Illustration by Mathew Roland.
Kelly Pearce Three hours had passed since the public hearing began, but the line of Bellingham residents ready to give their speeches did not slow down.The Bellingham Planning Commision held a public hearing on Jan. 25 to let Bellingham residents speak publicly about legalizing detached ADUs city-wide. The topic of legalizing city-wide housing units called accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units have been commonly discussed and debated by Bellingham’s residents for years. ADUs are living quarters on the same property as an existing single-family home that act as an independent living space. Detached ADUs are almost the same, but are not physically connected to the house, according to the City of Bellingham's website. Up to 20 ADUs are currently allowed in each single-family zoned Bellingham neighborhood as long as they are on a property owned by the resident. Although these ADUs are currently legal city-wide, detached ADUs are not.Arguments in support of the new changes to the ordinance included increased income for current homeowners, more diverse neighborhoods and a lessened environmental impact over building other types of housing. “This decision will neither destroy our neighborhood, nor save the world,” resident Kevin Covey said. “But future generations are depending on us to make positive changes, and will wonder why we didn’t act earlier to support lower carbon footprint lifestyles when the threat from climate change was so clear.” Opponents against the city-wide legalization of detached ADUs had concerns over what they saw as a lack of communication from the city to work with the neighborhoods, an increase in students occupying ADUs and enforcement of regulations. “Promises have been made. Promises have not been kept,” said Warren Sheay, a Bellingham resident, when referring to the city’s reassurance they would work with neighborhoods. According to the City of Bellingham Housing Affordability report updated last September, Whatcom County is below the state average for residents who make median income to have affordable housing. Housing is deemed “affordable” if a family spends no more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to Bellingham Housing and Human Services website . Current law says if someone is not able to find affordable housing and only has the option to rent, they cannot utilize a detached ADU on their property. To have a legal detached ADU on their property, a person has to own and live in the main single-family house and be able to afford the cost of construction required to have the detached ADU be a legal, self-sustaining space. They would also need the resources to give the resident their own parking space, which is another regulation that’s being introduced in the new ordinance review. Those in support of legalizing detached ADUs said it would help single-family home owners with their cost of living and give them a sense of community in their neighborhood. The hearing’s proposed amendment fact sheet stated the hearing is the latest of six meetings hosted by the Planning Commision since 2015 on this topic. Five of the six meeting have included time for public comment. Another work session by the Planning Commision is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 1, where they will have reviewed all oral and written public comments. The public comment period will officially close before the next work session in order to move toward making a formal decision on the ordinance changes.