Reader view: Let’s establish a two-step process for accessory dwelling unit code revisions

Edmonds City Council is holding a public hearing on May 21 to discuss the proposed acessory dwelling unit/detached accessory dwelling  (ADU/DADU) unit code updates drafted by the Edmonds Planning Board and city planning staff. See council agenda here. These have been driven by passage of HB 1337 and amount to a sea change in land use for the City of Edmonds. Some code changes are mandated in the bill.

The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) continues to recommend that council approve largely only the minimum, required HB1337 requirements and subsequently plans for evaluation of the successes and shortcomings in the revised ADU/DADU code. Then a need for further updates based on lessons learned from the evaluation can be implemented (two-step approach). If additional updates are proposed, we suggest council consider a “good neighbor” approach to both balance minimizing neighborhood impacts and increase housing opportunities.

The Alliance has reviewed the State Department of Commerce guidance (Guidance for Accessory Dwelling Units in Washington State v3.4). We note below where city staff and the Planning Board’s proposed code updates exceed/differ from the requirements in HB1337 and are therefore discretionary:

  • No off-street parking requirements
  • Increased 1,200 sf gross floor area (GFA) maximum in some zones
  • Reduced rear setbacks from 15 feet to 5 feet (in some instances) on smaller lots
  • No owner-occupancy restriction on the use of ADUs for short-term rentals (STR, RCW 36.70A.680(5)(a))
  • No design standards: “In some cases, standards may be used to address privacy, making sure that the ADU’s windows are located to preserve privacy between the ADU and neighboring properties of private open space”

ACE is glad to see consideration being given to housing for the elderly and those with mobility and/or developmental issues who wish for smaller living quarters that are close to family or friends. One-story ADU/DADUs with smaller living space best meet the needs of these residents. ADU/DADUs also provide an option for multigenerational living that is becoming a living style of choice for many in the “sandwich generation.”

The impact of these changes may bring neighbor into conflict with neighbor and/or city staff. Therefore, it is imperative that any discretionary code changes allowing for the building of ADU/DADUs be done within a thoughtful, considerate framework for consensus building that also meets the parameters of HB1337. That is why ACE recommends that Council use a “good neighbor” framework in reviewing any discretionary updates and ask themselves, “would this be the action of a good neighbor”? If not, can it be amended in such a way as to foster a “good neighbor” approach? Doing so will minimize the likelihood of conflict arising among neighbors or angry residents confronting city staff over updates. Good Neighbor considerations include a 15-foot height limit in exchange for incentives, considering neighbors privacy (window locations), requiring off-street parking (at least for larger units), similar construction materials and color, no roof decks, a minimum of 10-foot rear setbacks on smaller lots and occupancy requirements when the unit will be used as a short term rental.

The Alliance believes that several recommended code updates where the proposals exceed what is in the bill should be revised as follows:

  • The maximum size of all ADU/DADU units should be set at 1,000 square feet, as HB 1337 requires. Allowing some units on larger parcels to be 1200 square feet is not a “market” consistent update. New two-bedroom, one-bath units in South Snohomish County are being built between 950 and 1,025 sq ft. Building the higher square footage will only add to the cost burden of the ADU/DADU.
  • Setbacks should remain unchanged from current lot development standards. When researching the rationale for these development standards, ACE members found that
    • safety
    • natural resource protection
    • first responder access
    • ventilation
    • lighting
    • sound insulation
    • fire retardant landscaping

are the main reasons for setbacks while privacy and aesthetics are follow-on considerations. Setbacks are not a “nice look only” development standard.

  • Off-street parking for each ADU/DADU should be required as delineated in HB 1337. When a unit has no off-street parking, it does not offer safety for residents with mobility concerns as all ingress and egress for the unit must be done on a street. Since one of the key purposes for offering this type of living unit is to increase the housing available for those with mobility issues and/or the elderly, all should be done to ensure their safety while entering and leaving their unit from public sidewalks and streets. The issue of parking should be considered with these residents in mind, not the young and agile who can travel on foot or bike. While this does add to the cost of building the ADU/DADU, it is a safety-first concern.

Finally, ACE finds that several things were not addressed in the updates:

  • HB 1337 allows cities to require owner-occupancy on one of the units if a unit on the lot is used as a short-term rental. ACE believes this option should be added to the code update.
  • There is nothing in the code update that stipulates there needs to be a sidewalk leading to a detached ADU so that those with canes, wheelchairs, strollers or motorized carts can access the units. Again, the lack of this as a requirement rather belies one of the key rationales for building such units.
  • No mention of evaluation of the effectiveness of the code update was made at any meeting. ACE recommended at the outset that city staff establish a two-step process for ADU/DADU code revisions. Step one is making the necessary changes without going beyond what is mandated as far as size, parking, etc. Step two would be analyzing the data and then drafting further code revisions to address the continuing barriers for this type of living unit. Evaluation should always be a planned part of any revision process.

Please join fellow residents and help finalize code updates that meet the city needs without getting rid of the “Everyone’s Edmonds” look and charm. As residents, you can  make your voice heard to members of  Council by emailing  thoughts and comments to by COB, Monday, May 20.

— By Karen Haase Herrick, President
Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds

  1. Karen and ACE, Thank you for a well researched, thought out and presented opinion on ADU’s. The question that comes to my mind is “Why is the City presenting a plan which excedes the requirements of HB1337? The alternatives presented here are much more acceptable for all the reasons stated.

  2. The ADU/DADU proposal actually includes a requirement for additional parking. If the proposed ADU/DADU code were adopted, every housing unit would be required to have at least one off-street parking space.

    A main home and a single ADU would be required to have at least 2 off-street parking spaces. A main home and 2 ADU’s would be required to have at least 3 off-street parking spaces.

    Two homes, at least two off-street parking spaces. Three homes, at least three off-street parking spaces.

    And if you want more parking spaces, put in more. That’s up to you.

    1. With respect, Mr. Maxwell, the draft code as seen in the council meeting agenda packet on page 317 shows a minimum of “0” parking spaces required for ADUs. On p. 331 the draft shows a minimum of 2 spaces for a single family principal residence. Those two spaces, then, are a requirement for the principal residence and not for the ADU. It may seem like hair-splitting to many, but to a mother trying to get a toddler out of car seat on a narrow, busy street, that off-street parking means the difference between a livable and a non-livable abode.

      1. With your toddler, add another couple feet to your driveway. Or add another parking space. This code does not limit how much parking you put in. You could have spaces for seven cars. Or more. Whatever works for you.
        Well, not whatever. If you don’t have a car, you still have to pay to support off-street parking. But you can have as much more than that as you can fit on your lot.

      2. Karen, thanks for your participation in our collective ADU policy discussion.

        I respectfully disagree with your proposition that Edmonds should mandate households to consume land in specific ways, regardless of their unique preferences. This central planning approach distorts our housing market, and ultimately increases the price of homes here, no matter how benevolently it’s intended. I can definitely appreciate the underlying intent of regulation of this sort – to protect public rights-of-way from a “tragedy of the commons”, with parked cars filling every street – but Edmonds will grow significantly in my lifetime, just as it did in yours, and economic research is clear that requiring parking makes it cheaper for households to own cars, and penalizes them for making other mobility choices. This is not sustainable: Mayor Rosen was clear in his 2024 SotC address that we can’t even afford to maintain the roads we have today without supplemental funding.

        A mother trying to get a toddler out of a car seat should, ideally, have plenty of options from which to choose a home that best satisfies her family’s unique needs. Our self-imposed ban on the construction of detached family-size dwellings across 88% of Edmonds’ residentially-zoned land ultimately stands as the greatest obstacle to this hypothetical mother’s choice and freedom. I believe this would be a much higher-leverage target for your efforts.

    2. It appears that getting rid of cars is the ultimate target and parking is one tool being used to get people out of their cars – if so, why not just say this and address the impacts head on?
      Nick – If a SFH were built today, would it be required to have 2 off-street parking spaces? Under the proposed ADU/DADU code update, would a newly constructed SFH (no ADU/DADU) only be required to have 1 off-street parking space? Or, do you envision a subsequent code update that will only require 1 off-street parking space if there is only 1 SFH on the parcel?
      ADU/DADU’s are “affordable types” of housing that could accommodate those ageing in place or starting a family – both may require off-street parking more than others. The immediate collateral impact of not requiring off-street parking is more cars parking on the street and people with mobility issues pushed further from their front door. Also, there is increased potential of safety issues (roads are narrower) with cars, pedestrians (especially with no sidewalks) and children getting out of or into a car or parents putting their child into or taking them out of their car seat.
      Might this be an opportunity to share your vision of an essential, efficient mass transit system that would alleviate our need for at least a 2nd car?

  3. Will the city be “auto-permitting “ a few floor plans to bypass the horrific time it takes to get permits? Other cities have done this. It’s also less expensive as no architect costs.

    1. I would think that a pre-approved DADU plan would facilitate a more timely (and possibly less costly) permit approval process and reduce architectural fees. Hoping the pre-approved plan would include incentives that minimize neighborhood impacts as ACE mentions above – one story for ageing in place and to prevent obstructing views, possible smaller footprints to decrease building costs and resultant purchase/rental cost, similar construction materials/colors to blend with the primary residence, and window location to maintain privacy. Maybe a number of goals could be accomplished – shorter permit review time, lower permit costs, reduced architectural fees, lower total construction cost also resulting in lower purchase/rental cost and minimizing neighborhood impacts…

  4. This proposal is a thoughtful approach to ADU/DADU code. Hopefully the administration and City Council will give it more than a semi-attentive three minutes before advancing their business-as-usual special interest agendas.

  5. Unfortunately, Mr. Guenther, like our Legislators, and some in City Government ,believes that he knows best what is good for us, and in top down Government rather than a Government “of the people, by the people and for the people”.

    1. Hey Robert, nice to e-meet you! You can feel free to call me Mackey – Mr. Guenther is my dad. (Actually, scratch that: now that I think about it, he usually prefers “Greg”.)

      My last comment explicitly critiqued a top-down regulatory approach — mandating the use of private property for parking, regardless of private need — that, in my view, would constrain individual choice and liberty to a greater extent than necessary to protect the public interests at play here. It’s apparent to me that you see things differently, and I’m interested in hearing your perspective. Would you mind sharing your views so that we can have a more substantive conversation about this?

      I certainly see myself as a member of the “people” you referenced in the final sentence of your comment. I hope you see yourself the same way: I would love to hear your voice as a part of that brilliant & clarifying chorus.

  6. Regarding parking for ADU’s…If a property adds one or more ADU’s but does not include on site parking, the City street will be used for parking. The streets of Edmonds (outside the bowl) are not set up for this. The few streets that have gravel shoulders to allow parking off the pavement do not have sidewalks, so now the cars are expected to park on the shoulder of the road where pedestrians need to walk? Where will the delivery box trucks pull over for deliveries? I think it is impractical to dream that tenants or occupants of ADUs will not drive a car.

    The best approach: “Off-street parking for each ADU/DADU should be required as delineated in HB 1337” as suggested by the author. It does not make sense for Edmonds to loosen the parking requirements, there is too much to lose by doing so.

    1. Good point. The vast majority of streets in Edmonds which have no sidewalks are not really set up for on-street parking. Without parking requirements, pedestrian safety will be diminished, and ADA access will be eliminated. Compromising safety for the sake of affordability seems like a poor trade off especially when school kids are walking to school and having the dodge around parked cars.

      1. I agree. If it is not safe to park in some spot, the city should put up a no-parking sign. People should only be allowed to park where it’s safe to do so.

    2. If you read the proposal, you will see that the proposal is that a main house and 1 ADU/DADU are two housing units and are required to have at least two off-street parking spaces. A main house and 2 ADUs/DADUs are three housing units are are required to have at least three off-street parking spaces.
      Two homes means at least two off-street parking spaces. Three homes means at least three off-street parking spaces.
      Each housing unit has at least one parking space per unit.
      And anyone can add as many additional spaces at they like, as long as they meet the permeable-area requirements.

    3. Hey John, speaking as someone who opposes the imposition of minimum parking requirements, I full-heartedly agree with your proposition that some ADU residents will drive a car for every trip they make. I also believe with full conviction that some *won’t*. Every existing detached home in Edmonds already has two off-street parking spaces: if people want more spots, they have the freedom to build them, but if they don’t, they shouldn’t be arbitrarily required to.

      A 2020 Seattle-specific study of parking minimums ( concluded that “[a]bout 70% of developments [in Seattle] with no parking requirements did include some parking.” This is quantitative, local evidence that the absence of a parking construction requirement will not lead to the neglect of parking provision for those who want or need it. Markets at work!

      You raise a good point about the free storage of cars – which are private property – on our streets, which are public. Over time, I believe it would be prudent for us to transition to a regulatory approach where those who choose to drive cars are responsible for more of the costs of this decision, including the land that they use to store their vehicle when it’s not in use. (Driving a privately-owned car is a necessity, not a choice, for most right now – but that is changing alongside public will!)

  7. Nick,

    If “unconditioned space” (garage, storage space, etc.) continues to be excluded from the allowed square footage, more than the minimum required parking spaces can be integrated into the ADU itself. This is what developers are doing in Seattle. Tear down the existing house, build a couple townhomes and add an ADU for each, with storage space, and parking for two vehicles, on the first floor. So a 1000sq foot ADU turns into 2000sq ft. Thus, they can be sold as condos, which HB 1337 allows, if I remember correctly.

    Since you’re on the PB, how do you see this code preventing that scenario?

    For reference, I discussed including “unconditioned space” in the maximum square footage here:

    1. Maybe that’s something City Council would like to add to the code, but I don’t think that Edmonds prohibits homes being built with garages on the ground floor and living quarters above. I have seen homes like that around Edmonds. HB1337 is very clear, “A city or county may not impose … aesthetic requirements, or requirements for design review for accessory dwelling units that are more restrictive than those for principal units;”
      It might be good to take this up with the City Attorney. As far as I can tell, we don’t really have an option of prohibiting ground floor garages, but I’m not a lawyer. If it’s legal, maybe City Council would like to add it.

  8. Bottom line. How many people who live in a SFH have two parents etc. both working or not don’t have two cars? So, we all know what will happen. These very large SFH size DADU’s AND ADU’s may very well also have two people or parents working that also have 2 cars. So, in these neighborhoods with narrow streets and no sidewalks and barely enough room to drive without pulling to the side of the road if a car is parked on the road will cause a lot of problems. Walkers Children and Adults and their pets OR children who might want to ride their bikes down their street where their parents feel it is safe for them as neighbors help watch for these little issues in a SF neighborhood. AD issues are a problem too. It’s not just delivery trucks its EMS its Fire Trucks its City workers for Emg or just Maintenace. I am sorry but I can visualize the mess and anything we can do to lesson a problem or an accident waiting to happen would be a very smart thing for our city government to do and realize the consequences for their actions. Just out of curiosity how many people commenting here live in a residence with only 1 car? 2 here 2 cars. Stranded with only 1.

      1. Similar to single family residential principal units, ADA standards do not apply or are required in the context of private ADU/DADU development. That doesn’t mean a property owner can’t accommodate it if that’s the market or family member they are wanting to provide for. If the property owner wants to make a DADU accessible then they are free to do so but not mandated.

    1. Hi Deb! Since you asked, we have 1 driver in the household and 1 car, an ancient Honda. Also a campervan used for recreational purposes only. The other adult in the house (me) does not have a drivers license and doesn’t drive. The driver takes public transit as much as possible (drives to light rail station) and will do that more when the MLT light rail opens. The non-driver takes transit to downtown Seattle 4 days a week.
      Thinking about adding a DADU but the back part of our property doesn’t get much sun.
      I lived in an ADU for 5 years during law school and my first 2 years of practice and loved it.

  9. I am sorry to have to point this out but here it is. Most cities and it looks like Edmonds Bowl is the City Center here for sure is where the tall buildings are placed. Seattle is also on the water. Most of the city centers I have seen, and I have seen them all have the tallest buildings right in the city center. The city center is where the wide streets and sidewalks are here and in other CITIES. Ya wanted to be a big city well ok them I am afraid that ya just might want to remember this, as ya can’t have your cake and eat it too. Not anymore anyway. We spent the money all over the Bowl everywhere. We neglected and were short sited in doing this when with that money other streets could possibly have been widened, sidewalks could have been built and yeah even a few more bike lanes on these narrow streets. Right now, up here we have a lot of Condos and Town homes and many have only 1 parking space and many already park along the streets. SO, pay attention to the ACE with their very reasonable suggestions so we can all support each other’s wants and in some case’s Needs. And no probably few will use busses 4 play or work Thank you ACE.

  10. This whole discussion is reaching the point of being absurd. The State tell us we all need to quit driving our gasoline cars and we have to build houses, preferably really cheap ones, on every square inch of available open space but we have to protect all the trees and our environment in this process. Everyone who wants to, just deserves to live in Edmonds or close by in a cheap home and the state will provide one for you, if you just can’t afford one or your chosen life style requires you to spend most of your available funds on self medication for one reason or another. We have total insanity flying at us from the extreme Left and Right of the political spectrum and normal people who just believe in freedom, justice and the right to pursue one’s OWN idea of happiness and life style are routinely told they are wrong and out of touch with what is politically and environmentally correct. I’ve never seen a place and time where so many people want to tell other people how they should be living and why they are wrong. Both freedom and privacy are becoming things of the past thanks to extreme politics and ever more invasive technology.

  11. Ok so you have 3 adults. Good Do these adults all work and if so, do they work outside of Edmonds? Are their jobs the type of work that allows them and you to use public transportation? Many people have jobs that require they have a car. My husband did. Carpenters and many jobs need a vehicle to transport tools etc. Many working mothers who may work out of town and have little children to pick up at day care or from school will not take the bus. It would add hours to their workday. I worked in Everett most of my time working here and I had boxes of outreach material to take to Access to help etc sites. I had no choice. I did bus to the UNIV for a while and that was ok. I am just saying that many here do not have the type of job or lifestyle that allow them to walk, bus or bike for many things. I am glad honestly Nick that your household is able to help the environment and physically able to get wherever you go with only 1 car. I truly am. Thanks for answering.

  12. Sadly, I am rapidly losing faith in the City’s department managers. It’s bad enough that the state is telling cities how to manage their communities, but City staff are attempting to ‘exceed’ these top-down requirements. Once these rules are in place it will be very hard to go back. It is quite obvious that certain staff members have preconceived ideas of what the Comp Plan should be, and these public meetings are just to put lipstick on the pig. It’s disappointing.

    1. The City’s managers work for Mayor Rosen. When it comes to putting lipstick on a pig blame Mayor Mike Rosen. Although, he did ride some bicycles with school kids recently so that should make everybody feel better about the way the city is being administrated

  13. Other than our old Budget Director being asked to resign, I don’t see where anything much in the way of city administration has changed. All the other Directors are the same as the prior administration. The street project on 9th./100th. was cleaned up without any explanation of who paid for the clean up so I assume it was us. I haven’t seen much in the way of promised transparency by the new administration in reality. We are still getting mostly ideological block voting and neighborhood favoritism from the City Council and recommending going with the RFA is all but a done deal, unless voted down by the people. In short, nothing has really changed except we are a little deeper in debt and the need for higher taxation grows daily.

  14. Hi Kim, thank you for responding. I think your situation sounds great for you and the other occupant in your house. I applaud attempts to use less gas etc. I too have an old model car I think it is a 2009. We probably drive it 300 miles top in an entire year. Husband’s car is 8 years old and gets good mpg but he only drives it about 1200 hundred miles a year. When younger, we also lived in small living quarters while he was in College and Law School, we + dog + cat HA, lived in an 850 sq ft house 2 B one Bath in Iowa for 4 years and then 5 out here. 9 years we were cramped but we did it. We bought our home here in ED and I walked in and went WOW space finally. We chose uphill because it was less expensive, and we worked for years and years to fix it up. We are pretty climate conscience here. want parking for all housing quarters so that our streets will be accessible and walker friendly and safe. I don’t have a problem with 1 story DADUs. I welcome diversity in my neighborhood. I just want it to be as nice as possible. I want safe drinking water and for our PB to cool it a bit.

  15. We brought the dog and cat with us from IOWA a Yellow Lab female Brandy was her name. She lived to be 14. The Cat a female yellow tabby named Doobie haha. Lived to be an astounding 22 years old. We thought they were the best pets around ha. I guess everyone feels that way about their pets. We have no children. We like children it just wasn’t in the cards for us. We were cool with that. I garden in a totally organic fashion. I had rain gardens, trenched frontals from the beginning. Way before they were ever talked about. I have crawled around for most of my life in gardens vegetables in Midwest and mainly flower and shrub and herbs here. I think that is why my old back sort of gave out. But I am still crawlin. An occasional Aleve is in order now. I want neighbors to have little yard spaces so I can give them transplants. I am pretty mellow honestly. I just get revved up on these local things. I want a nice place, a friendly sharing place for all of us in all of Edmonds. I want people to come and visit me and have constructive conversations. I do have issues that prevent me from walking distances. I used to be able to climb mountains. Have Fun. Enjoy.

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