Seattle looks to diversify housing options while banning 'McMansions'

SEATTLE -- Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien's longstanding crusade to cut the red tape on backyard cottages is nearing the finish line.

By late June, those who wish to add extra living spaces, or "accessory dwelling units," on their property will be able to build them larger, taller and with fewer restrictions.

Under the proposed legislation, backyard units could cover up to 1,000 square feet and reach a couple feet higher than current laws allow.

A requirement for off-street parking will also be removed.

Rules on the books now do not allow a backyard unit and an in-house addition, and homeowners are required to live on-site. Those rules will also be lifted.

At the same time, building large, single-family homes -- above 2,500 square feet on smaller lots -- would become much less feasible.

Councilmember O'Brien says his goal is to make some of the city's best neighborhoods more accessible for all while cutting back on large developments that serve fewer people.

"I'm really excited about it because I think some of our single-family neighborhoods are some of the greatest places in the city to live," O'Brien said, ahead of a committee meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.

"They're often near really good schools, great parks, good business districts, just full of opportunity; but so many of those neighborhoods are becoming more and more exclusive as the cost of housing goes up."

The plan, three-and-a-half years in the making, has seen its share of resistance.

Some community groups, like the Queen Anne Community Council, have fought O'Brien's plans and launched formal appeals.

They fear widespread ramifications, from increased street and parking congestion to packing a large number of new neighbors into single lots.

O'Brien disagrees with the idea that living conditions will become worse.

He argues the eased restrictions -- while helping welcome new faces -- will also keep people from getting priced out of their own neighborhoods, by creating an extra income source.

"If they could add an additional accessory unit, they could have a little more rental income, so that they would be able to take care of their loved ones in the place where they are," O'Brien said.

"They're worried they are getting pushed out of the neighborhood without some additional income as is."

While O'Brien says the legal challenges have been overcome, there is still another chance to have your voice heard before it is a done deal.

The legislation is expected to get a full council hearing in early June, with an opportunity for public comment at that time.

The City of Tacoma enacted similar changes to backyard cottage regulations on May 1st.