Two multifamily housing bills dead, but measure supporting accessory dwelling units passes State House

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 President Michelle Dotsch

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.

Affordable housing advocate and architect Jess Blanch

“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.

Accessory dwelling unit examples, courtesy City of Seattle.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Local jurisdictions were not buying what State Sen. Marko Liias and Rep. Strom Peterson were selling. A zoning power grab by legislators supported with Builder and Developer money.

    1. Will these ADU’s be something the owner is allowed to rent out for extra income? I don’t care I just would like to know. A little refresher if you will. Thank you. Wil anyone be able to stay in them whether they are family or just strangers. If so will proper applications by owner be done as they are with any rentals. If you want to help someone who is homeless are you allowed to house. THAT is fine too I just want more info with detail. Thanks Deb.

  2. Detached accessory dwelling units are a bad idea for Edmonds. It’s a slippery slope. Just look at Seattle. They started with only allowing one 800 sq. ft. unit per lot with on-site owner occupying either the primary house or DADU and also requiring on-site parking. Now they’re at two 1,000 sq. ft. units per lot, no ownership provisions and no parking provisions. All within a couple of years from when they introduced DADUs. Too many other code-type issues to try to anticipate and write (e.g., open space provisions, stormwater and environmental factors, etc.).

    This will further lead to developers buying and putting two or more housing units on every lot they develop to maximize their profit in single family zones. Even in their own words: “… looks and works the same as a ‘duplex’ unit …”. It’s being sold as a way to keep grandma and grandpa close by (of which I am one). What happens when grandma and grandpa are no longer around? (Yes, I recognize my mortality). This is just another way to densify single family neighborhoods under the pretense of family values. You can’t write enough code to protect the character and livability of the neighborhoods. It’s a bad idea!

  3. This was an attempted land grab by developers, builders and architects, which is self serving. I wonder if they will encourage density in their own neighborhoods?
    Also, will the county double or quadruple property taxes with more buildings per lot?
    Why must homeowners bear the burden of social ills caused by big business?
    Please focus your projects on vacant land (it exists) and build a new community of affordable homes. Leave existing neighborhoods alone, please!

  4. Jim is correct,
    It’s going to take away the reasons why we worked hard to buy a home in Edmonds 30 years ago, stricter rules that have been enforced , Edmonds already struggle’s with parking, Schools are Packed, and it’s not going to create affordable housing, It’s a really bad idea that will ruin Edmonds as we now know it. Send Ms Ryu a email letting her know how you feel.

    1. Rachel,

      You can build an ADU in Edmonds now. Here is our ADU code:

      https://www.codepublishing.com/WA/Edmonds/#!/html/Edmonds20/Edmonds2021.html

      “Detached” ADUs are not allowed, but can be “attached” to the existing home with a breezeway (max. 10 ft). Or they can be in a daylight basement within the home, for example. Maximum size is 800 sq feet, or no more than 40% of the livable space of the existing home.

      The code also requires that the property owner sign an affidavit that affirms that the owner occupies either the main building or the ADU more than 6 months of the year.

      And (also for Deborah), the property owner is allowed to rent the unit out to “provide the opportunity for homeowners to gain the extra income necessary to help meet the rising costs of home ownership” (20.21.000 Purpose)

  5. There is almost no middle income housing anywhere in Edmonds right now and none of these rezoning measures are going to have any effect on that, one way or the other. Edmonds dirt is outrageously expensive and it will cost a lot to live here whether you own or rent. That’s just how it is.

    There are a couple spots of very low income housing on the North edge of Edmonds and that’s about it for any affordable housing in this town. These, mostly mobile home court type facilities are under threat of gentrification just about anytime.

    What I find almost comical is how so many people living in Edmonds just love to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t do with their private property. These are usually the same people who have done things like hauling in loads of dirt to enhance their view position, cut down all the trees, and torn down one or two cottages to build a 5000+ sq. ft. home, set back to set back. with minimal onsite parking spaces. These same people demand that Edmonds be the entertainment and creative center of the universe; but our visitors to enjoy these amenities better not even think of parking in front of their homes, or God forbid, try to move here somehow. I don’t care what people choose to do with their own property, that’s their right and their business, but at least recognize that other people have the same rights and needs to do what they want too. Enough of the arrogance and hypocrisy already.

  6. Jess Blanch’s declaration that “the ACE position on the environmental impact is wrong” would be laughable if it wasn’t so arrogant. Ms. Blanch has obviously not lived in Edmonds for many years, as I have. Significant and lasting environmental damage has been done by development to our fragile Edmonds ecosystem. In addition, research demonstrates the carbon foot print of new development vs. renovation:

    https://www.treehugger.com/the-carbon-footprint-of-a-renovation-vs-new-construction-4857500

    “Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new homes fall into two distinct sources: “embodied” CO2 given off during the housebuilding process, and “operational” CO2 given off from normal energy use in the house once it is occupied. The new homes each gave off 50 tonnes of embodied CO2. The refurbished homes each gave off 15 tonnes.”

    And when development also replaces trees which sequester carbon with impervious surfaces, the impact is even greater. Developers would make their profits, at the detriment of the environment and expense of the citizens of Edmonds. And the housing created would not be “affordable.”

    It’s important to note that Jess Blanch, as well as Bob Throndsen who wrote this piece, were one of a minority of CHC members who authored:

    https://myedmondsnews.com/2021/03/letter-to-the-editor-affordable-housing-for-edmonds-the-real-story/

    Other CHC members wrote this LTE:

    https://myedmondsnews.com/2021/05/reader-view-a-housing-approach-that-reflects-citizen-input/

    Another excellent LTE by CHC commissioner Mike McMurray:

    https://myedmondsnews.com/2021/06/commentary-an-edmonds-kind-of-townhome-injecting-common-sense-ideas-into-housing-policy/

    Jess Blanch’s position on the environmental impact is short sighted and not relevant to the serious aging infrastructure, flooding and stormwater issues that face Edmonds.

    1. We value transparency and had a disclosure of Bob Throndsen’s former position as a Citizens Housing Commissioner on the last story — and I forgot to include it on this one. I will add it now.

  7. We are overbuilt. Whatever Edmonds can do to not invest in housing at the top of a bubble – the better. Dumb money would buy and build a house right now.

    1. Matt, when housing is “overbuilt”, it means there’s more supply than demand; it’s a buyers’ market. But the reality is quite the opposite. Buyers are competing among a small inventory, thus the “bidding wars” and buyers paying well over asking price just to get a home to live in. In Bellevue recently, a house sold for one million $ over asking price! The facts show housing is NOT overbuilt, not in any meaningful definition of the term.

      1. Roger, 2008 had a bidding war. Houses in some places were even bulldozed to undo how overbuilt it was. Your point is really bad and doesnt account for any basic understanding. There is a bidding war using other people’s money. Banks are giving easy money. This is the lowest “Too Low” and the longest “Too Long” ever. Even the word “Inventory” just means how long a house would take to sell if it were for sale, not how many houses per capita there are. This is basic stuff Roger.

  8. A focus of the LTE by the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds Board President, Michelle Dotsch, is a call for us to be stewards of Edmonds’ environment using legal and legislative tools at hand, especially given our location on the Salish Sea. One such critical tool is the SEPA review. The State Environmental Policy Act may be Washington’s most powerful legal tool for protecting the environment. Among other things, the law requires all state and local governments to:

    “Utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision making which may have an impact on man’s environment.”

    Ensure that “environmental amenities and values will be given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations….” (RCW 43.21C.030)

    Frankly, there is reason to worry about the judgment of former Citizens’ Housing Commissioner, Jess Blanch, who was quoted in Mr. Throndsen’s piece. She does not really seem to be an advocate for protecting Edmonds’ fragile environment and our important environmental laws.

    Her contemptuous comment about the critical SEPA review process made when she was a CHC Commissioner speaks for itself:

    “First of all, SEPA is used by people who don’t want housing built in a location. It’s weaponized by people who don’t want housing and poor people, or people who aren’t homeowners, or whatever other NIMBY BS!”

    (1 hour 32 minute mark of the January 14th, 2021 Citizens Housing Commission meeting)

  9. The “greener” Edmonds gets, the less green it looks. Combating high housing costs and environmental impacts by making all housing more expensive and removing oxygen creating nature doesn’t seem to be working? Following Seattle’s lead doesn’t appear to be a smart plan, on anything.

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