Remember a while back when that Alley Scraper went up in a tiny lot on 55th and Kensington? One of the outcomes of the community uproar that followed was the creation of a One Homer Per Lot group, advocating for building code changes that would limit that type of development in the future.
Here’s an update from the OHPL group:
[Earlier this week], the DPD released a new set of recommended building code changes regarding the development of backyard / side yard lots (and all other “undersized” lots).For those of you who have lost track, the DPD released a PRELIMINARY set of recommendations in March, then in June, released its recommendations. But after receiving an outpouring of public feedback on those recommendations, the DPD took the unusual step of revising its recommendations (which is where we are today).
Plus, the DPD is now asking the public (that’s you) to comment. See the message from DPD below for specifics.
Summarized below are the latest CHANGES to the DPD’s previous set of recommendations (for details, the Director’s Report).THE CHANGES THE DPD IS NOW RECOMMENDING
- New houses built on smaller backyard / side yard lots will be limited to two stories in height. The height for backyard / side yard houses (on lots 3,200 square feet and smaller) would be limited to 18 feet (with five additional feet for a pointed roof). However, in a nod to the architectural community, the DPD will allow developers to build as high as 22 feet (with five additional feet for a pointed roof) if the house is limited to two stories, and the additional height is applied to the first floor.
This is GOOD for neighbors/neighborhoods, because three-story backyard / side yard houses block views and sunlight and stare down on all of the surrounding houses/yards. But the fact that these two-story houses can still be 27 feet (as tall as a three-story house) is very concerning. Why can’t they simply be limited to 18 feet, which is the same height as the current standards for backyard mother-in-law cottages (technically called detached accessory dwelling units)?
- More historic documents will be removed from the list of items that developers can use to claim a backyard / side yard lot was always intended to be developable.
This is GOOD for neighbors/neighborhoods because many backyard / side yard lots were never intended to be developed separately (and certainly never developed with towering, three-story structures). Now, developers will have to produce more reliable documentation showing the original owners really did intend to create a separate developable lot.
- Three changes will be added to the building codes to prohibit developers from dividing one lot into two sub-standard lots “in creative ways” only to qualify the new lots for the less-restrictive sub-standard building codes.
This is GOOD for neighbors/neighborhoods because it closes a number of loopholes a handful of developers have been using to squeeze backyard / side yard houses into places where they clearly don’t belong.
- Small, undersized lots that are now restricted from development (because they’re smaller in size than the current 5,000 square foot minimum), would become developable — if the lot was equal in size (or larger) to the majority of lots on the same side of that block. Developers will also be allowed to knock-down an existing house on one of these lots and build something new.
This is NOT GOOD for neighbors/neighborhoods where the majority of lots and houses are especially small in size (West Seattle, Fremont, Wallingford, Eastlake, Beacon Hill and many other traditionally working-class neighborhoods). It means new houses as tall as 27 feet (22 feet plus five additional feet for a pointed roof) will be allowed to be wedged into the midst of small, one-story cottage houses. Tall houses in these neighborhoods look especially out of place.WHAT’S MISSING:
You’ll notice that the DPD did NOT recommend implementing any kind of mechanism for notifying the neighbors when one of these projects is approved for development. The fact that neighbors have no warning before construction crews show up and start building a new house in a neighboring back / side yard is something that leaves many homeowners absolutely seething. The fact that this lack of notification also deprives those homeowners of filing a LUPA lawsuit within the required 21-day window is most likely also illegal (a federal lawsuit against the city of Seattle is currently pending in federal court regarding this matter).
In our discussions with the DPD and city council, we have made it clear that this is a top priority for neighbors/neighborhoods. A local IT director actually volunteered to show the DPD how to quickly and easily implement an automated notification system. But the DPD and city have resisted all our efforts. For more about this issue, see http://www.onehomeperlot.com/truth-telling-emails
In the message included below, the DPD says it would like to hear your comments to ALL of its current recommendations (to see all the recommendations, click on the “Director’s Report” link below). The only requirement is that you provide your feedback before October 16.
Once the DPD finalizes its recommendations, those will be used by the Seattle city council to draft a final set of building code changes. The council has the power to change any of these recommendations, even add its own recommendations, but will most likely stick pretty close to what the DPD recommends in most cases.
The council says it will not begin formally discussing this issue again until November. At that time, the council will also hold public hearings (a chance for you to personally address the council about this hot-button topic).
There’s still plenty of time to get involved. But, if you want things to change for the better, you have to speak up. (If you know someone who could benefit by knowing more about this issue, encourage them to sign up for our emails at http://www.onehomeperlot.com/join-us)
The original message from the DPD:
From: Developing Small Single Family Lots <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 8:32 AM
Subject: Updated Proposal for Small Lots in Single Family Zones
As promised, DPD has released an updated version of the proposed standards for small lots in Single Family zones, and an explanatory Director’s Report. You may review these documents via this link to our website www.seattle.gov/dpd/
codesrules/changestocode/ smalllots/whatwhy/. The previous versions are also available, if you wish to refer to them for comparison. We will take comments on the proposed ordinance until October 16. Thank you for your continued interest in this effort, and many thanks to those who provided comments on the earlier version.
Please submit comments to: