Edmonds will not have to make changes in single-family zoning after the failure of two controversial housing bills in Olympia. House Bill 1782 and Senate bill 5670 both failed to get out of committee by the Washington State Legislature’s deadline of Feb. 15.
But another bill, HB 1660, is alive and headed to the State Senate. It advocates for more accessory dwelling units statewide – independent living space that homeowners can add to their house.
Both HB 1782 and SB 5670 would have allowed the statewide development of up to six-unit housing buildings within a half-mile walk of major transit stops in cities with a population of 20,000 or more. In Edmonds, that would have included the ferry terminal and the Sounder station, as well as Community Transit’s Swift line bus stops along portions of Highway 99.
The measures also would have approved the construction of duplexes and triplexes in many other Edmonds neighborhoods, which are currently zoned single-family only. The bills would also have required the cities to update their comprehensive plans to accommodate the multi-family units.
Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) President Michelle Dotsch wrote a letter to the editor earlier this week warning that, if passed, the bills would have a devastating impact on local control and the environment, and would not make housing cheaper or create equity in the housing market.
Dotsch argued that the bills would “push massive increases in density that remove land use decisions from local control without a holistic approach to environmental, topographical, or infrastructure needs. If these bills are pushed though it could devastate Edmonds’ fragile environment.”
Housing advocates have countered that the now-dead bills supported “missing middle housing” that all communities need to accommodate inevitable growth. Former Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission member Jess Blanch, an architect and affordable housing supporter, said that the ACE position on the environmental impact is wrong.
“The alternative to allowing more housing options close to job centers is continued sprawl in the exurbs, which destroys wildlife habitat and contributes to climate change by requiring people to drive long distances to jobs in greenhouse gas-emitting traffic,” Blanch said.
“Ultimately, we are in a massive housing crisis,” Blanch added. “There are just not enough homes for all of the people already here… while allowing middle housing types will not solve the crisis on its own, it’s an important part of the solution.”
We have requested comments from our local legislators who sponsored the housing bills — 21st District State Sen. Marko Liias and Rep. Strom Peterson — but have not yet received a reply. However, HB 1782’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jessica Bateman of Olympia, said the bill will be back next year.
In a tweet, Bateman stated: “Exponential increases in home & rent prices have led to Washingtonian’s struggling, spending 1/3 to 1/2 their income on housing costs. Home ownership is only affordable in 7 WA counties, & they are all in Eastern WA. We don’t have time to waste. The housing crisis is being felt in every corner of our state…”
This is the fourth year that sponsors have introduced both the House and Senate bills.
Another local sponsor of HB 1782, State Rep. Cindy Ryu of the 32nd District, is co-sponsoring HB 1660, related to accessory dwelling units (ADUs). This bill squeaked out of the Democratic-controlled House on a razor-thin 50-48 partisan vote. If it passes the Senate, all cities with over 20,000 residents and counties of more than 125,000 people would have to incorporate accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their development and zoning laws. Homeowners in single-family homes, duplexes or townhomes could add the ADUs, which provide independent living spaces attached to or incorporated into their homes. Some cities permit detached or separate small units on the same lot as the main house.
Calling it “the best ADU bill in the nation to start making progress,” Ryu said that Washington’s legislation “matches California’s ADU bill, which was held up as a model, and after extensive conversations, we improved.” According to Ryu, HB 1660 “is equivalent to what HB 1782 proposed for all the buildable lots beyond a half-mile from transit in requiring allowance (not a mandate) of an ADU, including detached ADU, which looks and works the same as a ‘duplex’ unit, a mother-in-law apartment or cottage apartment on that lot.”
Edmonds currently allows only attached ADUs, as city code spells out: “ADUs are allowed in all single-family residential zones (except within Planned Residential Developments) as long as a Conditional Use Permit is obtained. A compliance inspection (or permit) from the Building Division is also required.”
Last year, the Edmonds City Council studied recommendations from the Citizens Housing Commission to consider expanding the code to allow detached ADUs to single-family lots, but the council has not taken any action.
— By Bob Throndsen
Editor’s note: Reporter Bob Throndsen is a former member of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, which was disbanded after issuing its final report in January 2021.