Commentary: How shifts in Edmonds housing policies could impact single-family homeowners, Part 1

The following commentary from Eric Soll is presented in two parts. In Part 1, below, the author explains what he believes the problem will be for single- family homeowners in Edmonds. In Part 2, posted Sept. 8the author describes how, in his opinion, single-family homeowners can be involved in the  political “system” to attempt to protect their most important asset, their community and their environment.

Edmonds has been grappling with housing issues including density, affordability, availability and homelessness. A Housing Strategy Task Force was organized and issued various recommendations, but encountered negative feedback from the community. As a result, a Citizen’s Housing Advisory Committee has been organized with new participants. The new Housing Advisory Committee has been charged with the following:

“Develop, for council consideration, diverse housing policy options designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds — irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation.”

There has been no clamor from current homeowners, “to expand the range of housing.” The origination of this mandate, its importance as a crucial issue to most homeowners that justifies expending significant staff and council time, remains an enigma to most Edmonds residential owners. Whether most homeowners support the expansion of “rental and owned” housing in a city that is for all practical purposes fully developed (or “built out”) has never been explored by any study or survey, and was never a major topic of debate at any public forum. Homeowners have been more focused on other issues, such as escalating property taxes, the unavailability of parking in downtown Edmonds, the lack of sidewalks and other ongoing maintenance issues such as the proper upkeep of Edmonds roadways. As Edmonds is already “built out”, and most of the area in Edmonds is dedicated to single family residential units, increasing “rental and owned” housing units must by necessity transpire either in single-family areas, or areas adjoining those single-family communities.

Numerous politicians, while condemning the increased cost of housing, regularly inform their constituents that more “affordable” residential development is imperative. Those same politicians ignore governmental policies and legislative mandates that directly impact both the cost, availability and ongoing expense of purchasing and maintaining a residence, including but not limited to:

– Limited availability and dramatic increased expense to obtain construction sites as a direct impact of implementing the Growth Management Act.

– The necessity for builders to construct large expensive single family residences as an economic byproduct of the cost of procuring lots.

– Escalating cost of construction due to excessive governmental mandates and red tape.

– An increasing percentage of escalating property taxes earmarked for programs unrelated to housing.

– Escalating cost of utilities that exceed the rate of inflation.

– Judicial mandates (as in McCleary) that increase property taxes.

Locally, this entire process has always been accompanied by egalitarian insinuations hinting that Edmonds residents have an implied ethical responsibility to increase the availability of affordable and subsdized housing for all who wish to reside in Edmonds. That moral imperative suggests that availability should be increased through a combination of increased development, higher density and taxpayer subsidies regardless of financial or environmental impact on current residents.

Governmental policies and legislative action that directly impact the scarcity and increased cost of all housing are conveniently absent in these debates.  Rather, the burden of creating the availability of moderate priced housing has been shifted by political sleight of hand to homeowners in various jurisdictions throughout Puget Sound.

Increased density through the construction of a greater number and taller multi family apartments, aggressively promoting Unattached Accessory Dwelling Units (English translation — two houses built on one lot in single- family residential areas) and subsidized housing schemes are popular strategies when shifting that burden to homeowners in Edmonds as well as other jurisdictions.

Adopting these housing policies for Edmonds has the potential to physically transform Edmonds from a pleasant suburban community into a crowded urban environment, accompanied by the inevitable increase in traffic, noise, reduction of vegetation and tree canopy, loss of residential privacy and increasing the unavailability of parking in the downtown area.

The development of Unattached Accessory Dwelling Units in areas zoned for single family houses is often promoted as a financial solution for seniors to “age in place.” Unfortunately, unattached ADU policies promoted on behalf of senior independence often “mysteriously” morphs into development mechanisms to promote stealth residential density increases.

Seattle initially permitted limited ADU development in single-family residential areas. One ADU, either a “mother-in-law” apartment within the primary residence or an unattached ADU, was initially allowed. The owner of the property was required to reside on the premises a minimum of half the year. Stringent size and height limitations as well as off street parking requirements were mandated for any proposed unattached ADU development.

Seattle recently amended their ADU ordinance, jettisoning owner occupancy requirements, relaxing height and lot limitations, and eliminating off street parking requirements.  Two ADUs per single family housing unit are currently permitted — one within the primary residence as well as an unattached ADU.   Twelve unrelated individuals are currently permitted to reside in what was once a single-family residence by the newly enacted ordinance. Many of those residents own their own vehicles, dramatically increasing traffic, noise and parking woes in those formerly single family residential areas.

In effect, Seattle now permits the development of three separate residential units per lot in neighborhoods previously zoned exclusively for single family housing. “Aging in place” rationales were discreetly discarded, replaced by an “affordable housing” mantra.

The urbanization of single-family neighborhoods is trending in other cities.  Minneapolis recently enacted legislation that eliminated any single-family housing zoning within its jurisdiction. That city allows up to three separate units to be constructed in all areas once zoned exclusively for single family residences.

Oregon recently implemented legislation that allows for the construction of duplexes in single-family areas in all cities with more than ten thousand residents.

Philadelphia  and Charlotte are also exploring eliminating all or most singe family zoning in their cities.

(To be continued)

— By Eric Soll, Edmonds

0 Replies to “Commentary: How shifts in Edmonds housing policies could impact single-family homeowners, Part 1”

  1. I hate to break this to you Mr. Soll, but from the perspective of someone like me, who has lived in Edmonds off and on since 1960, what you are predicting will happen above has already happened here in spades. Traffic and parking problems are only going to get worse no matter what we do. Gotta tell you, this was a lot more fun town to live in before the Fountain, proliferation of McMansions and a festival every five minutes to promote tourism for Edmond’s businesses. I’d be very happy to live in “Deadmonds” again but it’s gone forever. Since you and people like you want to tell me they have the right to demolish perfectly good homes and build 6000 sq. ft. behemoths for two people to live in, and destroy the tree canopy and anything resembling normal size yards in the process; I’ll tell you I’m happy to assert my right to build a tiny home in my side yard if I’d like to, use my side yard to park my travel trailer and other toys if I’d like to, or plant a damn tree in my yard whether it affects someone’s view or not. This town is just full of people who love to tell other people what they can and can’t do with their own property “because we have to protect our property values.” Many folks like to specialize in “I can do anything I want with my property, but you can’t because it’s against the rules.” Personally I’m glad to see this housing commission happen and I hope it morphs into a more fair and equitable system of Government with City Council members being elected by district, not at large, so everyone gets a little representation of their interests as opposed to only the city at large, i.e “the Bowl.”


  2. This is an excellent commentary. Single family zoning makes our homes worth more. If the City wants to abolish single family zoning, they want to damage our property values. Also, there’s virtually no appetite among Edmonds citizens (except the lone comment above) for higher density, or worse traffic, or higher taxes. Thanks for your essay.


  3. Thanks Eric, You have written before about several topics and always have well thought out commentary. I look forward to your “part 2”. Citizen involvement makes our town a better place and the housing task force is only one of the numerous opportunities for a wide range of folks to get involved and stay involved. The whole idea of growth, density, single family neighborhoods and livable neighborhoods should be responsive to what the citizens collectively want not what often seems to be driven from centralized power bases and various special interests.

    We can always do better to learn what is on the “public decision docket” for the months ahead. All too often some major decisions are not well understood until late in the game and then folks get all energized with “we did not know this was happening”. A public calendar would go along way to keep folks engaged.

    Eric, thanks for this installment, part 2 will be interesting.


  4. Expanding on my comments above, I don’t mean to imply or suggest that people should not have the right to remove small houses and build bigger houses, if that is what pleases them and makes their lives somehow more fulfilled. I do object to those same people telling other people that since they now have this personally fulfilling property, the other people with lesser homes should otherwise modify their use and desires for their property because it could adversely affect the newly built properties. People should have the same right to build small adjacent dwellings if they want, just like you have the right to remove small dwellings and build big ones, or truck in loads of dirt to increase elevations for view purposes, or fill your entire lot with dwelling space so you can claim a view. People should and do have a right to plant trees and shrubs as they see fit on their properties unless there is a legal HOA that forbids it. The city should not be in the business of codifying what people can or can’t do with their private property solely for the purpose of protecting property values. Codes for safety, sanitary and neatness issues are another matter and justifiable.


  5. I cant wait for part 2. I think Edmonds is too built. This area will be the epicenter of the next real estate crash. Millennials aren’t getting married, buying houses as much, and aren’t buying cars as much. It will be a race for the exit door for singe-family homes, and the older folks (those who were supposedly going to down size according to the “experts”, but aren’t) will have a tough time selling, and the owners of the new rental units will have a difficult time collecting lower rents to pay their big up-front development costs. There are too many beds per capita. And… what’s up with all the commercial vacancy down town?


  6. These are real problems that have to be addressed:
    “Limited availability and dramatic increased expense to obtain construction sites as a direct impact of implementing the Growth Management Act.” “Escalating cost of construction due to excessive governmental mandates and red tape.” The Growth Management Act was a mistake and the damage of current zoning regulations continues that mistake. As much as possible, we need to allow people to do what they want with what they bought and own.
    “My right to swing my fist stops right where your nose begins” not before.


  7. Well Matt, as you can now see Part 2 is a call to arms by the threatened and put upon single family home owners of Edmonds to combat the forces of the evil druggies and low income affordable housing advocates who are going to destroy Edmonds as we know it. One person above credited me as being the only person in town commenting in favor of higher taxes, higher density and worse traffic. So, the City Council formed a housing commission of districts because one guy, little old me, has some sort of ax to grind. Damn, that makes me feel quite powerful and influential. I’m drunk with power over it all.

    I’m all for people having pretty much the right to do whatever they want with their own private property. I’m just against Mr. Soll and his pals having the right to tell me what I can or can’t do with my own private party. I should have just as much right to demolish a 1500 sq. ft. home and build two 3000 sq. ft. homes in it’s place as he has to demolish a 1500 sq. ft. home and put one 6000 sq. ft. home in it’s place. If someone has a modest, say 2000 sq. ft. home with plenty of land around it, they should have the right to build a 900 sq. ft. adjacent home for whatever reason they see fit. In short, it should be none of Mr. Soll’s business, unless I’m doing something that would be considered trespass or incursion on his private property. In short, I think Mr. Soll’s part two is a self serving load of nonsense, but I’m sure many will disagree with me, and that’s fine. That’s what this venue is for.

    I recently decided not to plant a beautiful fairly large shade tree that would have been a great enhancement to my property, privacy and value, but would could have wiped out my neighbor’s nice view. I chose to honor their request not to plant, because I’m basically a good guy and I have no need or desire to do them harm. On the other hand, I am very much opposed to the city giving them the right to tell me what I can or can’t do on my own property within reason. Set backs and such are understood to be necessary for the good of all. This business of the city legislating property values is a slippery slope to say the least. We have parking police, dog and cat police, beach rangers and now we want to have property value police? I don’t think so.



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