An Accessory Dwelling Unit (City of San Gabriel)

It appears Seattle may finally allow various types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in most of the city. These units generally provide inexpensive rental opportunities, but are frequently illegal to build.

For a summary of where we stand today, you can’t do much better than the City’s onepager. (A somewhat longer summary is here.) The changes are projected to add over 2,000 new rental units over the regulatory status quo through 2027 and reduce the number of single-family teardowns by almost a quarter.

The proposed legislation would make changes to regulations governing ADUs; the changes include: allowing two ADUs on a lot, removing the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, introducing a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit for single-family lots, increasing the maximum household size for lots that have two ADUs, and other changes to the size and location development standards regulating DADUs.

page 1, Council Staff Report

There are 11 amendments under consideration. Probably the most impactful ones are CM Herbold’s separate proposals to ban short-term rentals in ADUs authorized by the bill, for obvious reasons, and restoring a milder form of the owner-occupancy requirement. Applicants would have to lived there for a year before applying, though they would not have to remain there to rent out this space. This amendment is meant to limit “speculation.”

The two material objections to more ADUs are (1) more competition for publicly provided parking spaces, and (2) the possibility of poorer people living in the neighborhood. As neither is particularly attractive as a public policy principle, we instead hear process objections (the subject of the recently dismissed lawsuit) and concerns about neighborhood “character” and aesthetics.

Although I personally find single-family homes bigger than about 3,000 square feet aesthetically displeasing, in principle I’m not a fan of simply banning them. However, if new restrictions neutralize the “character” objection, it’s a compromise I can live with to get more units per acre. If this compromise also incentivizes making large units easily divisible into separate rental units, so much the better.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss the legislation on June 18th and may vote on it then.

20 Replies to “ADU legislation moves along, with new wrinkles”

  1. In recent years, nearly all cars have been equipped with the “feature” in which locking the car sounds the horn, which effectively means every person arriving at their home late at night via personal car wakes up everybody else in the entire block – especially during the summer, when many people without air conditioning prefer to sleep with the windows open.

    From the perspective of ADU’s, more neighbors means more car honking in the middle of the night, which creates yet another reason for existing residents (even those that don’t have cars) to oppose them – even if the new neighbors are perfectly quiet once actually inside of their homes.

    (When renting a car last week, I was disappointed to discover that the “honk on lock” feature is now on by default, which means that every car owner not annoyed enough to flip through the owners manual to figure out how to shut it off is going to honk on lock every single time, regardless of the hour. The honk is also far, far louder than necessary for a simple confirmation that the car is locked. I place the blame for this squarely on the car manufacturers.)

      1. And since it’s the part of the city with lawns and trees, it also regularly gets lawn mowers and leaf blowers which are pretty loud, and occasionally chippers and chain saws, which are fantastically loud.

      2. Why are car horns like that legitimate city sounds? We already put up with the roar of cars on the freeway, and that’s not a natural part of living in a city, it’s bad city design.

      3. Under most state laws, the use of the car horn is only for an emergency when necessary for safe operation of the vehicle. How is honk on lock not completely illegal???

        @Pat @Ben: Cities generally have noise ordinances, and leaf blowers at 7 AM is completely different than car honking at 1 AM.

    1. Many new models that I have driven (car rentals) don’t honk when you lock them unless you press the lock button twice in succession. The first push merely flashes the headlights.

      I think that this is the new industry standard.

    2. There’s no way that quick beep wakes up the entire block lol. I’d be much more concerned about car alarms, loud motorcycles, drunken debauchery, police sirens, barking dogs… you know… the many things you hear in every city that are much louder and more pervasive than the car-lock beep.

    3. To paraphrase the Real World, it’s time to stop being polite, and start getting real.

      A transit advocate complaining about car noises is like a jobless house guest complaining about his host’s alarm clock waking him up. Sound Transit hears each car noise as cash register cha-ching. So should you.

      1. Sam that’s like saying we should be grateful for cigarette smoke in our face because all those smokers are helping to fund the school system.

      2. Barman, criticize the people you are mooching off of all you want. At the end of the day, you still have your hand out. You are still a mooch.

      3. Barman, criticize the people you are mooching off of all you want. At the end of the day, you still have your hand out. You are still a mooch.

      4. Sam, call it mooching all you want. It’s called living in a society. Whether you drive cars, smoke cigarettes, scratch lotto tickets, own property, buy clothes, drink alcohol, get a fishing license… we’re all paying taxes and we’re all benefitting in some way. Including you.

      5. Yes, I know I am a mooch. But I recognize and thank those that are helping me. I don’t resent them. I see a lot of resentment against cars on this blog.
        And without cars, there would be no Sound Transit.

        Sam. Favorite TV shows: The Real World. Kung Fu. Lancelot Link.

    4. If a single honk wakes you up, I’m not sure how you sleep at all. Do you not have cars driving by? Are people not coming home late already?

      And why are you assuming everyone has a car? The whole point of increasing density is reducing the need of SOV, shrinking our climate footprint.

      1. Since there is no legislation limiting how many cars the owner of a single-family house can have, or how many drivers can be in the house, or what hours they can arrive at the house and lock the door, sounding the horn, attaching this to the ADU issue is grasping at straws.

  2. This is definitely a step in the right direction. The full text to the actual bill is here: The one page summary is a lot easier to read. The other link contains of the amendments. Here is (my own) summary of those amendments:

    1) Editing fixes to the original bill.
    2) Provides literature for landlords
    3) Increases the allowed backyard coverage for DADU from 40% to 60%.
    4) Eliminates short term rentals of ADUs.
    5) Require ownership for 1 year before you are allowed to build a second ADU.
    6) Exempt bicycle parking from house and ADU limits.
    7) Amnesty program for unpermitted ADUs.
    8) Allow a little more height as well as a roof deck railing on DADUs.
    9/10/11) Gather information about ADUs

    I expect 1, 2, 9, 10 and 11 to pass easily. 3 is proposed by O’Brien, and could get some opposition (from Herbold). Herbold proposed 4 and 5 and I expect opposition from O’Brien. 6 should pass easily, unless someone (Herbold) thinks it is simply a way to increase ADU size (since it is hard to prove that something is bike parking). 7 is similar, in that I expect it to pass, but someone might complain that it sets a bad precedent (Vancouver BC did that years ago and it worked out well). In general I expect the biggest debate to be over the ownership and backyard limits.

    Even if the more restrictive amendments pass, this is a solid step in the right direction. The next big step would be to allow for smaller lot subdivisions (e. g. 1500 square feet, which is plenty of room for a house).

  3. Tying the maximum home square footage to the lot size is going to incentivize owners of large lots to never subdivide to infill additional homes. The legislation written this way essentially adds value to larger lots. The maximum allowed square footage should not be tied to the lot size. Perhaps instead, an additional 500sf can be added to the maximum allowable main home’s square footage for each additional ADU. So that way we as a city are essentially saying “hey, if you want a McMansion, the buy-in is that you need to provide an additional two homes on your property”, instead of “hey, if you want a McMansion, make sure you also have a huge (otherwise empty) lot” (Note that tiny lots are already excluded from having large homes by other requirements such as setbacks and height restrictions, so we already don’t have to worry about giant houses on the smaller lots.)

    1. Good point. I don’t what the reasoning is behind tying the maximum house size to lot size. It should simply be a set maximum size.

Comments are closed.