The most progressive accessory dwelling unit (ADU) bill ever introduced in a state legislature died this week. As originally proposed, Washington’s ADU bill—HB 1797 and SB 5812—removed all of the big policy barriers that make it hard for homeowners to add a backyard cottage, mother-in-law suite, or basement apartment to their property. The bill would have replicated and even improved on laws recently passed in California and Oregon that opened up neighborhoods statewide to this modest type of home, with impressive results for climate and affordability.
But legislators watered down the bill until it was barely recognizable. Statewide, all but about 20 small cities would have been exempt from taking any action. Even the handful of non-exempt cities could have adopted only trivial code tweaks, leaving all of the worst ADU barriers intact. After a long run, the bill finally died on Wednesday.
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The original bill would have eliminated off-street parking quotas, anti-renter “owner occupancy” requirements, and disproportionate impact and utility connection fees in cities with more than 2,500 people. It would also have permitted two ADUs on most lots and liberalized ADU size, design, and placement rules. Based on what other jurisdictions have seen, the potential to unleash ADU production, and create more affordable and green housing choices to meet diverse housing needs, was immense.
For now, many Washingtonians hoping to build accessory dwellings will remain frustrated by the gauntlet of restrictive rules most cities impose. But the bill was part of a bigger victory in Olympia this year: it helped spark a new conversation about the legislature’s role in providing leadership to end the statewide housing shortage. That conversation, along with a new ADU bill, will be back in the 2020 session.
The owner occupancy requirement is intended to accomplish two things that Sightline seems to consider inconsequential. The invasion of housing speculators buying properties and converting them and the ADU into rental properties. Sightline ignores the research that shows that as rentals increase over approximately 40%, particularly with absentee owners, neighborhoods decline. The second related condition is the The conversion of housing, including the ADU, into Air BnB’s with the same result. It may not matter to Sightline but those of us that actually live in single family neighborhoods understand the need for additional housing but we also care about the continued livability of our communities.
Your concerns are not uncommon up and down the west coast. How about placing Public Hearing signs for every proposed ADU? Then, residents who oppose a particular ADU would show up at the planning commission meeting and voice their concerns. Indeed on the eastside there are public hearing signs on hundreds of one third and one fourth acre lots, for upcoming planning hearings, asking those in attendance if they oppose subdividing the lots for additional homes. The best solution overall is expanding the urban growth boundary, see below.
David F. Plummer
Instead of pursuing the Robert-Moses schemes to increase housing/population density, why don’t you explore (and publish) some comments about an obvious alternative: since the lower-forty-eight have plenty of ‘vacant’ land, and there are no compelling reasons to cram more people into every square meter of habitable land (especially in/around the central cities), how about some policies that encourage less internal and external migration, and more incentives/regulations to distribute the population increases and employment opportunities to the vacant land. The oligarchies and the power brokers will scream and whine, but who cares? Try eliminating all the subsidies that are provided to developers for building utilities and transportation infrastructure (by having current and future taxpayers foot the bills); let the oligarchies and power brokers pay for these facilities and incorporate the costs into their services and products; perhaps this will dampen demand a bit, but residential taxpayers could expect their tax bills to decrease.
I am sorry to see the ADU bill die, but I agree with you that we have plenty of land for additional housing. I favor expanding the Puget Sound Regional Council four county urban growth boundary. A recent Seattle Times article discussed that the suburbs have experienced a significant decline in multi family housing compared to Seattle. This is concerning due to the growing housing need for companies in Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. Furthermore, apartments built in downtown Seattle and Bellevue are more expensive than apartments on the boundary, since land and utilities are more expensive downtown. Oregon cities expand their boundaries every 20 years. I think the UGB should be expanded here.
You mention the lower 48 and distributing population. I think metropolitan Phoenix planning is exceptional, as they require parks, open space, and bike lanes in their newer developments, such as the edges of Peoria, and also Deer Valley, North Phornix, and North Scottsdale. They have the relatively new 33,000 McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, and also a new mountain biking conservation area in North Phoenix
I just learned bill HB 1797 after being watered down died. I supported the backyard cottages concept that could have provided independent affordable housing for our elderly wanting to downsize into new construction housing which comes with all of today’s technology allowing them to reside within the communities they raised their families in. This bill would have also allowed single parents who do not desire 3,000 S/F of new construction that comes with a 1M price tag to not be burdened with paying more than a third of their income towards rent and/or mortgage payments. These back yard cottages could have been sold independently as detached single-family condo dwellings providing pride of ownership. Sad to learn of this but hopefully something new will surface in 2020.