By Max Brunt
Advocates for accessory dwelling units throughout Bellingham have won this stage of the city’s affordable housing debate.
The Bellingham Planning and Development Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the City Council allow leasing of detached ADUs citywide during a work session on Thursday, Feb 1.
ADUs are living spaces on a property that one can live in completely independent from the main house. An ADU has its own bathroom and kitchen, and a detached ADU can be a shed or a detached garage.
The session was held to address some of the concerns that residents voiced during the last public hearing regarding ADUs on Jan. 25. If approved, the ordinance would permit landlords throughout the city to let out small, separate living spaces on their properties to non-family members.
City planner Greg Aucutt acknowledged the population in Bellingham is reaching a point where it needs an alternative housing solution. “We’re keeping up with population growth, but we’re not really getting ahead of the curve,” Aucutt said.
Commission member Lisa Anderson spoke out against a citywide provision, and instead suggested establishing a process by which individual neighborhoods could choose to permit detached ADU construction.
“I wish we were sitting here right now looking at ways we could possibly create a pathway where it’s not wholesale across every single neighborhood,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she felt permitting detached ADUs citywide ignores the unique constraints that particular pieces of property could have over others, which may contribute to overcrowding and unintended environmental consequences.
“We’re keeping up with population growth, but we’re not really getting ahead of the curve.”
GREG AUCUTT, CITY PLANNER
“The number of impermeable surfaces is going to affect our water quality,” Anderson said.
Commission member Iris Maute-Gibson was pessimistic that neighborhoods will voluntarily apply for new detached ADU policies if they’re given the choice.
“People are generally going to support a policy broadly, like detached ADUs, but when it comes to their own neighborhoods, they’re going to be less supportive,” Maute-Gibson said.
Maute-Gibson also rejected the idea that detached ADUs would be more ecologically consequential than urban sprawl. While more construction may impact groundwater, population density has a slighter effect on factors such as air quality, Maute-Gibson said.
Commision member Garrett O’Brien spoke out in favor of a citywide ordinance as well. O’Brien said a city with Bellingham’s population would likely only see two to three new detached ADUs built per year, and that many people in Bellingham currently use detached ADUs as additional living spaces for family members.
“If we’re looking at things on a neighborhood to neighborhood basis, I think that’s sort of a negation of our mandate,” O’Brien said. “We’re supposed to look citywide. We’re supposed to do the hard work here.”
Other proposed changes to ADU regulations can be found at meetings.cob.org