Reader view: When it comes to accessory dwelling units, think small

The following are my comments submitted for the Edmonds Planning Board’s public hearing on Feb. 28. I will be referencing this information.

State housing mandates are meant to support more affordable homes/dwelling units near transit. New accessory dwelling units/detached accessory dwelling units (ADU/DADU) code (link above on page 4, What are the benefits of ADUs?) are meant to, among other things, “Support aging in place.” One way to ensure that our code enhances affordability, encourages transit use, supports aging in place and maintains livability of our neighborhoods is to focus on the allowed size of the ADUs/DADUs.

Current and proposed code excludes garage/storage from allowed square footage. Page 15 (link above):
“Gross Floor Area will be defined as the “interior habitable area of an accessory dwelling unit, including basements and attics but not including unconditioned space, such as a garage or non-habitable accessory structures.”

More cars, larger ADUs translates to decreased livability in neighborhoods. If we include garages in allowed square footage, we could have fewer cars per neighborhood and attract ADU residents inclined to use transit, or smaller vehicles for transportation. Our ADU code should require that garages and “unconditioned space” be included in allowed square footage, which would mean less non-livable space per ADU.

Examples of 1,200 as maximum square footage allowed:
Average garage space for a car is 240 square feet, leaving 960 square feet of living space.
Average garage space for an SUV is 352 square feet, leaving 848 square feet of living space.
Space for a wheelchair, bicycle, e-bike would leave more livable square footage.

The ADU’s maximum size could then be 1,200 square feet (depending upon lot size) and would be less intrusive to neighborhoods and less expensive to build.

This would also be a built-in disincentive to those (mostly developers) who might build two-story DADUs with a 1,200-square-foot footprint, and the first story, a 1,200-square-foot garage/storage space. A stairway to the second floor is likely also considered “unconditioned space.”

I urge the planning board and council to seriously consider this suggestion. Readers can submit comments by Wednesday (2-28-24) by going to this link.

— By Joan Bloom
Author Joan Bloom served on the Edmonds Council from 2012-2015
  1. Hoping that lot splitting bill passes thinking of life in Edmonds after we increase the population by 25 plus percent green acres is sounding better all the time. Build a dadu converting the basement into a apartment dividing the lot for a duplex sounds like a retirement plan in paradise.

  2. Joan, I pretty much agree with you on all this and I’m not sure the city would be able to carve out garages and unconditioned space anyway, based on what the requirements appear to be. I just don’t think the city has much wiggle room on what they try to write as city code on this. As I indicated in our private email conversation, I think a lot of this will be bandied about in the court system for years to come. And, we have almost all of our own local county and cstate level representatives to thank for problems and controversies between neighbors that this is all very likely to create. I just hope our city elected officials are up to the task of trying to referee it.

  3. Clinton,

    The reference to excluding “garages” and “unconditioned space” (actually on Pg. 15 of the link, not Pg. 25) is in our current and proposed code. There is nothing in HB 1337 that requires this exclusion from the allowed total square footage of the dwellings.

    On Pg. 9 of the link:
    “State legislation mandates that HB 1337 must be implemented no later than six months after the next Comprehensive Plan due date, or by June 30, 2025. The minimum requirements for the City of Edmonds will be as follows:
    · Allow two ADUs per lot (any configuration of ADU and DADU).
    · No owner-occupancy requirements.
    · Allow separate sale of ADUs.
    · No parking required within a half-mile of a major transit stop, as defined in RCW
    · Maximum size limitation no less than 1,000sf.
    · Allow DADUs to be sited at a rear lot line, the lot line abuts a public alley.
    · No setback requirements, yard coverage limits, tree retention mandates,
    restrictions on entry door locations, or aesthetic requirements that are more
    restrictive than for the principal unit.
    · Allow ADUs of at least 24-feet in height.
    · Allow impact fees of no more than 50% of the fees imposed on the principal unit.”

  4. Joan, I agree with your reasonable suggestions. I would hope to see the City drop Alternative A entirely (which seems to have about zero percent support in the comments I have read) and work hard to come up with a replacement that encourages and incentivize dispersed single story ADU/DADU additions to existing properties.

    If done right, these will not bother neighbors, overburden the streets, or harm the environment. I believe that a more rigorous analysis of the existing conditions and the benefits of multigenerational housing will show that low and moderate income housing can be provided with this type of development. It would be great if the major elements of the comprehensive plan alternatives were delayed until ADU/DADU expansion, targeted towards multigenerational housing added onto existing houses and encouraged as necessary, has been given a chance to work.

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