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Bellingham
Thursday, June 4, 2020

City Council approves ADU ordinance

Residents hold signs advocating for 100 percent renewable energy in Bellingham. // Photo by Stella Harvey

By Stella Harvey

The Bellingham City Council voted 5 to 2 on Monday, May 7, in favor of both revisions to the Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance and the resolution to implement updates to the 2017 Climate Protection Action Plan.

The updated ADU ordinance will allow for detached accessory dwelling units, or small residential units built on the same property as a main residence, in single-family zones.

The previous regulation only allowed ADUs that were within or attached to the main residence in single-family zones, according to the City of Bellingham website.

Council members Gene Knutson and Terry Bornemann voted against the updates to the ADU ordinance.

Councilmember Pinky Vargas abstained from the vote on implementing the updates to the 2017 Climate Protection Action Plan due to a conflict of interest, while Gene Knutson voted against the changes.

Chris Koch, planner II of the Planning and Community Development Department, said other changes to the ordinance include reducing the minimum lot size for detached ADUs to 5,000 square feet, reducing height limit for detached ADUs to 20 feet and increasing the maximum ADU size from 40 percent to 66 percent of the size of the primary residence, without exceeding 800 square feet.

The City Council held a public hearing on the revisions recommended by the Bellingham Planning Commission on April 9. The council chambers were full of Bellingham residents eager to speak on the issue, and the public hearing lasted more than two hours.

Rick Sepler, director of the Planning and Community Development Department, said through the process of coming to these recommendations, it has become clear there is a wide variety of opinions on ADUs.

“The decisions are hard, but it is healthy and timely to have this discussion now,” Sepler said.

Judith Green and several other Bellingham residents expressed their concerns that ADUs will not provide affordable housing in practice.

“I want you to know I am concerned with the issue of affordable housing, but I don’t think that opening up single-family neighborhoods to detached ADUs is going to provide affordable housing,” Green said.

Galen Herz, cofounder of the Bellingham Tenants Union, said expanding detached ADUs city-wide is not the answer to Bellingham’s housing crisis, but it does expand the options some people have in where they can afford to live.

“Most likely, [ADUs are] not going to be affordable to very low-income people, but for moderate income people who also need homes in the city, they can live in an ADU and that reduces pressure on everyone else in the whole housing market,” Herz said.

Revisions to the Climate Protection Action Plan, originally adopted in 2007, include revising targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and establishing the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, according to the City Council agenda bill.

The climate resolution, Agenda Bill 21905, directs staff to implement the Climate Action Protection Plan and creates a Climate Action Plan Task Force to recommend action to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

During the public comment period, Jill MacIntyre Witt encouraged the council to implement updates to the Climate Protection Action Plan and said the climate cannot wait.

“This is just the beginning,” MacIntyre Witt said. “I am so proud we get to be the 66th city that is committing to 100 percent renewable energy.”

No one spoke against implementing updates to the Climate Protection Action Plan. Council member Gene Knutson did not comment on why he voted against the changes.

Both the revised ADU ordinance and the updated Climate Protection Action Plan will go into effect when they are signed in the coming weeks.

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