Duplexes

Seattle’s new Mayor does not seem to be a fertile source of pro-housing legislation, having campaigned on skepticism about changing single family zones. But instead of struggling for dimes, we can pick up dollar bills at the state level. The bills are SB 5670 and HB 1782, and as explained by local treasure Dan Bertolet, would legalize:

Up to sixplexes on all residential lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop in cities with populations of 20,000 or more.

Up to fourplexes on all residential lots elsewhere in cities of 20,000 or more.

Duplexes on all residential lots in cities with populations of at least 10,000.

There are also substantial limits on parking minima, and some anti-displacement measures. Cities could skip these prescriptions and instead adopt city-wide density minima, but they would have to show this did not have disparate impacts — no putting all the growth in the “urban renewal” sectors and leaving the upscale places untouched.

Cities implementing these rules would be exempt from SEPA lawsuits — a legal innovation that would be usefully extended to non-auto transportation projects, renewable energy, and transmission lines.

Please read the rest — Dan’s analysis is as sharp as always. By passing this, Washington would finally catch up with Oregon in reducing regulatory limits on housing supply.

This is huge. The bills are sponsored by 10 Senators and 29 Representatives, all Democrats and from all over the State. If any of these are your legislators, be sure to thank them. If not, a short letter to your representatives expressing your support sends an important message that constituents care.

In other news, ADU reform is also on the agenda. HB 1337’s first hearing is today at 10am, and you can register to testify until 9am.

81 Replies to “Big housing bills in the legislature”

  1. Aren’t job prospects in Seattle pretty dismal going forward, other than work-from-home? Upzoning a half mile from transit stops isn’t going to induce demand for that transit if a job isn’t at some other stop on the line, and those kinds of jobs disappeared from downtown. Last I heard downtown lost 55K jobs and they haven’t returned.

    1. I think its a fair assumption all the Class A office space in Seattle (and Bellevue) will fill up eventually. Rents may need to readjust to a new economic reality, but those buildings (since they are Class A condition) will eventually fill up.

      1. Yes, unless Seattle deteriorates into Mad Max, which I don’t see happening, the Invisible Hand will adjust rates to the optimal occupancy rate. You may see some buildings get sold; like what happened with the WaMu building. We may see some office space repurposed to housing or other uses. One proposal for the Pacific Tower was to turn it into biotech labs. If more housing is created then there’s need for other services like medical clinics that could replace traditional offices. There’s a full size grocery going in at the Rainier Tower. DT might become more “localized” rather than reliant largely on commuting.

      2. You don’t need Seattle to deteriorate into Mad Max to have serious consequences from a decline in commuters and workers. We are talking about loan covenants on commercial buildings that are based on over 90% commercial occupancy.

        Office buildings have loan covenants. These address use (office vs. residential), and often tie loan interest rates to occupancy levels. It is nearly impossible to convert a tall glass and steel building into housing because that will accelerate the loan payoff because banks didn’t loan to a residential building which have much lower rents and higher defaults (and things like eviction moratoria), and office buildings were not built for housing, from plumbing to elevators to fire suppression to kitchens to you name it. If you are a REET and own a tall glass and steel building downtown and announce you are converting it to residential your building will go into default. The “invisible hand” is called bankruptcy.

        At the same time, unlike concrete buildings, it costs the same or more to dismantle a steel and glass commercial building when they are no longer competitive with the better clients. Few are taken down, and they become what is called “orphan” space. The Seafirst Black Box is a good and early example. Too expensive to update for first class office space, too expensive to tear down.

        The long-term issue for Seattle is regional population growth just isn’t going to be what the PSRC predicted, and you will have a 20% to 40% (one or two days/week) decline in commuter workers due to WFH because workers want it, and it is cheaper for businesses. So Bellevue is not complementing Seattle, it is taking business from Seattle.

        The lovely thing about commuter workers is they generate a great deal of tax revenue for a city, support retail and restaurant jobs, support transit, and they cost the city almost nothing in social services because they go home at night. Once you start filling up a city with residents — especially low-income residents — you get the reverse: no tax revenue, and high social costs. Right now every eastside city is seeing record sales tax revenue because of WFH and the fact sales tax is credited to where it is delivered. That is revenue downtown Seattle used to realize.

        Harrell knows the clock is ticking. The business community has made it totally clear to him, and his dept. heads will reflect this reality. On the eastside there is already an unshakable conviction Seattle is dangerous, dirty, and dying. Is that true? As someone who actually works in downtown Seattle five days/week and has since 1988 I would say yes and no. But who cares if it is true if there is a better work alternative for these folks by WFH or working on the eastside, that eliminates or shortens the commute to boot? If you are an eastside worker today and have a choice — which you do — you would rather work on the eastside, plus some WFH. The days of employers forcing eastside workers to commute to downtown Seattle on packed transit because they can’t afford the inflated parking costs are over.

        We built a very expensive “spine” to bring commuters to Seattle. The eastside restructure suggests to me that goal is no longer the objective (and ironically the reverse commute is not the rationale for East Link). I think Seattle will lose the eastside commuter because right now employees have the upper hand, and Bellevue is a better place to do business if you are Amazon or a business like Amazon.

        What you see is a slow but steady decline, which right now is camouflaged by the pandemic (but was accelerated by the protests/riots in downtown Seattle). Retail stores boarded up beginning with the orphan space on the second story or without street frontage reflect the loss of the commuter and eastside shopper, lots of underground parking available, a very intense sublease market as businesses try to get out of their leases.

        Harrell’s and Davison’s job is to return the vibrancy to downtown Seattle so like in the past eastside workers (and exurban Seattle workers) want to come downtown, even on packed transit, because the city is more exciting and vibrant, has better shopping and restaurants, better pay, better views, and has safe, safe, safe streets, including at night. A single women walking around Bellevue Way has little fear at night.

        If Seattle is not more exciting than Bellevue then Seattle can’t compete because Bellevue is easier to do business in, and so much wealth is on the eastside. Seattle just can’t afford to lose the eastside commuter, and that is exactly what is happening which is reflected in the building boom in Seattle.

        The real invisible hand is money and people can move, and they are moving east, or just staying on the eastside. Harrell needs to get those folks back, although it might be too late, which means the Seattle Council is going to have some revenue issues.

      3. Correction: reflected in the building boom in Bellevue, not Seattle, although construction tends to be a lagging indicator, while occupancy is a leading indicator.

      4. “it costs the same or more to dismantle a steel and glass commercial building when they are no longer competitive with the better clients.”

        Maybe we should start questioning why we have so many such inflexible buildings in the first place. This is nothing new: American cities started as industrial centers and then later generations had different needs. Al S below mentioned the many defunct office malls, big box stores, and small supermarkets that were abandoned for their original use. Some were replaced, like the Safeway and QFC at Broadway & Republican that are now multistory apartments. Others awkwardly accommodate new strip-mall or library uses, which their unwalkable ugly design makes difficult. Others remain empty because nobody wants the land. A basic tenet of cities is that buildings should be flexible and adaptable for new uses, because new uses will inevitably come.

        “On the eastside there is already an unshakable conviction Seattle is dangerous, dirty, and dying.”

        That conviction has been there my entire life, regardless of how Seattle changes. In high school my college friend worked at K-Mart in several locations. When somebody wanted an item that was out of stock, he’d call the other stores to see if they had it. Some customers in Bellevue would go all the way to Renton or Lynnwood to avoid going to the Seattle stores (Delridge or Aurora) because they thought Seattle was unsafe. But he had shifts at the Delridge store and never had a problem there.

        “the reverse commute is not the rationale for East Link”

        East Link was clearly to bring workers to downtown Bellevue and Microsoft as well as to Seattle. There were already several busloads of people on the 545 and 550 going to those places, and dozens of Microsoft shuttles. Even in the 1960s and 1980s there were plans to make the Eastside the major growth area for jobs, and regional rail was part of that. Otherwise it wouldn’t have gone to Microsoft at all.

      5. I recently invested in an office->housing conversion project in Washington D.C., and learned something about what it entails. The company is buying the building specifically for conversion, and asking the bank for a construction loan, not an office building operations loan, which avoids the loan default issue Daniel was alluding to. The investor presentation described several reasons why nearby buildings were unlikely to be converted later (which would add competition, driving down rents, and reducing the project’s profit). The other buildings had existing tenants, or the wrong ceiling height, the wrong amount of underground parking, etc. Simply put, converting office space to housing is not a trivial task.

        That said, I have no doubt the downtown Seattle office space will eventually get leased out. It just might be at reduced rents, or to tenants who only commute there 3 days a week instead of 5. Seattle is also far more than just downtown.

      6. “The Seafirst Black Box is a good and early example. Too expensive to update for first class office space, too expensive to tear down.”

        C’mon man. The Safeco Plaza tower underwent major renovations in the mid 2000s and additional renovations recently, is LEED platinum certified Class A all the way, and was just purchased by the largest publicly traded manager of office space in the country for nearly half a billion dollars.

        The biggest problem that building has is that I miss the sandwiches at Mel’s – RIP.

      7. “Yes, unless Seattle deteriorates into Mad Max”

        If the Republicans win the oval office in 2024, and one guy in particular gets in, there may be vengeance sought against the blue cities in the blue states; So this might be a wait and see possibility:/

        Other than that, if pandemic conditions continue, and proles keep loving the WFH, I’m guessing you’ll have a barren downtown with a slight decrease in rents cause I suspect the developers won’t accept much less than premium rents. I would look for the Target on 1st Ave to close up without the workerbee foot traffic as well as most of the remaining take out foot restaurants.

      8. Daniel, those “loan covenants” are just a fancy way of saying “the banks are going to take a bath on downtown Seattle real-estate.” Too bad, so sad. Glad I don’t own Chase or B of A stock.

        But once they “mark to market” they will have no choice but to sell them back into the private market over time and the process that AJ described — “Rents may need to readjust to a new economic reality” — will take place.

        If a concern then has the choice between sky-high “Bellevue is safe and beautiful” rates and “Downtown Seattle is now a real bargain” ones, a significant number of those businesses you’re predicting will move to Belly-Wash will not.

      9. Yeah my understanding is office->residential conversion is very difficult, particularly for modern (say, post 1980) office construction. There might be a few much older office towers that can be converted (Tacoma’s 1119 Pacific Ave tower is recently planned for conversion, but that building is 109 years old) in Seattle, but generally all those office towers will simply be vacant until prices drop and/or demand recovers.

        If there truly is a permanent decrease in office space demand, it will be the Class B & C properties that are demolished first. This generally means suburban, low rise office complexes. Boeing has sold several office properties in Renton & Bellevue recently, including the big Longacres property; I could see several of those buildings torn down for other uses. There are some office buildings near the Eastgate TC that may also be demolished and replaced with another use.

    2. I’m happy to let developers figure that out by experimenting with their own money. The worst case is that there is brand new housing that ends up relatively affordable!

    3. There is a difference between “weather” and “climate”. Having a single cold snap or a heat wave doesn’t equate to a systemic climate change. It may even be a short-term counter-intuitive response to climate change.

      I view widespread WFH as a response to a weather event (Covid) rather than a climate event (workplace needs). Sure some jobs may permanently leave an office building but even then a market to use that space for new jobs or for other purposes will exist.

      Heck, just look at the Bon Marché/ Macy’s building Downtown or the Sears building in SODO. They are being used in ways never imagined by the original builder. City events like wholesale abandonment of Detroit can sometimes be found although it’s rare; even places like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia have cycled through past downturns and repurposed themselves.

      I’ve seen malls and hospitals turned into government buildings. I’ve seen retail buildings turned into schools. I’ve seen hotels turned into office buildings, and office buildings turned into housing. I’ve seen train stations turned into art museums and post offices turned into train stations. I’ve seen churches turned into night clubs and big box retail spaces turned into churches. I’ve seen original car dealer buildings turned into all sorts of things.

      The basic point is this: A properly built structure can become lots of different things. It will almost always be cheaper to repurpose a taller building with foundation pilings than to build from scratch unless a substantial increase in height is suddenly permitted.

      So expecting Downtown Seattle to be in some sort of long-term decline (“dying”) is rather short-sighted and naive to me. It’s too centrally located for that. It’s too close to good harbors for that. It’s too scenic and offers too many days of temperate weather for that. It won’t be the Downtown of 1950, 1980 or 2010 but it will still be important barring major damage from a catastrophic earthquake.

    4. Aren’t job prospects in Seattle pretty dismal going forward, other than work-from-home?

      No, and it is largely irrelevant to the topic at hand. The subject is housing, from a transit perspective. Office employment (which I assume you are referring to) has very little to do with that. Population density leads to an increase in transit use, which leads to a more cost effective transit system. What line of work those riders are in matters very little.

      1. I disagree. Jobs density is a better predictor of transit ridership than residential density. This is why LA’s transit ridership is so dismal despite moderately good housing density (for a US city)

        https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/10/22/job-sprawl-as-deurbanization/
        https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/06/20/job-centralization-in-the-city/

        Nonetheless, jobs prospects are indeed irrelevant because the jobs density in Seattle will be more or less unchanged, even if the specific jobs and sectors evolve.

      1. Having republicans on board was key to passing it in Oregon and may be here too, because you know you’re going to lose some NIMBY democrats. So if you happen to have Republican representation in the statehouse GIVE THEM A CALL! It’s small government! It’s property rights! It’ll reduce the pressure on the non-Seattle places if housing is more available in Seattle!

  2. It is important to realize this is a short session (60 days). Meetings are by Zoom/Teams, and at least three Senators are out with Covid. A short session is designed to clarify or fix legislation, not adopt huge new bills. These are part time legislators often with full time jobs, and right now their districts are dealing with emergency flooding and snow, and major bills need many hearings.

    The two main agenda items are amending or clarifying prior legislation changing police conduct, especially the switch from reasonable suspicion to probable cause in order to detain a suspect. The attorney general issued an opinion but police officers who were worried about their jobs or criminal/personal liability interpreted the bill as prohibiting them from stopping and questioning a suspect unless the officer personally witnessed the criminal act. This legislation is a good lesson about adopting legislation based on the cause du jour (usually from Seattle). I doubt many of these legislators will be running on a defund the police platform in November, except maybe in Seattle, and many Democrats are in a panic to get this legislation fixed during the current spike in crime. As I point out time to time, this blog has around 2000 readers while just the MI Nextdoor alone has 11,000 members, and crime is the number one issue, with SFH zones number 2. Transit on the eastside is number 50 (except for the bus intercept on MI).

    The other major item which is bipartisan is limiting a governor’s executive powers during an “emergency”, an issue I have raised concern about for some time. We are going into 660 days of emergency rule under Inslee, and many people thought his early actions re: closing businesses were politically motivated, with exemptions for businesses that favored him personally. Plus he lifted the closures in October right before his election, and not surprisingly there was a major spike in cases in late December/January.

    The likely remedy will be a bill that requires legislative approval of actions after 60 days. Many state supreme courts like WI and MI issued decisions supporting this by limiting the duration of an “emergency” before the legislature must be involved, but our state supreme court is mostly appointed by Inslee and very reluctant to address executive power.

    Bills that effectively create a parallel ST when ST has had some pretty dramatic public debacles re: the CEO, realignment, deficit estimates swinging wildly from $11.5 billion to $6 billion, and project cost estimates during a short session likely won’t get out of committee. I think the legislators understand that the N. King Co. subarea needs additional funding for WSBLE for the downtown and West Seattle/Ballard to sign off, but the proposed bill is too complex, too unknown, and too slow to address the problem, and quite frankly too dependent on a vote.

    I also doubt a legislature will move through committee a bill to ban SFH zones in a short session, certainly not eastside legislators and those who watched Harrell’s election results. The reality is Inslee is wrong, and eliminating SFH zones won’t create affordable housing, which is his reason for the proposal, and even if it did we are talking decades. Plus if Harrell or South Seattle Black residents object because of gentrification that will likely kill this bill. Plus Tacoma has proven a city does not need state action to amend its zoning, or eliminate SFH zones, and if I were a legislator and just watched Harrell’s race I would want to see how elections in Tacoma go, and know what the surrounding Pierce Co. legislators think about Tacoma’s zoning actions. If they don’t support eliminating SFH zones I wouldn’t if I were an eastside legislator.

    The good news is there is more revenue than expected, or needed, although Inslee is intent on spending every last dime of it, which is a much better situation than the last short session. My big concern is the state and county siphon off so much tax revenue (property, sales, levies for libraries and parks et al) there is little for cities left over, and the cities who do the real hard work like police, fire, garbage, roads, etc. can’t pass local property levies to deal with the state’s 1% cap on raising the property levy when inflation is now running over 10%/year, much higher if you count energy, food, and housing.

    I would also like to see a little more concern from Inslee about the eviction crisis, and not just address it through moratoria which have had some negative effects including reducing the amount of rental housing, especially SFH. This is a statewide problem, and more of the excess revenue needs to go towards it. It makes little sense for Inslee to preach about homelessness and housing and SFH zones when keeping people in housing is the best solution of all.

    1. and even if it did we are talking decades.

      Of course, but there’s no time like now to start changing it.

      Look, rich people — obviously the most important people in your world — live in hundreds of cities around the world with walk-ups, duplexes , small apartments, and townhouses mixed in and around single-family dwellings. Those cities do often have neighborhoods consisting entirely of single-family homes, simply because those homes are big and expensive. I seriously doubt anyone will try to build townhouses on lots they buy in Leschi, Broadview or Laurelhurst. The land is simply too expensive.

      Nobody is saying “You MUST build an ADU behind your McMansion!” What they are saying is that locking up 85% of the non-industrial, non-large commercial land in SFH zones is counter-productive. Let things evolve over time and eventually you’ll have large parts of the city looking like Paris, Boston or Tokyo. Those are places which are even MORE popular than Seattle.

      Humanity can do more than walk and chew gum at the same time. At least, some of us can.

      1. I seriously doubt anyone will try to build townhouses on lots they buy in Leschi, Broadview or Laurelhurst. The land is simply too expensive.

        This logic seems precisely backwards to me. Expensive land is exactly the thing that creates incentives to use less of it. Sure even if zoning didn’t exist you’d still have the occasional billionaire hoard five acres of prime waterfront property for his big mansion, but he’d have to be willing to pay more than 100 regular people who want 0.05 acres apiece for a townhome. The reason we have mansions rather than condos lining our waterfronts is that the latter have mostly been banned.

    2. ” I seriously doubt anyone will try to build townhouses on lots they buy in Leschi, Broadview or Laurelhurst.”

      These neighborhoods aren’t as single-family-only as they appear. Laurelhurst includes the growing multifamily/commercial development on 45th. Sand Point Way has been getting more apartments, townhouse-like things, and close-together houses. Broadview is part of North Seattle’s often-overlooked lower-income area along with parts of Lake City, 145th, and other pockets. Non-single-family housing hasn’t spread off Aurora because of zoning restrictions, but with fewer restrictions some lots would be converted.

      “Those cities do often have neighborhoods consisting entirely of single-family homes, simply because those homes are big and expensive.”

      There are still a lot of older houses past their prime that would be likely to be torn down someday. It’s a race to deregulate before they’re all replaced with large McMansions. While we’re at it, there should be a maximum limit on house size of some kind. That kind of regulation would make more sense than single-family-only zoning. Most people don’t live in nuclear families with two children anymore, yet the zoning supports only that kind of house.

      “can’t pass local property levies to deal with the state’s 1% cap on raising the property levy when inflation is now running over 10%/year”

      This may finally be the catalyst to repeal the Eyman initiative that limits government budgets to a 1%/year increase, which is below inflation and endangers essential services. It’s one thing if inflation is 2% as it has been for twenty years, but another thing if inflation is 4% or 5% year after year. But we can’t make long-term policy based on short-term fluctuations like the prices this year. And to reach your 10% figure I think you’re including housing costs, which are subject to many factors beyond regular inflation, as we’ve been discussing.

      One thing I’m trying to figure out is, when I read articles about record rent and house price increases this year, is that relative to 2020 or 2019? 2020 had major decreases. How much of this is reversing last year’s decline vs new increases?

      Also, the housing demand is so large that any small lapse in construction causes rents and prices to spike. This is happening across the country. Workers can’t find housing in Leavenworth, near Stevens Pass, in medium-sized and small cities throughout the country, not just big coastal metros. This happened in the 2008 crash and 2012 recovery, and it’s apparently happening now with the 2020 lapse. We need to have enough supply that we can absorb a year or a few years of no construction.

      1. “One thing I’m trying to figure out is, when I read articles about record rent and house price increases this year, is that relative to 2020 or 2019? 2020 had major decreases. How much of this is reversing last year’s decline vs new increases?”

        @Mike Orr
        Did you happen to see my post the other day (on an open thread) about this? I’m not sure why you have the impression that median home prices declined in 2020. For the four-county region that the NW MLS includes as its “Central Puget Sound” region the median sales price for all homes increased by 11.5% over the prior year, i.e. 2020 compared to 2019. On the same metric, the increase in 2021 over 2020 was 17.8%.

        (I can’t speak to what happened in the rental marketplace though as I don’t have that data readily available.)

  3. Changing allowed residential density to permit more units in a structure is a good thing. However, not all single-family lots are the same size. So, any state law needs to set some sort of minimum lot size when more units can be permitted on a lot.

    A related issue is with ownership. Should a unit be able to designated a condominium or a a co-op, or should a unit just be allowed only as a separate two-dimensional parcel?

    It’s a noble kind of law to introduce — but it needs to be honed carefully to avoid unintended consequences.

  4. Wow. You do realize that this is not an open thread, right. Most of your commentary above is clearly off-topic. Therefore, as I could spend paragraphs rebutting and correcting several of your individual points, I’m not going to do so since they would also be off-topic. I’ll make one exception since it’s just so egregiously wrong I feel compelled to set the record straight:

    “…but our state supreme court is mostly appointed by Inslee…”

    https://www.courts.wa.gov/appellate_trial_courts/SupremeCourt/?fa=supremecourt.justices

    1. This was meant as a reply to Daniel Thompson’s comment above (the one beginning with, “It is important to realize…”).

    2. Well, I would argue that with Inslee’s appointments of Yu in 2014, Montoya-Lewis in 2020, and Whitener in 2020 the court has swung to the left and created a majority unwilling to confront executive action, which is why I am glad to see a bipartisan effort to address this issue in the current legislative session.

      The threads morph, because there are so few articles. For example, posts about pork loins (and your own posts about grocery stores along Link routes) may not be germane to the original article, but I don’t have a fit about it. I suppose if it made it clearer for you I could have made the same point about SB 5528 and the various housing bills in separate threads: it is unlikely they will make it out of committee during a short session when the legislature is focused on amending or clarifying the police bill and addressing the scope of executive action during an “emergency”.

      We will see. Maybe the bills will move out of committee and get passed, and you will be correct. But it seems germane to me to understand how a short session works, the most pressing issues before a legislature that is dealing with some serious snow and flooding issues, which affect the likelihood these bills will even be considered. Feel free to “correct” any point I made.

      And where best to buy a pork loin on Link of course.

      1. Lol. Transit and pork loin. Definitely not kosher.

        All kidding aside, the discussion about grocery stores was on an open thread. The intent of my earlier comment was simply meant to encourage you to keep your commentary, which I do read in full, more focused on the subject matter at the center of the original post. If it came across as some sort of admonishment, then I apologize for that. Sure, generally speaking most commentary threads tend to morph in different ways and certainly can stray into nontangential subject matter. Overall I think STB readers do a pretty good job of following the rules and sort of self-moderating, which I imagine is something the actual site moderators appreciate and why one doesn’t see a lot of deleted commentary on this blog.

        With all of that said, I do think that the points you made about the legislation in the context of the current 60-day session in which it’s being introduced is relevant to the discussion. Maybe stick with that and leave out all of the extraneous stuff about Inslee, the WA Supreme Court, Nextdoor’s readership, etc. It’s not needed to make your point about the legislative session and, frankly, makes your commentary less persuasive.

        Oh, and for the record, Justices Yu and Whitener are presently serving in elected terms. And since we don’t eat pork in this household, I can’t help you out there at all. :)

  5. Kudos for choosing photos of nice two-unit homes with the post. There are many fine examples in cities across the country of even luxury two-unit homes. I think there is real value showing photos in addition to making an intellectual argument. A resident might fear it in the abstract, but will drop that fear once they see that it can be done pleasingly.

    1. I agree; the accompanying pics at the top of the post were a nice touch.

      Snohomish County PDS did something similar with their residential development matrix. Since my property lies within unincorporated Snohomish County, it is the county that sets land use and zoning regulations for my area. My own parcel has been upzoned dramatically since my purchase some 20 years ago, currently designated in one of the urban high density use zoning categories, “MR” or multifamily residential.

      In case you want to check out the pics and the matrix detail, here’s the direct link:
      https://snohomishcountywa.gov/5367/Residential-Development-Options

  6. “Kudos for choosing photos of nice two-unit homes with the post. There are many fine examples in cities across the country of even luxury two-unit homes. I think there is real value showing photos in addition to making an intellectual argument. A resident might fear it in the abstract, but will drop that fear once they see that it can be done pleasingly.”

    Al, Seattle allows three legal dwellings per lot. Are you arguing for a downzone to two legal dwelling units? It looks to me like these two-unit homes have the same gross floor area to lot area ratio (GFAR), height, and yard setbacks as a SFH on the same lot.

    I think any bill eliminating SFH zones (or increasing the number of legal dwelling units per lot) will have to address whether cities can still require the property owner to live onsite if renting out another dwelling unit, and whether cities can require any multi-family housing in the SFH to comply with the same regulatory limits for GFAR, height, yard setbacks, onsite parking, and impervious surface limits as a SFH in the same zone.

    This is an issue I don’t think many on this blog considered before I raised it. If the regulatory limits remain the same for multi-family housing and SFH’s in the same zone, and each multi-family unit has to have its own kitchen, bathroom, entrance, parking spot, and living room you may create more legal dwelling units per lot but not more housing GFA, and if you do amend the regulatory limits you destroy what makes a SFH zone special for those who live there.

    1. “…you may create more legal dwelling units per lot but not more housing GFA…”

      I’m not following you here. Maybe you could elaborate?

      1. I believe that means means the square footage of residential space the same. I.e. one 3,000 sq ft home, two 1,500 sq ft duplex units, or three 1,000 sq ft triplex units would all be the same ‘housing GFA,’ aka the total building is the same size.

        A good policy (there’s a good Sightline article on this) is to actually provide a GFA bonus for more units, or a GFA bonus for non-profit or lower-income housing, rather than fixing GFA for all housing types.

      2. Thanks AJ. That’s what I assumed DT meant but I wasn’t totally sure (and still am not).

        I guess I don’t get DT’s point in this whole discussion. In other words, I don’t get the assumption that modest zoning changes in SFH areas WON’T result in not only additional residential units on redeveloped parcels* but also a total overall GFA increase for a rezoned parcel that allows duplexes, triplexes, etc.

        For the sake of simplicity, let’s set aside the whole issue of affordability for this discussion. If I have a SFH parcel with, say, a small 1,200 sq ft bungalow sitting on a 9,000 sq ft lot and a modest zoning change now allows me to demolish that structure and build a new triplex that has the same regulatory limits as the existing neighborhood homes with regard to height, setback, etc. and those units are 1,200 sq ft each, the resulting GFA would triple.

        Am I missing something here?

        *There are two residential projects that are taking place concurrently in my area that I’ve been following. They both involve former SFH parcels that are similar in size to my own and subjected to the same level of upzoning in the last two county comp plan updates, i.e., from urban low density (R-7,200, etc.) to urban high density (MR). The one project is developing two adjoining parcels and building 23 townhome units (5 structures total) and the other project is adding two duplexes on the backside of the existing home. In both cases, the existing home will remain. This is a bit different than the hypothetical I described above since there are parcel changes involved as well as the change in zoning is more significant, but that was the county’s intention. If you’re interested, I’ve provided the links to the SnoCo PDS map portal. Simply search for the following two parcel numbers and then zoom in to locate the relevant parcels. Once located, you can pull up the permit information detail that will allow you to see the site plans.

        https://gismaps.snoco.org/Html5Viewer/Index.html?viewer=pdsmapportal&layertheme=Land%20Use%20and%20Zoning%20Designations

        1st project parcel #:
        00513700008006
        2nd project parcel #:
        00376400001300

    2. DT, this is a bill in the state legislature — not in a city hall. The only thing a non-compliant city would have to do to comply is to remove single family per lot requirements or get their zoning laws tossed in court. It doesn’t make Seattle or any other city “downzone”. The units in the photos are illegal in many Washington cities today.

      1. No Al, that is too simplistic. See my earlier post in reply to Tisgwm. “Eliminating” SFH zoning does not tell you the number of units per lot, or the regulatory limits including parking and whether the property owner has to live onsite.

        The photos suggest a duplex with the same regulatory limits as a SFH. That is not the zoning in Seattle today, and that is not the zoning limit in the proposed bill which talks about fourplexes.

        If a city can maintain its regulatory limits in the SFH zone for “multi-family- housing in the same zone you won’t create any additional housing, let alone affordable housing, especially with parking mandates (these areas don’t have transit) and requiring the owner to live onsite if renting out one of the units like most eastside cities do with ADU’s.

        This bill does not eliminate SFH zones, it rezones them multi-family, but does not address the issue about regulatory limits.

    3. “ Al, Seattle allows three legal dwellings per lot. Are you arguing for a downzone to two legal dwelling units?”

      What about the difference between two ADU’s and a triple or triplex do you not understand, DT? Seattle allows only ADU’s in SF zones but not duplexes / doubles nor triplexes/ triples. The core issue is the “missing middle” which an ADU rule change doesn’t really address.

      1. I don’t quite understand the difference Al. The article posts a picture of a “duplex”. Mercer Island for example already allows a main house and DADU up to 900 sf. in the SFH zone. How is that different than the photo you posted? In Seattle you can have up to three separate dwelling units.

        You support the “photo” of the duplex but what you are really arguing for is four- and six-unit buildings in the SFH zone, the “missing middle”, which is dramatically different than a duplex, and would require a big change in the regulatory limits in the SFH zones.

        And I don’t quite understand how a duplex or even tri-plex creates more housing than a main house and two DADU’s as allowed in Seattle, if the regulatory limits (GFAR) for them is the same. I thought the point of upzoning is to increase housing.

        Are you sure Seattle does not allow duplexes in the SFH zone. I lived in one for several years on Ravenna when going to lawschool.

      2. “ And I don’t quite understand how a duplex or even tri-plex creates more housing than a main house and two DADU’s as allowed in Seattle, if the regulatory limits (GFAR) for them is the same.”

        No they aren’t the same. Not by a long shot!!! The Seattle ADU rules have a maximum 1000 or 650 square feet. This is mostly unsuitable for a family of three or four.

        A true duplex or triplex has every unit almost the same size. So in a 4000 square foot residential structure are two units each with about 2000 square feet similar to the photos. A 4000 square foot structure with an ADU would have a primary house of 3200 square feet and an ADU of 800 square feet, for example.

        Which does a fear-driven homeowner dislike the most? I argue that ADU’s are more risky to a single family neighbor than a true duplex is. That’s because the unit is more likely to have a transient occupant paying less rent. It’s only advantage is that the primary unit is supposed to be owner-occupied so they can more likely restrict who occupies an ADU. That frankly has huge overtones of racism as it’s assumed that a homeowner would screen the ADU occupant. Since the market can’t be legally racist, a homeowner can.

        A duplex can be regulated as a two-unit condo or perhaps a coop owned by parents. I’ve seen several situation where parents buy a two unit duplex and live upstairs, rent or sell the other unit for their adult child and their family. Once the parents see the need to live on one level, they switch units with their child’s family. In fact, it’s more likely to occur in immigrant families than in American-born ones as many places in the world are more amenable to extended family housing.

        I guess you don’t have the benefit that I have by living in cities in six other states where duplexes are much more common. You must have been deprived of this enlightening experience.

      3. “I’ve seen several situation where parents buy a two unit duplex and live upstairs…”

        Bingo. The house I grew up in NYC was a converted Victorian duplex. My parents owned the house and we lived in the lower flat, all 12 of us. We rented the upper flat to another family with 9 members (5 kids, 2 parents, 2 grandparents). Two families, 21 housed individuals, same square footage as when the house was built and housed just one, perhaps extended, family. Many places including Seattle, would not permit such a residential use conversion even today. Yes, of course the square footage per unit was less than the original configuration when the house was built, but other than “bonus-sized” families like my own, the flats were perfectly acceptable housing for the average family.

      4. Al, you could accomplish your goal by increasing the maximum size of DADU/ADU’s if housing for families is the issue, without eliminating SFH zones. ADU/DADU size is usually limited to try and make the housing more affordable and consistent with its original use as a mother-in-law, although I agree families probably need more GFA.

        Maybe ask Seattle builders and developers whether they would rather have three separate legal dwellings with limited GFA for the two accessory dwellings or a duplex for the same total GFAR. My guess is in this market they would still opt for a SFH if building on spec. because each sf in the main house is worth much more than a sf in an accessory dwelling unit.

        As long as the GFAR limit for the residential lot stays the same whether a SFH or duplex or tri-plex, as well as the yard setbacks and impervious surface limits and parking requirements, along with requiring the owner of the property to live in one of the units if others are rented out, the impact to the residential zone is not as dramatic in a rezone.

        The two big battles over Seattle’s recent upzone were over requiring the property owner to live in one of the units to prevent the properties from becoming absentee landlord rental properties, and requiring the three legal dwellings to have the same GFAR limits as a SFH in the same zone. Granted these limits do limit the actual increase in total housing from having three structures instead of one or two, and with current SFH values incentivize a SFH at full GFAR since each sf of the main house is usually worth much more than a sf in a DADU, but they were necessary to preserve the character of the SFH zone, or so the residents of Seattle argued.

        I am not familiar with Snohomish Co. or Tisgwm’s post in which he states different uses — SFH vs. multi-family — in the same zone have different lot GFAR limits, which is rare, but his example begins with an underuse of GFAR for the lot based on a SFH and then compares that to a new multi-family structure on the same lot at the maximum GFAR. The better comparison would be the multi-family structure at maximum GFAR to a new SFH at maximum GFAR, and the difference in the number of people each can house (usually based on number of bedrooms). Being new construction neither will be affordable.

        I just don’t see, in a special session, the state eliminating SFH zoning if Seattle was reluctant to do the same. I don’t see Seattle doing it after Harrell’s election. Rural WA, the eastside and I know Sound Cities Assoc. will object to the loss of local zoning control, and for an eastside politician this is a very sensitive issue. Inslee’s proposal only affects property within 1/2 mile of transit, although it is getting old trying to manufacture ridership for ST and transit, and the carbon emission savings are weak and based on the carbon from forcing suburban residents to commute to an urban center to work, which may be over.

        My guess is nothing happens in the special session on SB5528 or single-family zones. Let’s see how much housing Seattle’s recent upzone and Tacoma’s recent zoning changes actually create.

      5. “…with an underuse of GFAR for the lot based on a SFH…”

        That’s the real world, my friend. Many homes were built that way in the post-war era thru the 50s and 60s. Modest homes on a fairly large lots. Bungalows, ramblers, Cape Cods, small Tudors, etc. I believe RossB has cited many examples from his own neighborhood multiple times on this blog. So the “underuse of GFAR” is YOUR assessment today and not necessarily the view at the time the structure was built. Many of these perfectly fine homes have gone the way of the bulldozer and replaced with a much larger SFH structure instead of a duplex or triplex because the existing zoning didn’t allow for these options.

      6. “I am not familiar with Snohomish Co. or Tisgwm’s post in which he states different uses — SFH vs. multi-family — in the same zone have different lot GFAR limits, which is rare,…”

        And that’s why I would caution against making such sweeping generalizations about zoning regs. My statement above happens to also hold true for the two rental properties I own in two other states (CA and NY), so I’m not sure how “rare” this type of zoning scheme is (as you allege). And, yes, I guess that makes me an absentee landlord. The horror!

      7. Many places including Seattle, would not permit such a residential use conversion even today.

        It happens whether it’s officially permitted or not. Most of the grand old mansions on Capitol Hill are shared by more than one “household”. It would be better to change zoning and get things up to code than going the DIY route. But do what makes sense where it makes sense. There’s plenty of places you won’t have to fight NIMBYs if the changes are targeted and incremental. You could do things like reduce the parking minimums for an area in exchange for a local TBD property tax that funds more frequent neighborhood service. To make creme brulee you have to focus the tip of the flame. Do it right and it’s way better than peanut butter.

      8. Al, you could accomplish your goal by increasing the maximum size of DADU/ADU’s if housing for families is the issue, without eliminating SFH zones.

        You are basically arguing for the same regulations, but with different terminology. No duplexes in single family zones, but a house with an ADU the exact same size as the “main” unit is OK. While we are at it, allow people to sell each unit, the way they would if it was a condo. If you are happy calling those ADUs, then I would be too.

        ADU/DADU size is usually limited to try and make the housing more affordable

        Ha! That’s funny. Sorry, but that isn’t the way economics work. If you restrict something, the cost goes up. Any kid selling lemonade will tell you that. By restricting the size of ADUs, you limit the economy of scale that goes along with new construction. Instead of a large unit, you have a small one, even though a large one isn’t more expensive to build. As a result, all housing is more expensive. I can explain this fairly basic economic concept to you in more detail, but you can also figure it out yourself if you just imagine all of those people out there, with a range of incomes and interests, competing in the housing market place.

      9. Ross, you raise a point Al raises: if housing advocates in Seattle think duplexes are a better model than three different legal dwellings on a lot like under the current code I don’t see the issue with that, especially since I agree more housing for family’s needs to be created. Of course, as Bernie has pointed out repeatedly it won’t be affordable becuase new construction has a fixed base cost, and will be less and less affordable the more expensive the neighborhood.

        And of course, this new development will displace poor and minority communities, which is why they are opposed.

        But I think you and Al are missing the point. You are approaching the issue from one of terminology — SFH zone even though Seattle allows three legal dwellings on a SFH lot vs. duplexes — and use — i.e. SFH vs. “multi-family”, although SFH in Seattle means three dwellings, and on Mercer Island two with a 900 sf DADU.

        Cities approach the issue differently: from the regulatory limits on height, GFAR, impervious surfaces, yard setbacks, parking requirements, and requiring the property owner to live in one of the units in another is rented. These are what create the character of a SFH zone.

        If the regulatory limits in the SFH zone remain the same the terminology is pretty much meaningless. Whatever the number of structure(s) the GFAR is the same, the owner has to live onsite so this isn’t just a bill for absentee investors, and cars are parked onsite so unlike Seattle the neighborhood streets (which these cities cannot patrol like Seattle) become clogged with cars when there are very few sidewalks in these neighborhoods.

        I don’t think you create much new housing over a SFH which with kids and relatives can easily house 6 or 7, but you do create more units, albeit much smaller. If you or Al prefer duplexes over three separate legal dwellings, although the regulatory limits stay the same, I agree I don’t see the huge issue. The fight over the last rezone was over requiring the property owner to live in one of the units, and restricting the total number of dwellings to the same regulatory limits (GFAR mainly) as a SFH.

      10. “Many homes were built that way in the post-war era thru the 50s and 60s.”

        See Colby Avenue in northwest Everett. Deep narrow lots with a modest-sized house in the middle. You could fit an entire row of houses in the front yards.

      11. Daniel, certainly the other elements of the zoning code —setbacks, height, lot coverage, parking, street access — affect density limits more than just having a single unit. I have seen lots of new development without much yard and houses densely placed on small lots. I noted that elsewhere in the comments. The bigger point is perhaps that these have a larger effect if suppressing density than a duplex does.

        The definition of what is a dwelling unit often comes down to where the stove is, where the locks are, where the front door is, what address is assigned and where parking may be. The maximum ADU requirement has no physical justification and instead is a manipulative effort to do social engineering on one’s neighbors (hence its racist overtones).

        My iverarchong point is simply that the ADU rules in Seattle do not allow for true duplexes. That is a flaw specifically with Seattle zoning laws —and it’s justification is somewhat arbitrary and dubious. It was designed to give the politically correct narrative of “we have no more single family zoning” but not really addressing the core need or giving the idea full support. It’s a political compromise that seems silly and discriminatory.

        Conversion does cost money, but older large houses can be converted at a much lower cost than building new structures. It’s the tiny 50’s homes on large lots that seem unsuitable for that. However, there are plenty of large homes built both before and after that period that could be divided with minor changes or additions to exterior walls.

      12. “I have seen lots of new development without much yard and houses densely placed on small lots.”

        I call them close-together houses and I’ve seen them in Issaquah, maybe eastern Kent, and other areas I don’t remember offhand.

        “The bigger point is perhaps that these have a larger effect if suppressing density than a duplex does.”

        I think they raise density rather than suppressing it? It’s hard to tell without having the lot and unit size numbers and comparing two neighborhoods side by side. Maybe somebody who’s better at this research can chime in. But to me it looks like higher density overall. Not as high as row houses or condos would be, but still a step in the right direction.

        I’m surprised these are appearing in far-flung suburbs. You’d think people move to the suburbs to have a larger house and yard, and if they can’t get that they’d remain in more-convenient inner areas. But the decades-old phenomenon of adding rooms to a house or converting the garage into a room shows that people are increasingly more interested in interior space than exterior space. And many suburbanites are apparently fine with barely any yard if they can get a house. The next step would be to see if they’d be willing to buy attached houses (row houses) in the suburbs.

      13. “The next step would be to see if they’d be willing to buy attached houses (row houses) in the suburbs.”

        @Mike Orr

        They absolutely are here in my area. Anecdotally, that’s all I see going up around me. The data seems to support that observation. Condominium sales accounted for 18% of all home sales in Snohomish County in 2021. For comparison purposes, this figure was 22.6% for King County. Of course, these figures are looking at all sales, meaning both new and existing housing inventory. Within a half mile of my own property, I can think of at least a half dozen townhome projects that are currently being built. They are also commanding a higher than list price.

      14. “ The bigger point is perhaps that these have a larger effect if suppressing density than a duplex does.”

        This is admittedly a poorly worded sentence of mine. It should have read “ The bigger point is perhaps that other lot restrictions can have a larger effect if suppressing density than not allowing a duplex does.”

        *****

        As far tiny lot new homes in edge suburbs, they are pretty common. Take a look at Ten Trails in Black Diamond, for example. The detached homes are so close that they might as well be attached. These homes are built at a much higher density than one finds in many parts of Seattle.

        The point being is that the marketplace is pushing towards small lots anyway — either detached or attached. The large lot phenomenon is a very small window of time (say 1945-1985) in the history of urbanization, and has seemingly faded into history for most new homes on the market. The challenge becomes how does a community adjust to that unusual period of large lot detached home development through zoning reform .

      15. Every city on the eastside zones for different types of housing. Large multi-family, row houses with greater GFAR, mixed use commercial/housing (Bellevue), commercial only, retail only, single family usually with an option for DADU’s. Every city and unincorporated area have housing growth targets they must meet, and use a mix of housing to meet those, although the population targets from the PSRC the GMPC uses to allocate housing targets are being questioned.

        I don’t know about Snohomish Co. but I do know King Co.’s awful land use policies under Ron Sims are why most of the unincorporated areas with any money either incorporated or were annexed, which ended up being one of the largest downzones on the eastside since the cities had much tighter building and zoning codes.

        The GMPC’s recent housing growth targets through 2044 basically allocated housing to those cities (Shoreline) who wanted it. Clyde Hill got one housing unit target over the next 23 years, Beaux Arts around the same, Mercer Island got zero in part because of the huge number prior councils agreed to we are working through. My experience in the past is Snohomish Co. is very pro-development, and often chafes at the GMA.

        The only two I don’t see on Mercer Island are: the row house because the cost of the land makes a row house too expensive. The old Farmers’ parking lot (before Game Stop paid $117 million for the building and parking lot) was going to be row houses (brownstones) with two parking spots in the town center, but initial estimates put the purchase price at around $4 million.

        Instead you see large multi-family buildings (and assisted care facilities) that are morphing from apartments to condos due to the change in condo warranties. Still very pricey. Shorewood just sold for over $200 million. My guess is in five years there won’t be any “affordable” (under $2000/month) housing on MI as the older apartments are converted to condos.

        The other is commercial only zones. Instead MI allows “mixed-use” development in the town center, but of course housing is where all the quick money is on MI (just the opposite of downtown Bellevue which is why Bellevue often mandates some housing in office towers), although commercial businesses are a better recurring tax base.

        So we have an anemic commercial town center with lots of condos, except that allows the city to maintain very large minimum lot sizes in the residential neighborhoods. But the city is one of only a few well ahead of its housing targets. One of the oddities of housing growth targets is they don’t distinguish well between a small apartment and a huge SFH, so better to allow a lot of small apartments/condos in the town center rather than try and meet the housing targets through SFH’s or DADU’s that number 238 out of 7000 residential lots despite a model ADU ordinance.

        My guess is this time next year we won’t be discussing Inslee’s upzoning proposal but the fact eastside cities in their 8-year cycle rewrite of their comp. plans state they are “built out” after the recent housing growth targets, and refuse to amend their zoning to create more housing, which will likely start with Sammamish based on the GMPC discussions.

        What many urbanists misunderstand is density comes with great costs for cities, like fire, police, social services and schools (especially with multi-family housing), maintaining resident to park acre ratios, roads, water and sewer, and all these housing mandates come with no state funding and a 1% cap on raising the property levy. The reality is — whether Seattle or NYC — the larger the city the higher the per capita local tax rate. Cities like Mercer Island beg for state funding to accommodate greater density but get no funding, so don’t want the density.

      16. “The large lot phenomenon is a very small window of time (say 1945-1985)”

        It’s also the stage of Pugetopolis’ population. In 1985 “the region” was part of King County (Kent-Renton-Redmond-Bothell-Shoreline), maybe going into Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. Auburn, Tacoma, and Everett were mostly separate job markets, except for Boeing workers who were transferred willy-nilly between plants and had to drive to them. North Seattle and Shoreline north of 65th filled in in the 40s and 50s, and Bellevue in the 60s and 70s, so there were still empty lots available. Issaaquah was a small town and it was unusual to live in its outskirts. So you could get a house within 15 miles of downtown Seattle pretty easily. Now you’re looking at 20 or 30 miles and a higher level of growth, so we either build close-together houses in Issaquah and Maple Valley or we sprawl into Skagit and Thurston Counties and to the Snoqualmie Summit.

        Large-lot houses were both a reflection of King County growing from 500K when it was easy to 1.5 million when it’s not, and people’s lifestyle choices and their psychological sense of how large the metro is. Early Seattle development in the 1800s and early 1900s was vertical lowrise in Pioneer Square and then small-lot houses in Mt Baker, N 80th Street, and White Center because that was the prevailing style then. People expected a house and yard but not a large one. Only the top 1% had mansions and huge yards. Then size creep became a phenomenon, and large lots became the norm in northeast Seattle and the suburbs, and then houses started growing from 800 sq ft to 1000, then 1500, 2000, and now 2500 and 3000, and McMansions are no longer rare. But with the population increasing and longer commutes and higher land prices, people have to prioritize what’s important to them, and in many cases it’s a house even if it’s close together or attached.

      17. That’s right, Mike. Our region has a large proportion of housing built between 1945 and 1985.

        I think however that boomers think this is the “normal” or “ideal” residential pattern simply because we grew up with it and we think of our childhood as ideal. DT is clearly one of those. It’s also mostly North American and was never typical among most of the world’s population even during that period.

        Human settlement has however thousands of years of history. Having a big yard is not essential unless one is in agricultural production. Finally, I think very few millennials believe a big yard is worth the extra cost. It’s going to be as much of a relic as kerosene lamps or coal heating.

      18. @Al S and @Mike Orr
        Interesting discussion. I think we are mostly on the same page here. Housing patterns evolve over time, impacted by an assortment of factors that you’re both clearly aware of, so I won’t bore you with a treatise on the subject matter. Zoning is one such factor and it does have a legitimate role to play in structuring our communities in a purposeful, physical way. Simply put, it’s a further delineation of our land use policies. The problems arise when the existing zoning scheme doesn’t support the broader land use goals. Throw in an inflexible zoning structure that doesn’t adapt to changing real world circumstances (population growth exceeding estimates, changes in housing market forces, etc.) and you have a housing crisis in the making. We are way past that point however.

        A couple of related items that the above discussion brought to mind….

        1. I’m reminded of the controversy that arose around the issue of “skinny houses” when I first moved to Seattle in the late 80s. Do either of you remember that? It seems like such a “quaint” argument today but back then folks really got bent out of shape seeing one of those types of projects popping up in their ‘hoods.

        2. Admittedly what follows is a bit of a tangent (and I’m ok with the moderator making that determination as well), but I’d thought I’d share the following link with you as I think you’d find it interesting. (One of Al’s comments about parcel sizes made me think of it.) It discusses some of the history and evolution of lot sizes in Manhattan in the 19th century.

        https://www.gothamcenter.org/blog/notes-on-19th-century-lot-sizes

      19. Our 1st home in Wdnvl was on a lot that was 80′ wide and 300′ deep. The 910sqft 3 bdrm home was located as close to the street as allowed (as was every other home in that Stanford Hansel subdivision. We has a huge back yard which was nice. But there’s no benefit in efficient land use to allow this to be divided so more people have zero option but driving to go anywhere. There’s a saying, “All politics is local”. All zoning should be local.

      20. @Bernie
        You meant Stafford Hansel, right? Anyway, wow, that is a deep lot and since, as you said, the house was situated at the very front of the property, that must’ve made for a very large back yard. I think you’d have enough room even to play some touch football with your neighbors. My property is about the same size but isn’t as elongated, and my house sits in the middle of the property, so we are limited to just pickleball or volleyball. Lol. If you don’t mind me asking, was your house in Woodinville a rambler style? If I’m not mistaken Stafford Hansel built that style of home a lot in their Eastside subdivisions back in that era. Thanks for sharing your personal experience regardless!

      21. Yes, Stafford Hansel, I knew I was slightly off on the name. It had the ubiquitous Western Cabinet millwork. It was a great backyard. We did a few practices there when my son started 3v3 soccer. And yes it was a rambler. They built about 15 homes in a small cluster that alternated two designs; a split level and a rambler and by doing mirror image and changing roof lines it didn’t look too much like base housing. The original parcel was wedge shaped where two roads met at a Y. So the farther you were from the Y the narrower and deeper the subdivided lot was. It was the perfect starter home back in the day those were built instead of starter castles.

      22. “Having a big yard is not essential unless one is in agricultural production.”

        Victory gardens are agricultural production for the family. Pollination corridors and nature preserves have public environmental benefits. I’ve been heartened by the increasing number of homeowners whose yards are now growing food, pollinators, or low-irrigation native plants. I can see that as part of the environmental solution.

        Yet the predominant view in the late 20th century and still lingering on, is to see gardens as a kind of possession or trophy or social position rather than something they use. Blank lawns are water-hungry monocultures and like a desert to natural critters. Some lawns are useful as children’s play areas or sitting areas, but many are rarely used and are excessively large. Side yards may have a grassy strip that’s never used, and too narrow to use in any case. Yet the side setbacks push houses apart, which makes it harder to walk between them or to local businesses. Sometimes you walk ten minutes and only pass ten houses.

        “I’m reminded of the controversy that arose around the issue of “skinny houses” when I first moved to Seattle in the late 80s.”

        I’ve heard of skinny towers but not skinny houses. Skinny towers are popular in Vancouver and there was a movement to do it here. Midrise/highrise buildings that are narrow and widely spaced or have a narrow upper section allow more sunlight to reach the ground. A counterargument is that in narrow highrises elevators and stairs take up too much of the space.

        Narrow lowrises like the apodments and townhouses in some neighborhoods, are really a revival of the vertical design that prevailed here in the 1800s and early 1900s, as seen in Pioneer Square and Belltown and the older commercial districts. That’s a more natural and human-friendly format, although some new ones are perhaps excessive. But that’s only because their neighbors aren’t like that so they stand out.

        Large wide buildings in ancient and medieval times were to impose an impression of authority, awe, or fear, which is the opposite of human-scaling. The authority of Greek forums, awe of medieval cathedrals, fear of imposing castles. Modernism in the 20th century turned away from long-proven human scaling and efficient use of land, to become excessively wide.

        At the same time, some vertical townhouses appear to have only one room per floor. Some have just one small room at ground level, which raises the question of whether that room can be useful for anything.

        is Stafford Hansel a neighborhood or housing development in Woodinville?

      23. Al, I wouldn’t be so sure the consensus on land use on this blog represents a majority of residents. Harrell’s overwhelming majority over Gonzales who made eliminating SFH zones a main plank of her campaign, the shift by Millennials to SFH’s, skyrocketing costs for SFH’s, all suggest to me the American Dream of a SFH and yard is still alive. I think some on this blog just have a very difficult time understanding WHY 90% others prefer to use a car, or live in a SFH, because they don’t, and so somehow assume the other folks are less moral or less intelligent.

        I do understand the argument that increasing populations require denser *urban* zoning, and really the upzoning we are talking about is sub rosa lot revision, making lots smaller by allowing a higher number of legal units per legal lot which is less contentious than a straight rezone. The uproar over “skinny” houses Tisgwm mentions was really about increased GFAR and out of scale houses for the lot compared to the neighborhood. The lots did not get smaller; the houses got larger.

        However I am beginning to question the population estimates to support that argument. Mercer Island is completing its six-year update of its Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, which all cities do, and it notes population grew at over 1%/year from 2010 to 2020, but based on PSRC numbers population from 2020 to 2030 is expected to grow less than .25%/year. Plus we likely have the decline of the urban area as a work area, and the need to commute or live in an urban area for work. Our three-county area (four including Kitsap Co.) is larger than many states, and has plenty of land already zoned residential if one does not have to commute daily to an urban zone.

        What I don’t think many on this blog understand or accept in their zeal to upzone is new construction will never be affordable, and the new more expensive construction will displace older more affordable housing. Upzoning always means gentrification, which means displacement for some. Good for the richer, bad for the poorer.

        Let’s take a look at the duplex you and Mike extoll. My research shows Seattle does have some zones that allow duplexes.

        I have completed two major remodels and built one house in my life. I highly doubt you could retrofit an existing four-bedroom single family home to a duplex for under $500,000.

        First you would need to upgrade every system to code under the International Building Code Inslee signed into law in Feb. 2021, which is much stricter and more expensive, and then duplicate it. You will need at least one, and maybe two, new kitchens. Plus probably a bathroom, entrance, structural changes, in a hot construction market. Plus separate HVAC systems, meters, permits, etc.

        So taking a four-bedroom Seattle house in a modest neighborhood with a base cost of $900,000 (which means it is older), $500,000 in construction costs to convert it to a duplex, and another $100,000 in permits, design and loan interest, and you end up with two two-bedroom units with a base cost to the builder of $750,000/each, which is a kind of no man’s land between those wealthy enough to buy a SFH and those who are not.

        At the same time you have Millennial couples who now want a SFH but not in suburbia (yet), and they are competing for the same $900,000 house with plans to spend $500,000 on a total remodel. If you are the builder, and get the contract for the remodel, or buy the home on spec., you are much better off — with much less risk — marketing the house as a SFH with you doing the remodel.

        Duplexes that require new construction are not the solution, and not attractive to most builders. The reality is for multi-family housing to scale it has to be large, tall and multi-unit, which needs large lots, which you find in historic multi-family zones. It is just very hard to create more housing, at prices builders want, on lots 10,000 sf or less, which are rare in Seattle. Agreed three DADU’s per lot are not that attractive either, because that Millennial couple does not want a bunch of accessory units and renters on their property. They want a yard and garden.

        Except in the lowest value neighborhoods, which is where gentrification and upzoning always migrate to, which leads to displacement.

        The only argument for upzoning I think is valid is affordability, and climate change or “equity” are ruses. The fundamental flaw when it comes to affordability is to implement upzoning you need new construction, and that always begins with the most affordable, older housing and ends with new, least affordable housing, because the name of the game is buy low and sell high.

        The reality is either you subsidize housing for those earning 30% AMI or less, move to a cheap part of town or nearby, find a roommate, or take Tom Terrific’s harsh but real advice and find a less expensive place to live. Don’t promise poor folks affordable new construction from upzoning. The Black residents learned that the hard way with The Central District and don’t plan on buying that ruse again. If you are poor you don’t want gentrification, even though it does benefit a city.

      24. @Mike Orr
        Use your mapping app to look at the the property located at 1134 26th Ave in the CD. I believe this is the sort of structure that people referred to as a skinny house back in the late 80s and into the 90s. Many of them just blend in today* as certain residential blocks in Seattle continued to be redeveloped and densified. However, at that time, they seemed to set some existing neighborhood residents’ hair on fire.

        *clearly not the case with this particular property

  7. If you have an 8,000 sf lot in a SFH zone and the effective gross floor area to lot area ratio is 40% (some cities have a GFAR limit and some achieve it through limits on height, yard setbacks, and impervious surface limits), you have 3200 sf of GFA whether it is a single-family home or multi-family housing.

    Plus if there are onsite parking limits that many eastside cities mandate in a SFH zone you may have to devote more onsite space to parking. It is irresponsible to claim multi-family residents in a Mercer Island SFH zone will take transit when there is no intra-Island transit for 98% of the Island. They will need cars (usually one per person), and need to park those cars off street because most neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks, and the space is needed for biking and walking. At least one onsite stall per dwelling (three for a SFH), and parking counts against GFAR and impervious surface limits.

    If a SFH with a shared single kitchen and living room and main entrance and maybe three bathrooms and four bedrooms you have say 800 sf per person if four people live there, or rent out the rooms as individuals. Generally a single room in a house is the most affordable rental housing option, although some space is shared. https://www.roomies.com/rooms/seattle-wa

    If you convert the 4000 sf into individual multi-family units you maybe get four 800 sf legal units, each with their own kitchen, bathroom, living room and entrance, less more onsite parking, so few bedrooms.

    So either way you house maybe four people.

    The key is regulatory limits within a zone — for a SFH or multi-family — are the same. So you can increase the regulatory limits say to 6000 sf GFAR but that limit will then apply to a SFH too, or you can eliminate the requirement the owner live onsite if renting out one of the dwellings, but then you effectively destroy the character of the SFH zone — yard setbacks, vegetation, limited impervious surfaces, onsite parking, lack of street parking, owner occupied, etc.

    If the bill eliminates SFH zoning but allows cities to apply the same regulatory limits to multi-family housing in the SFH zone, plus parking mandates, and require the owner to live in one of the units if renting out the rest, maybe there won’t be as much opposition, but you won’t create any more actual housing, and this is certainly not the goal of the Master Builder’s Assoc. or property investors who don’t want to have to live onsite in multi-family housing.

    1. “The key is regulatory limits within a zone — for a SFH or multi-family — are the same.”

      This is not true in Snohomish County’s land use and zoning structure. See the residential development matrix I linked to in an earlier comment.

    2. If you convert the 4000 sf into individual multi-family units you maybe get four 800 sf legal units, each with their own kitchen, bathroom, living room and entrance, less more onsite parking, so few bedrooms.

      So either way you house maybe four people.

      That assumes one person per unit. Anyone who has lived in an urban environment will tell you that isn’t always the case. A typical small apartment in New York City will have two unrelated people, or a small family. I raised a couple kids in a one bedroom duplex until I saved enough money to buy a house. Thankfully, the apartment was affordable (so I could put my money into savings). That was before Amazon, of course.

      You are missing the point. Any restriction increases the cost. There are some that insist on their own apartment. Or there are people who are OK living with a partner, or maybe one roommate. If the market can not provide enough apartments (because of governmental restrictions) then the cost will go up. As a result, families that are looking for *any* apartment, as well as people willing to live with roommates *everywhere* goes up.

      It is worth noting that the regulations allow for low density development, even in areas zoned otherwise. There is nothing stopping anyone from buying an apartment and converting it to a house. There is no reason that any developer has to maximize the allowable number of units. They usually do, simply because of demand that is the result of governmental restrictions.

      Likewise, there are no parking maximums with this bill. This only eliminates some of the parking minimums. Thus a developer on Mercer Island could still build single family houses with three car garages if that is what the market wants. If it doesn’t, then it is simply a reflection of the needs of the public, as opposed to the wants. Shelter is essential — a three car garage and nice lawn is not.

  8. In case someone is wondering like me what a Major Transit Stop means …

    A “Major transit stop” means:
    (a) A stop on a high capacity transportation system funded or
    expanded under the provisions of chapter 81.104 RCW;
    (b) Commuter rail stops;
    (c) Stops on rail or fixed guideway systems, including
    transitways;
    (d) Stops on bus rapid transit routes or routes that run on high
    occupancy vehicle lanes;
    (e) Stops for a bus or other transit mode providing actual fixed
    route service at intervals of at least 15 minutes for at least five
    hours during the peak hours of operation on weekdays; or
    (f) Washington state ferry terminals.

    1. Wondering if it is going to be disincentive for some neighborhoods to advocate for things like a BRT stop, that once completed suddenly will also bring new zoning guidelines.

      1. On the other hand it could be an incentive for bigger land owners to pay the local transit agency to beef up the local bus service just enough to qualify for higher-density zoning on their development sites. Kind of like how the developers of a century ago would pay to put in a streetcar to make their far-out suburbs more enticing.

      2. Yeah seems like the political incentives would mostly offset. Having the developer ecosystem much more interested in transit agencies’ medium term planning & investment decisions seems like a good thing. Having more parties invested in providing frequent transit can only be a good thing.

      3. That is exactly what Mercer Island is debating if Inslee’s bill passes and the population threshold includes Mercer Island. The 204 is a weak route (especially now with the park and ride basically empty) but it runs down the spine of Mercer Island, which is long and fairly narrow, so a 1/2 mile radius in either direction of a stop or line along Island Crest Way would upzone a great deal of the Island. Better to dump the 204 and maybe the subsidy for the 630 and have the city fund a shuttle along Island Crest Way.

        However if this proposal does make it out of committee and actually passes I think the population levels will be raised to exempt cities like Mercer Island, which got a light rail stop it never wanted and will never provide affordable housing in an upzoned residential neighborhood anywhere on the Island. Probably closer to 100,000.

        The real issue is exclusive neighborhoods in Bellevue like Clyde Hill that are not their own city but may want to become one to avoid these mandates. Same in Seattle. We could see a move for neighborhoods to incorporate as their own cities, such as Laurelhurst. If any power broker opposes this proposal (other than Harrell) it will be Bellevue which worked very hard to incorporate neighborhoods into Bellevue years ago. Clyde Hill will look at Medina and see that is the future.

      4. Isn’t Clyde Hill a non-charter code city? It’s current population is below the threshold regardless.

      5. The 204 is a weak route (especially now with the park and ride basically empty) but it runs down the spine of Mercer Island, which is long and fairly narrow, so a 1/2 mile radius in either direction of a stop or line along Island Crest Way would upzone a great deal of the Island. Better to dump the 204 and maybe the subsidy for the 630 and have the city fund a shuttle along Island Crest Way.

        In what way does the 204 meet any of the requirements for a high-capacity transit route? It’s not a railroad. It doesn’t have 15-minute frequency for even one hour a day, let alone five. Is there an HOV lane that it uses for part of its route? Is it considered a “high-capacity transportation system” under RCW 81.104? Otherwise I think this route wouldn’t affect the zoning under this bill.

      6. Thanks for the correction. Perhaps the solution for a city like MI is to incorporate into two cities, which highlights the folly of using population limits to trigger zoning requirements. I know the south end would prefer that. Why would MI be subject to these new zoning rules if many of the small cities surrounding Bellevue are not? My guess though is the population limits will be raised from 25,000, if the bill gets out of committee which I don’t think it will.

      7. You’re really arguing against Mercer Island homeowners. You say the majority strongly object to increased density, so don’t you trust them not to convert their lots or sell to a developer even if they can? Mercer Islanders are wealthy so we hear, so they can afford to keep their houses as is, right?

      8. The issue is when someone sells a developer will do whatever makes them the most money. If a lot can generate more $$$ as MF than McMansion then that’s what they’ll do. They don’t care which is why we have zoning under local control.

    2. It looks like (e) is the most widespread. Peak hour service of 15 minutes can be found throughout most of Seattle. In contrast, all of those other categories combined don’t equal the number of stops providing that. Hell, even outside peak, Seattle (and various places in the suburbs) provide that.

      I think *any* parking minimum is a bad idea. What right does the government have in telling me I have to have parking? If I want to park on the street, or live without a car, so be it. The rules are intended to favor the wealthy (those that already own a house) at the expense of those who are trying to find a place to live. It strikes me as very un-American. Then again, perhaps it is extremely American. Racism has played a huge role in this country, and this has a strong racial impact on wealth, whether that was the intent or not. The people with the homes (the wealthy ones) are far more likely to be white than those looking to move into the neighborhood.

      All that being said, if the goal is to focus on parking minimums where people are likely to take transit, it does a decent job.

      1. Peak hour service of 15 minutes can be found throughout most of Seattle.

        I think the five-hour requirement is going to be a blocker here. For example I don’t think a single route serving Magnolia meets this frequency standard. Route 24 is half-hourly for most of the day and has a few extra peak trips, but not enough to create a contiguous five-hour period of frequent service. Same deal with the 31 and 33: half-hourly for the most part with a few extra peak trips thrown in. Furthermore my layman’s interpretation of the text is that the frequency definition applies to the route, so two distinct half-hourly routes serving the same stop may not qualify that stop as a “major transit stop”.

        I looked at a couple of Metro’s other off-peak half-hourly routes in Seattle and didn’t find any that meet the standard, unless maybe it’s good enough for the inbound trip to have 15-minute frequency for 2½ hours in the morning and the outbound trip has 15-minute frequency for 2½ hours in the evening. I wasn’t exhaustive about this though, maybe a few do qualify.

        However the part (d) “high occupancy vehicle lane” thing shows promise. Do the bus lanes on Aurora count? That would qualify the 28X if so. How about 3rd Avenue or the SODO busway? A ton of routes would qualify based on that.

      2. The most urgent areas to upzone are the edges of urban villages and the gaps between nearby villages. It’s more important to upzone Wallingford and both sides of Aurora than Magnolia.

        There’s already been an issue with 15-minute transit: part of Greenwood tried to argue against a lower parking minimum, saying the 5 wasn’t really 15 minutes even though it was scheduled to, because they buses were so unreliable there were often 20+ minute gaps. We need to watch for that in the state legislation, and make sure that scheduled 15-minute frequency is sufficient. Because making the buses reliable is a separate issue, and shouldn’t be an excuse for higher parking minimums. For instance, Pine Street has three routes, each 15-20 minutes for parts of the day, so it should have 5-minute service if they were spaced evenly, but often in the evening/weekend they leave simultaneously in 15-minute pulses, and if they’re late, then you’ve lost your 15-minute frequency.

  9. If only there were a bill that would also target pesky Homeowner Associations. My home could easily be converted into a duplex with very little work. It already has three entrances (with good logical places for additional doors) and plumbing run throughout. And my neighborhood is trending more towards a renter neighborhood, since rules allow an owner to occupy a home for one year, then rent it. Lots of folks house-hop and build up a rental portfolio – easy to maintain your portfolio when it is all walking distance from your home, and nice to pick your neighbors and keep tabs on problem tenants. Undoubtedly, we could build some great density here. But…. HOA doesn’t allow it.

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