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Seattle begins review of backyard cottage expansion plan

Jim Loter documented building a backyard cottage in Seattle. Here's a picture from day 25: erecting the walls.
Flickr Photo/Jim L (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Jim Loter documented building a backyard cottage in Seattle. Here's a picture from day 25: erecting the walls.

Seattle officials are conducting an environmental review of the entire city to look at the possible impacts of building more backyard cottages. Some lawmakers want to make it easier for homeowners to build them.

Residents can weigh in now on the scope of that environmental review.

The city will study two options: changing backyard cottage rules or keeping things the same. The environmental review process began in October.

City Councilmember Mike O'Brien proposed the changes. He said allowing more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units could add thousands of homes to the city.

More than 400 people have already given public input. Critics say it would put a stress on utilities and parking, and cause other problems for single-family neighborhoods.

Martin Kaplan of the Queen Anne Community Council plans to submit comments this week. He said single-family neighborhoods in the city can't accommodate thousands of new units.

Kaplan: "When our city was built, the utilities were installed for one family per lot, and what O'Brien and others want to do is triple that density. Well, that's something that we want them to study in this environmental review."

Kaplan called the city's proposal a one-size fits all approach that will not work for each neighborhood. He plans to propose a different set of backyard cottage rules in his letter.

The public comments so far show how polarizing this topic can be. Feedback against the plan includes comments of:

"I am completely opposed to this change. We are working towards making every neighborhood gridlocked with traffic and people. Please stop the madness."

On the other end, there are adamant supporters of loosening backyard cottage rules. One person wrote in:

"I hope this process is done quickly, embarrassed to see the residents of Queen Anne fight this hard against diversity in their neighborhood."

The deadline for this public comment period is November 16. At the request of residents, the city extended the comment period by two weeks. O'Brien said he looks forward to reading everyone's feedback.

O'Brien: "You know what I hear from a lot of community members, is 'I would much rather see more backyard cottages, it's a way for more people to experience my neighborhood without tearing down houses and putting up apartment buildings.'"

The environmental review is expected to be completed nearly a year from now, and residents will have more opportunities to provide comment during the process. The Seattle City Council will ultimately decide whether to approve neighborhood zoning changes.