Seattle may allow homeowners to build backyard cottages
The Seattle City Council wants to allow homeowners in all Seattle neighborhoods to build detached cottages as big as 800 square feet in their backyards. While such "accessory units" already are permitted in South Seattle, the idea has met resistance in North Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Neighborhood meetings on backyard cottages
July 15: 6:30 p.m. at South Seattle Community College, 6000 16th Ave. S.W.
Aug 3: 6 p.m. at Fremont Neighborhood Service Center, 908 N. 34th St.
Joel Tufel designed his Maple Leaf backyard with privacy in mind, and his walkways wind through the foliage to a private workshop, where he makes sculptures.
The Seattle City Council could threaten his quiet working space, Tufel said, if it approves a proposal this summer to allow homeowners across the city to build cottages of up to 800 square feet in their backyards.
Tufel imagines neighbors blasting their music as they peer down at him from a new two-story apartment next door.
"It's where I live," he said. "I want to be able to enjoy it."
Attached mother-in-law-style apartments have been allowed in Seattle neighborhoods since 1994. In 2006, the city considered allowing detached cottages to be built citywide but instead approved them only for Southeast Seattle as an experiment.
City officials dubbed them "backyard cottages" instead of calling them by their formal name: "detached accessory dwelling units."
So far, just 17 have been built, and a city survey indicates neighbors either like them or didn't notice them.
The proposal would limit the number to 50 per year and require the homeowner to live in either the main house or the cottage for at least half the year. A cottage could take up no more than 40 percent of the backyard.
Mayor Greg Nickels has called them a "real-life solution" for people who want to downsize or to make a place for a family member to live.
But they have faced opposition in North Seattle, where Realtor Chuck Cady called the proposal "a de facto rezone of the entire city of Seattle."
"There will no longer be single-family neighborhoods in Seattle," he said.
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark, who chairs the land-use committee, said some neighborhoods have had grandfathered-in units for decades.
"For people who do have enough backyard space, it makes sense," she said. "It's not going to be for everyone. It can't be."
The city has held some 15 meetings in neighborhoods around Seattle and has scheduled two others: one tonight in Fremont, the other July 15 in Southwest Seattle.
Reception has been mixed, said Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.
"Some people feel the proposal would add density to the single-family neighborhoods, and that's just not true," he said. "This is just another kind of accessory dwelling unit."
Yolinda Ward and her partner built a two-story cottage in the backyard of their large home near Columbia City. They moved in last summer, leaving the big house to a family friend who is Ward's godson, and his wife and their toddler.
The group has dinner together about once a week, and Ward can lean out her living-room window and see her godson's daughter playing in the yard. It's a communal way to live but with privacy, too.
"It's like a treehouse," said Ward.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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