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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Seattle activist weighs in on ADU debate

By Sarah Porter

The City of Bellingham is considering changing regulations related to accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments or granny flats. One of the major changes being considered would allow detached ADUs in Bellingham.

The Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition, a community group who opposes these changes, invited Seattle activist Marty Kaplan to speak to Bellingham residents on Thursday about his experience fighting similar ordinance changes in Seattle.

Kaplan has been an architect for 40 years, contributed to Seattle’s urban planning for about 15 years and is the current chair of the Land Use Committee for the Queen Anne Community Council.

Seattle activist Marty Kaplan gives speech on impacts of ADUs, Thursday Jan. 11 // Photo by Sarah Porter

However, Kaplan said he is not anti-ADU. He helped draft Seattle’s current legislation as a member of the Seattle Planning Commission which went citywide in June 2010 and allows detached ADUs with certain restrictions, such as requiring that an owner occupies one of the units.

Kaplan appealed an ordinance that proposed loosening restrictions on the production of ADUs and detached ADUs, according to case documents, but Kaplan argued against this determination. In his appeal statement, he said that the ordinance would have converted a large swathe of area, including all single-family zoned areas in Seattle, into duplex and triplex multi-family zones.

“If you’re going to rezone 43 square miles of zoning, you might think that it would have an impact,” Kaplan said.

He said Seattle was not transparent about the potential environmental impacts of the ordinance, and he was concerned that citizens were not given a voice in the conversation.

“The same thing is going on here,” Kaplan said, referring to Bellingham’s potential policy changes. “City hall is telling themselves they don’t have to study environmental impacts.”

The changes proposed in Bellingham would allow detached ADUs in single-family residential zones. Coalition member Larry Horowitz said that Bellingham has allowed attached ADUs since the 1995 ordinance, and that he believes legalizing detached ADUs in single-family zones would not effectively increase available housing in the city as some proponents argue.

Horowitz said that mixed multi-family and commercial zones, such as Bellingham’s urban village districts, are a more effective way to address the city’s housing shortage. In urban villages, more housing units can be built on one lot, such as with large apartment complexes.

Flip Breskin, a long-time Bellingham resident who contributed to the urban village planning in the Fountain District for three years, said she was concerned about the influx of students renting single family homes. She said that Western’s insufficient housing capacity pits students against residents in the housing market, and she worries that ADUs in single-family neighborhoods would turn into more college housing.

Bellingham resident Warren Sheay expressed similar concerns.

“These [detached ADUs] are going to end up being Airbnb’s and more housing for college students,” Sheay said. “Our neighborhoods are going to get ruined with these things.”

The Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition has created a Community ADU Letter listing the Coalition’s six concerns and six recommendations regarding the proposed changes with the goal of getting Bellingham residents to sign it and submit it to the city council.

A public hearing on the ADU ordinance update is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. with the Bellingham Planning Commision at City Hall.  


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