I wrote at Seattle’s Land Use Code about the upcoming emergency vote Councilmember Richard Conlin has proposed to stop development of some small lot cottage development in single-family neighborhoods. Why a few unique cottages being successfully developed under existing code is an emergency is still a mystery to me, especially since this is exactly the kind of infill development many of us wanted when the Council undertook a review of Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations years ago. The emergency vote seems to be emblematic of the Seattle Problem—trying to make good things happen but then when they do, imposing rules that effectively prevent those good things.
The substance of the issue is that a developer has figured out what the planners at City Hall call the arcane details of the land use and tax code to figure out how to build tall, cool looking cottages on small and irregular lots in single-family neighborhoods. This has provoked the ire of some single-family neighbors who, in turn, have provoked the Council to throw on the brakes. The truth is that there are very few of these houses being built, and what’s so bad about them being “out of scale” with the surrounding neighborhood.
The fact is that the emergency in Seattle is that we have yet to see innovative land use solutions for Transit Oriented Development, for infill, and for other housing options. It’s true we have apodments and other efforts are underway to make a dent in our need for more housing, so why would we stop something that seems to be addressing that need?
Contact the Council—there isn’t much time, the vote would happen Monday—and let them know what you think. I posted this message to Councilmember Conlin’s Facebook page (it was subsequently deleted by Conlin) and I urge you to give your thoughts about whether this issue even needs a vote. Shouldn’t we wait and see whether this is a problem? Maybe it’s actually a good thing.
What’s baffling to many of us is why stopping a developer that’s arguably doing a good thing is an emergency, while allowing cottages in the first place took years to tons of process. The Council initially limited cottage development to 50 units in one corner of the city, worried about a “rush” of requests. They got a few dozen. Similarly, the current legislation is premised on the idea that if the Council doesn’t act, a flood of out of scale cottages will overwhelm single-family neighborhoods. That seems very unlikely, since, after all, there are very few of these lots.
The best thing for the Council and City to do is watch what happens. At worst, we’ll have a few more housing options and at best we might learn how to better do infill in single-family.
Dear Councilmember Conlin,
The houses that have been built on smaller, undersize lots in single family neighborhoods are not a bad thing. I really doubt that there is a “rush” to get permits to do this.
Even if there were, we should be encouraging it. You supported regulatory reform because it would create jobs and reward innovation. That’s exactly what is happening here. Someone has figured out how to build more housing in single family neighborhoods. That creates housing, jobs, and certainly supports the broader agenda of making our city more livable.
The building of these houses hardly constitutes an emergency. I hope you’ll reconsider your efforts to stifle what I consider to be a good thing: someone taking their knowledge of the code and the rules and
using that knowledge to do something positive.
You should be patting Dan Duffus on the back, not trying to stop what he’s doing. Furthermore, this proves my point that Seattle is prone to making more rules just at the moment when there should be less. I hope you all will prove me wrong and let this play itself out.