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Could ‘McMansion’ ban, backyard cottages ease Seattle’s housing crisis?

Seattle continues to weigh a measure easing restrictions on backyard cottages. (Courtesy of Backyard Cottage Blog)

Seattle renters and homeowners spent more than three hours Tuesday night, giving public testimony around a plan to limit “McMansions” and increase accessory dwelling units. The question many looked to answer throughout: Could these measures help ease Seattle’s growing housing crisis?

Seattle mulls ban on ‘McMansions,’ new rules for backyard cottages

Councilman Mike O’Brien is leading the effort aimed at easing restrictions on backyard cottages and mother-in-law units. If passed, the plan would increase the existing size of ADUs from 800 to 1,000 square feet, and allow them to be built on smaller lots.

Both backyard cottages and mother-in-law units could be built on the same property, while the owner occupancy requirement would be lifted. The proposal also raises the number of unrelated people who could live in an ADU to 12, up from eight.

O’Brien said he sees it as a gentle way to add density in a city dealing with Seattle’s housing and affordability issues.

“I want more people to live in these neighborhoods, but I think we can do it in a way that doesn’t rock the boat on what the neighborhood looks and feel like,” O’Brien told KIRO 7 TV.

The idea received a lot of support from families, who want their aging parents or children to live on their same property.

“It allows him to plan ahead on something that will let him age in place for many years to come, and allow us to have a multi-generational family in the neighborhood that I love,” said one man. “This won’t be the case if he has to find someplace else to buy or rent at the current prices in Seattle.”

How backyard cottages could open up Seattle’s housing market

Some opponents argued against the plan to limit the size of new homes, saying it strips private property rights. Under O’Brien’s proposal, the city would establish a maximum floor area ratio that limits new home construction. The proposal caps a home’s square footage by half compared to the size of the lot. For example, a 5,000 square foot property could have no more than 2,500 square feet of living space above-ground.

Others worried about a plan to remove the parking spot requirements, arguing it will lead to more congestion. Several others also opposed the idea of removing the owner occupancy requirement.

“When the owner occupancy requirement goes away, the single family housing market is opened up for those entities with access to capital to further concentrate the ownership of communities in the hands of the few,” said one man.

An analysis found that easing the rules would add twice as many ADUs over the next decade, up to 4,400 from less than 2,000. It also found the number of older homes being razed to make way for bigger homes would decline by 22 percent.

The city council is considering several amendments to the plan. O’Brien said he hopes to vote on the legislation on July 1. If it passes, he said the new rules would take effect after six months.

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