to a backyard cottages (DADU’s)
  • The current code was developed with restrictions on where the entry to a DADU can be located to protect neighboring properties from issues of impacts like privacy. O’Brien eliminates these important considerations.
  1. Increase heights of roof features that add interior space (dormers, etc)
  • The current code clearly defines height restrictions developed from studies that respect neighboring owners, and the available light and air. These height limits are in place to reduce the impacts of a 20’ high DADU built 5’ from your property line.  O’Brien wants to raise these height limits by 24”.
  1. Allow for projections from backyard cottages into required setbacks
  • The current code clearly defines setbacks from property lines, traditional regulations developed over decades to provide protection and respect to adjacent properties. As O’Brien wants to change many allowances, he proposes to allow DADU’s to break the rules adhered to by every home, and allow for special exceptions at your expense.
  1. Increase opportunities to extend accessory structures into required setbacks
  • See above
  1. Modify definition of “Residential use” to include more density
  • O’Brien proposed to eliminate ‘Single-Family’ zoning altogether. By redefining ‘Residential,” he is taking away your rights as a homeowner as he advances his belief that “zoning is racist’ and all properties should be available and open for multiple families and 12 unrelated residents.  His drive to eliminate Single Family property designation is a ‘taking’ of your rights as a Seattle homeowner!
  1. Establish maximum size limits for all houses to 50% of lot area or 2,500 sq ft. for a 5,000 sq ft lot, but allow for (2) 1,000 sq ft DADU’s plus a garage on each property limiting opportunities for families to add-on and remodel their home
  • This newly added unstudied proposal severely limits what you will be able to do with your property! Simply stated, you will only be able to have a house on your property that has a gross sq ft of 50% of your lot area – or 2,500 sq ft maximum.  O’Brien is taking away your right to add on a kitchen or bathroom or any space if your house is currently 2,500 sq ft or larger and non-conforming to his wishes – which includes the majority of Seattle homes city-wide in single-family neighborhoods.  However, while you will not be able to add on to your home or build a new home that exceeds 50% of your lot area, he wants you to build 2 ADU’s of 1,000 sq ft each which he encourages.  This is an incredible ‘taking’ away of your rights as a Seattle property owner!  While believing that this will prevent ‘Megamansions’ from replacing our wealth of existing single family homes, in fact it may increase tear-downs as developers replace your neighbor’s home with a huge 5,500 sf box containing three units and 12 unrelated people.

We have appealed the adequacy of this ADU-FEIS as it is significantly deficient in fairly, professionally, and comprehensively studying a wide range of impacts and alternatives.  In many cases, the conclusions presented within the EIS to buttress their claims of ‘no impacts’ have failed to consider common, realistic and necessary professional review practices.  And in many cases they have ignored studies and conclusions that would have identified significant impacts to all property owners, neighborhoods, and our city overall.

Our Appeal

An appeal to the Hearing Examiner is a legal proceeding that includes hundreds of exhibit reviews, evidence gathering, interviews, hearings, expert witness research and testimony,  and thousands of documents to analyze.  We have a big job to build our case, in accordance with Hearing Examiner requirements, and we need your help. We have engaged our attorney Jeff Eustis, who represented us in our successful appeal to require this EIS outlined above.  We will present our case together with a host of experts on land-use issues, real estate economics, traffic and parking, utilities and infrastructure,  arborists and tree experts, neighborhood historians and many others who will testify on our behalf.  This kind of expertise is expensive; we are estimating our need to raise $50,000 to credibly advance our appeal.  We will seek the following determination:

  • Appellant seeks a determination that the ADU-FEIS is inadequate, contrary to law and invalid.
  • The EIS should be remanded to the City to bring it into compliance with the State Environmental Policy Act, including a description and analysis of alternatives to the ADU program promoted by the City.
  • The Queen Anne Community Council reserves the right to seek such other relief as may be appropriate under the law including an award of damages, attorney’s fees and costs in an appropriate forum.

We have only a few weeks to raise the $50,000 we need to fund our appeal. Please join with us now to ensure real public participation in this vital decision that will forever impact our neighborhoods, your neighborhood and your property.