Tuesday, November 19, 2013

City Council To Discuss Several "One Home Per Lot" Issues On Friday

House at 4812 NE 40th Street built on small side yard oringially part of home next door

One Home Per Lot, a grassroots multi-neighborhood Seattle wide movement monitoring the legislation and building of sideyard houses, sent a recent update on the issue of developers building homes on side yards, inlcuding information on a City Council meeting on Friday from 9:30-11am.

Laurelhurst residnts living around these tall, skinny houses, as well as other residents citywide, have joined One Home Per Lot, whose website explains the issue in detail, shows how to get involved and details Duffus' track record and lists the effects these projects have had on neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Fremont, Wallingford and Montlake, to name only a few throughout Seattle.
Several skinny houses on small lost have sprouted up in Laurelhurst over the last few years, the work of developer, Dan Duffus, who is well-known around the city for building the houses which are modern in style, tower over the established homes beneath them and don't fit in with the character of the neighborhood..

One is located at
4812 NE 40th Street in Laurelhurst, which sits on a piece of property 30 feet wide, and was segmented out of a side yard which was a total of only 80 feet wide. The house covers all the land, except for 10 feet of the house's previous yard.

One Home Per Lot's recent email says:
Many One Home Per Lot supporters are wondering if the Seattle's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) tried to pull a fast one on us a few weeks ago.
The City Council's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee's sent out email that DPD was planning to present some "omnibus amendments" to the committee on 9/25/13. 
Omnibus amendments are supposed to be insignificant changes to Seattle's building codes. The omnibus report introduction states: "The proposed amendments are called 'omnibus' amendments because DPD packages a collection of amendments that are small scale, with a limited scope of impact. Such amendments include correcting typographical errors and incorrect section references, as well as clarifying or correcting existing code language."
However, included among the amendments were a number of items of great benefit to the developers of backyard / side yard houses. These are not insignificant items at all but rather dramatic code changes that would make it easier for developers to squeeze more houses into backyards and side yards throughout the city (see the details below).
After a couple of our members contacted councilman Richard Conlin (the chair of the PLUS committee) about this, his assistant sent the following note:
"Just a procedural note: the omnibus has been removed from tomorrow's PLUS meeting agenda. The legislation will not be discussed until after budget, at the Special November 22 PLUS meeting (9:30 - 11:30)."
Then Councilman Conlin followed up with a note of his own:
"Thanks for the note. I agree that we need more time to understand these amendments and determine what their impact will be, so we have postponed beginning our review until late in November."

Having now had some time to reflect on this event, One Home Per Lot supporters are split into two camps about it:
1. Some of us feel this is just the nature of a government bureaucracy: Some well-meaning workers at the DPD probably just lumped some backyard / side yard code changes in with other code changes without thinking. But with multiple lawsuits now pending against the DPD regarding this issue, and a mountain of media coverage surrounding it, you would think that everyone in the DPD would know that this is a hot-button topic, and any new building codes related to backyard / side yard houses should be included in the regulations that the DPD is currently writing having to do with regulations that are part of the recent emergency moratorium. 
2. The majority of our supporters feel that DPD was using the omnibus amendments as a tool to quietly push through some building code changes that might otherwise get bogged down in the current backyard / side yard house legislation. Furthermore, these supporters are concerned that the DPD will use this omnibus tool again in the future to quietly push through other building code changes related to backyard / side yard houses. If that's the case, it doesn't much matter what changes get approved by the City Council in the high-profile public hearings scheduled for November/December, because DPD can always push through changes to them using these omnibus amendments.
If an eagle-eyed supporter of our cause hadn't picked his way through the many pages of dense, complex text in the omnibus report, these changes may have simply been rubber-stamped by the PLUS committee.
(Remember, omnibus amendments are supposed to be "correcting typographical errors and incorrect section references, as well as clarifying or correcting existing code language")
1. Most backyard houses are built on alleys (it's the only way they can get approved). The omnibus amendments proposed to 23.22.100.C, 23.24.040.A, 23.28.030.A would kill the requirement that these houses have actual frontage on the alley -- which would open up more backyard lots to development, make them less neighborhood-friendly, and make it harder to fight any fires in these homes.
2. Another omnibus amendment proposed to 23.53.005 would reduce the amount of street frontage that a backyard / side yard house would be required to have. This seems to be a direct contradiction to the street-frontage changes that the DPD is proposing as part of the small-lot legislation currently being drafted. In its most recent small-lot legislation recommendations, the DPD tightened up the street-frontage requirements because many developers of backyard / side yard houses were manipulating the rules in order to wedge their projects into lots that are obviously too small. Here, the DPD is proposing loosening the standards.
3. Most backyard / side yard houses already push the boundary limits to the extremes in order to wedge the largest house possible into a backyard or side yard. The omnibus amendments proposed to 23.44.014.C.2, 23.44.014.D, 23.44.014.D.6, and 23.44.014.F would now allow some structural features of these houses (eaves, chimneys, etc.) to extend even beyond those boundaries (into the surrounding yard space) so that, as the DPD document states, "to allow a structure in a side yard adjacent an alley."

4. Accessory dwelling units (otherwise known as mother-in-law-apartments) are also backyard / side yard houses. And the omnibus amendment proposed to Subsection 23.44.041.B.2, Table B for 23.44.041, and Exhibit A for 23.44.041 are proposing height-calculation changes that would allow ADUs to be built even taller in the future.
5. The omnibus amendment proposed to Table A for 23.76.004 would automatically classify any future development standards as Type I -- which means citizens have no way to protest them. Seems like a slippery slope.

If you can't attend Friday's meeting, but would like to weigh-in, contact thefollowing:

- The chair of the PLUS committee, Councilman Richard Conlin, 206-684-8805, richard.conlin@seattle.gov

- The director of the Department of Planning and Development, Diane Sugimura diane.sugimura@seattle.gov

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