Council gets look at accessible dwelling unit proposals, city facilities assessment

City of Seattle preapproved DADU design. (Source: CAST Architecture)

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night got a first look at proposed amendments to Edmonds’ accessory dwelling unit (ADU) code, which would allow for detached units known as DADUs. Just a few questions were asked following the presentation as councilmembers will take a deeper dive into the topic during a special work session next Tuesday, March 5. In addition, the Edmonds Planning Board is hosting a public hearing on the topic during its Wednesday, Feb. 28 meeting.

Public comments submitted through the ADU Code Update web page will be recorded as part of the planning board public hearing.

The ADU presentation from City Planner Rose Haas and Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin focused on the reasons behind the proposed changes. Edmonds until now has limited ADUs to structures within or attached to a primary residence. That changed with the Washington State Legislature’s 2023 passage of House Bill 1337, which directed cities to amend their development codes and to include provisions for detached accessory dwelling units.

Some of the possible changes to city code regarding accessory dwelling units.
Some of the possible changes to city code regarding accessory dwelling units.

Haas explained the city’s public outreach so far, which included a Nov. 30 webinar that drew 32 attendees and a dedicated web page. As of Tuesday, a total of 66 written comments had been received on the topic.

The city had been considering ADU changes prior to the 2023 legislative action. The Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission in 2021 recommended an update to the ADU code to allow for detached units.

One of the reasons for that housing commission conversation is the fact that 21.5% of Edmonds residents are over age 65 and are looking for ways to age in place — and DADUs provide another option for that.

The city must implement the requirements of HB 1337 by July 1, 2025.

We will provide more details on possible proposals for DADUs through our reports on the Feb. 28 Edmonds Planning Board meeting and the March 5 council study session.

The council also received a report Tuesday from consultant McKinstry, which had been hired by the city in 2023 to update the Edmonds Facilities Condition Assessment that was conducted in 2018. The report took a look at buildings citywide — from the Frances Anderson Center to the Meadowdale Club House to the Wade James Theater to the public works operations and maintenance center.

In 2018, the city’s 30-year deferred capital backlog was assessed at just under $31 million, said McKinstry’s Grant Granger. In 2023, the backlog had grown to $43.5 million.

In response to the 2018 study, the city increased its annual maintenance and facilities budget, but by 2021, the short-term deferred maintenance was estimated at $11 million. In 2021, the council passed a bond that included $4 million in facilities funding. Granger described the bond dollars as “chipping away at that $11 million…a great first step but obviously not closing the entire gap.”

During the assessment, McKinstry visually inspected all of the city’s buildings — including equipment like electrical systems, heating and air conditioning systems, and boilers — and that data was rolled into a final report that included a facility condition index.

The index is the total cost of the existing maintenance, repair or renewal of a facility divided by the total estimated replacement value.

Granger complimented the city’s facilities team for “doing a remarkable job given significant budget constraints.” But he noted that 67% of the city’s equipment is more than 23 years old, and that many facilities require significant work.

In its report, McKinstry recommends the city invest an average of $1.8 million annually during a 15-year period, starting with $4.9 million in the first year for “assets that are at the end of their useful life or beyond the end of their useful life.” Among the buildings mentioned as a focus for that first year — the Frances Anderson Center, which has no cooling or ventilation system and existing steam boiler challenges. The former elementary school not only has historical significance but it houses key city services and is an important community gathering place, Granger said.

The city also has what McKinstry defined as critical facilities — fire stations and the public safety building — that contain 238 “critical systems assets needing to be replaced within the next 10 years.”

Another issue identified was the network operations center and electrical infrastructure at Edmonds City Hall. The city needs a $3 million to $5 million electrical upgrade to support the addition of a generator to allow for network backups, Granger said.

There was a range of council discussion on the report, and agreement it was important to have information about the city’s facilities for future planning. Council President Vivian Olson pointed to the role that a facilities study plays in the council’s budgeting process, and asked McKinstry consultant Mark Hood specifically when the latest assessment had been completed. After Hood replied that the study was finished in April 2023, Olson said she wanted to state “for the public record” that former mayor Mike Nelson “forbade staff from sharing this information with council. We did not have it before the last budget cycle.”

Councilmember Susan Paine asked about the city’s capital planning efforts related to the latest facilities condition update, and Granger replied there is a dashboard that will allow staff to track progress as repairs are made.

“We’ve had this information in our back pocket since last April,” added City Facilities Manager Thom Sullivan. “And so not being able to talk with council about it until now has maybe slowed our progress down on capital planning.”

In other business, the council also approved by a 6-1 vote a 2024 budget amendment, which Administrative Services Director Dave Turley explained was a carry forward of budgeted 2023 dollars that had not yet been spent and therefore wouldn’t impact the city’s general fund.

Councilmember Will Chen voted against the amendment after expressing concern that the council did not yet know the exact status of the city’s fund balance. Turley promised that information would be provided by mid-March.

In a repeat of what was presented during the council’s parks and public works committee meeting Feb. 13, councilmembers heard an update on the city’s 2024 Transportation Plan, which includes a new multimodal level of service element. You can learn more about that in our previous report here.

Finally, the council approved as part of its consent agenda the appointment of Kiwa Tashiro to the Edmonds Sister City Commission. Tashiro was interviewed during a 6 p.m. special meeting prior to the Tuesday business meeting.

— By Teresa Wippel


  1. Most of the city’s transportation plans seem based on getting other people’s money (grants) to fund highly subsidized public transit, pedestrian walkways, bike trails, and maybe skateboard runways. Now there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of those, especially if it’s mostly using other people’s money. I guess our new mayor is busy letting his inherited staff figure this all out while he’s out making speeches to civic groups and meeting with other electives. We’ll have to see his ability to bring it home to bacon “free money” and frying it up in a pan.

  2. When they say they need to find new streams of revenue means they are looking for ways to raise our taxes. Wouldn’t it be nice if just for once they said we are going to cut spending and programs to keep from further burdening our citizens. Who largely think things are pretty good around here and the cost to make it better if that is even possible is absurdly expensive. Bike lanes on main street anyone? The elevated walkway on the beach? Replacing working ADA cutouts with the latest flavor of the month? Etc. Etc. Etc.

  3. Considering the huge amount of money spent and to be spent on more bike lanes, have you counted the number of bikes in these lanes. I travel on 9th average once or twice a day and I have yet to see a bike in the bike lanes. I hope the lanes they are planning will be used by someone. If 21 percent of people in Edmonds are over 65, I wonder how many are riding their bike in the rain or in the sunshine in these lanes.

  4. Does the budget for bike lanes include the cost of resurfacing the street? Consider 9th Avenue where lane lines were burned off to leave divots in the street surface. They are no fun to drive on and I would speculate that ice and truck traffic will deepen them to ruts in the not too distant future. Nor are they very attractive. Good planning, eh?

  5. Owner residency requirements should absolutely be maintained for a properties with ADUs, detached or otherwise. Without this requirement, this will be a gift to developers who will further price family’s out of homeownership in the Edmonds market; a property for sale would be far more valuable to a developer looking to rent three units instead of live in one. The developer would also not be impacted by the quality of life consequences that will follow in Edmonds.

    Requiring owner residency, will help to ensure that any ADUs are more carefully considered, as it would literally be in their own back yard.

    If the goal is increasing housing affordability, then focusing on policies that increase costs for owning multiple properties and foreign ownership should be considered instead. IMO every adult should be able to own one home with base taxation (married couple = two homes); owning additional properties, or foreign owners, should then face additional taxes, that also increase more with the number of homes owned. This could shift home ownership economics back to the working class.

    This ADU proposal, with no owner residency requirement, represents further commodification of real-estate and will further price working families out of the Edmonds market, not make the American dream more affordable.

    Having shelter is a necessity, and should not be a commodity, exploited by the few able to do

  6. Gregg, one of the “requirements” of the new state law is that cities cannot stipulate owner occupancy (same as residency I assume) in their city codes on AADUs and DADUs. I’m telling everyone commenting here that they should really read and understand the requirements in the new state law and just how boxed in the city is on this. I suggest we all tell Marko Lias and Strom Peterson just how thrilled we are with this new law that they both so happily and proudly helped ram down our collective throats. Or maybe just not vote for them after this.

    I just got notice that our “dirt” is now valued at 1.2 million and our old 2000 sq. ft. house (including garage space) is valued at $233,000. I’m thinking it might just be time to sell a couple toys, cash in on the land, and go rent somewhere else in town. Guess what will happen to the property when we do this either by choice or necessity. This law is a real can of worms for city management and the potential livability for single family residence owners already invested here. Real Estate lawyers and developers are popping wine corks all over the state celebrating this victory.

  7. Thank you for providing a forum to discuss development proposals that fundamentally change our neighborhoods and town. I think that everyone (almost) can agree that home prices are too high and that there is a housing shortage that drives much of the unaffordability. In that spirit, I welcome exploring zoning and building regulation ideas. Some of the following issues require more in-depth review:
    – Will we permit 24 foot homes anywhere on a property, even when the new home blocks neighbors views and sunlight?
    – Does the lack of square footage size create more run-off and block out daylight from gardens – public and private?
    – What keeps a DADU from being another garage?
    – Are all areas of Edmonds appropriate for DADU’s — especially in neighborhoods with small lots that already have crowded housing?
    – How do we incentivize developers to build townhouses that people can buy instead of renting?

    There are certainly more creative ideas to build housing than simply stating: No rules apply. Developers have at it.

    1. Hank,

      You ask: “What keeps a DADU from being another garage?”

      Our current code excludes “garages and unconditioned space” from allowed square footage of the DADU. If Council does not change that in our code, a minimum 1000sqft footprint, two story, 24 ft tall DADU could be built, with the entire first floor garage, storage, stairway excluded from allowed “livable space.”

      See my Reader View in which I propose that Council INCLUDE garages and unconditioned space in allowed DADU sq footage:

      My response to Clinton quotes HB1337 minimum requirements (from staff presentation linked to in my RV):

      Note that 1000 sqft is minimum allowed by HB1337. Staff proposes 1000 sqft and 1200 sqft options.

      The staff presentation will answer some of your questions related to what will be considered by Council. Council will have a “work study” session on ADUs/DADUs Tuesday, March 5 and a public hearing some time in April.

  8. Hank, I’m trying to tell you to read what the new state law “requires.” The law tells the city what it must allow, not what it can allow. Unless the state and probably national supreme courts declare these laws unconstitutional the war is over and single family zones are a thing of the past in Edmonds and everwhere else in the state. The only exceptions are GMA designated rural areas and HOA protected communities. Anyone who knows for sure I’m misstating this please speak up. I’d really like to be wrong on this one.

    1. Maybe there is a good idea neighborhoods could form HOAs and be exempt from state law. Might be worth looking into.

      1. Good idea, Jim, however, the new law prohibits what you propose. Although, those with HOAs and restrictive covenants in their deeds established before July 23, 2023 are exempt from the new law. In my case, my deed that was established in 1948 as part of the development of the original plat, and subsequently passed down to successive property owners, prohibits such ADUs. I’m not sure how extensive these restrictive covenants are throughout the city, but the city may want to try to determine it before they get too far along with their code development.

        1. In general I think if it is your property you should be able to do what you wish with it and to often government gets into the weeds around control of that. My guess is there isn’t a great amount of people that actually want one or could afford to build one especially since the city is trying to find ways to raise revenue what a great new source of revenue for the city thru the permitting process no wonder the city wants to nail down the details asap. The city government is hungry for growth because it means greater tax revenue to use for their wish list of pubic amenities. Guess the idea of small limited government is lost on our elected leaders and city managers/directors.

        2. Mr. Fairchild,

          Just to be clear, it’s not a choice I have if I want to build an ADU on my property. Every lot in my subdivision has this restrictive covenant in our deeds that legally prohibits us from building an ADU on-site. When we bought our property we knew what we were buying and the restrictions associated with it. The covenants help protect the integrity of the neighborhood. And as Mr. Reidy points out, how will the city enforce it? An easy way would be for the applicant to provide a covenant-free deed to the city prior to issuing an ADU building permit.

        3. Yes I understand your situation, one of the reasons in my choice of places to live I didn’t pic one with a HOA you pointed out the idea of forming one as a way to prevent having them in a neighborhood as not being a option. Thank you. I am starting to think ballot initiatives giving the people the up or down vote are the best way to deal with taxes housing and a number of other things. Seems my leaders think they know what is best for me.

  9. At their Wednesday evening meeting, I asked Planning Board to please schedule a public forum on the ADU/DADU matter. There should be opportunity for citizens to ask questions and get answers, in real time. Staff rolled out new presentation materials this week, some of which raises further questions.

    New development code for ADU/DADUs doesn’t need to be in place until the middle of next year. There is no need to short-circuit public engagement and rush this through Planning Board and City Council. Discuss it first with the people of Edmonds.

    1. It appears that on Mar. 7th. the Edmonds Civic Roundtable (the group that did not “openly” support anyone for mayor in our last election} is going to have a public welcome forum on just this topic. That meeting is at 5:30pm. at the WFC. I will probably attend this meeting, even though I think it’s kind of pointless because the new state law clearly requires that anyone with enough land and no HOA or Deed covenants against an ADU can build one if they want to – end of discussion. I’m curious as to what the Lawyer presenter at the ECR meeting will have to say about all this.

  10. One thing to consider is: How will the city enforce these new ADU/DADU laws? How well is the city enforcing current laws? Do City Officials have the willpower to enforce our laws fairly?

    State law and city code are very clear: “The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city…”

    That being said, the city’s Code Enforcement webpage states:

    The Code Enforcement Division of the City of Edmonds enforces regulations within the Edmonds City Code and the Community Development Code, generally through a complaint-generated system.

    If illegal living quarters are constructed, and nobody files a formal complaint, it is very possible that the illegal activity will simply continue.

    The City Attorney stated the following related to a different matter during the September 20, 2022 Council Meeting:

    “In most cases, that is unenforced and people look the other way.”

    We spend so much effort adopting laws with little discussion of how the laws will be enforced. I wonder if we will adopt good laws, laws that aren’t unenforced while people look the other way.

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