The Seattle Hearing Examiner’s Office has upheld the City of Seattle’s final environmental impact statement for new policies meant to increase the number of accessory dwelling units developed in the city, dismissing an appeal by the Queen Anne Community Council.

The decision comes five years after the Seattle City Council directed the planning department to explore policy changes to increase the development of backyard cottages and mother-in-law units.

After the Office of Planning and Community Development issued a determination of non-significance in 2016, the Queen Anne Community Council successfully appealed, which required conducting the FEIS process. QACC then challenged the environmental impact statement for the legislation as inadequate after its publication last October.

While the city and QACC provided credible witnesses during the appeal hearing, which started in March and concluded with written closing briefs, Deputy Hearing Examiner Barbara Dykes Ehrlichman found the city’s analysis was adequate.

“Given the groundbreaking nature of some of the features of the proposed legislation, it is impossible to know whether non, some, or all of the ill effects claimed by Appellant will come to pass,” Ehrlicman wrote in her decision, adding that’s a policy debate the city council now faces. “…It is not up to the Examiner to take sides in that policy debate, but simply to assure that the requirements of SEPA have been fulfilled.”

Architect Marty Kaplan filed the appeal on behalf of the Queen Anne Community Council. He has not yet responded to a request for comment from Queen Anne News.

“The proposed legislation contains provisions that will eliminate single-family zoning in Queen Anne and within every neighborhood throughout the City,” Kaplan writes in the appeal. “It ignores, disrespects, and eliminates the city-wide Neighborhood Plans. This unprecedented and wholesale land use change will negatively impact over 135,000 single family properties and over 350,000 residents that choose to live in single-family homes in Seattle’s neighborhoods.”

While QACC argued the city didn’t adequately consider the individual character and infrastructure challenges of each Seattle neighborhood, Ehrlichman sided with the city’s  neighborhood modeling approach.

“If the City had used individual blocks from certain neighborhoods, the analysis could have easily missed some of the parcel sizes and different driveway configurations that can change the character of a lot,” according to the decision.

The FEIS states 1,970 ADUs would be created between 2018 and 2027 if no regulation changes were made, compared to 4,280 under Alternative 2, 3,400 under the third alternative and 4,430 with a preferred alternative.

Under the preferred alternative, lots in single-family zones can have an attached accessory dwelling unit (AADU) and detached accessory dwelling (DADU) unit in lots with a minimum of 3,200 square feet, or two AADUs, and would not require off-street parking or that the owner live in any of the dwelling units. One year of continuous ownership would be required to build a second accessory dwelling unit.

Kaplan believes the legislation will create “triplex neighborhoods.”

“While Mr. Kaplan’s testimony is very compelling and he may very well be right,” the decision states, “his arguments are policy arguments, which are not a basis for the Examiner to determine whether the FEIS was adequate.”

These ADU alternatives would also reduce the number of teardowns of existing houses, according to the FEIS. It would also provide a less expensive rental option and provide homeowners with added income, according to the FEIS. The median rent for an ADU in 2017 was determined by the city to be $1,400.

Ehrlichman also found that the city’s study of four neighborhoods used in analyzing parking impacts was “more than adequate to satisfy the reasonableness requirements  for a nonproject EIS.”

The city successfully argued that QACC’s expert witness Ross Tilghman was wrong to assume that allowing unrelated people on one lot to increase from eight to 12 would result in up to nine cars to a single-family lot. The FEIS assumes one vehicle per ADU.

Tilghman has also been fighting a mixed-use development in his Madison Valley neighborhood. The hearing examiner sided with the city on that project, as well.

The Seattle-based TreePAC political action committee was allowed to intervene in the appeal on the condition it not introduce new witnesses or exhibits, which the City of Seattle argued it did in its closing brief.

Ehrlichman found TreePAC didn’t adequately argue for the relief it was requesting, which included remanding the case “so that drawings depicting aesthetic impacts of height, bulk, and scale include realistic depictions of tree loss based on actual damage.”

“The whole point of the rather bland-looking drawings in Chapter 4.3 was to accentuate, rather than hide, the height, bulk and scale impacts,” the decision states.

She also found the city adequately calculated potential tree loss in the FEIS based on the 2016 LiDAR data collected on tree canopy, though Ehrlichman noted an update could have been provided.

The Seattle City Council can begin refining policies this summer, said Councilmember Mike O’Brien in a city news release.

Mayor Jenny Durkan “heralded” the decision.

“Seattle faces an affordability and housing crisis, and we are acting to increase the supply of housing options as quickly as possible,” she said in the release. “We need to use every tool in our toolbox to boost the supply of housing – and that includes knocking down barriers for homeowners to build more backyard cottages and in-law units.”

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