Big Houses, Small Lots, and the Seattle Problem

I wrote at Seattle’s Land Use Code about the upcoming emergency vote Councilmember Richard Conlin has proposed to stop development of some small lot cottage development in single-family neighborhoods. Why a few unique cottages being successfully developed under existing code is still a mystery to me, especially since this is exactly the kind of infill development many of us wanted when the Council undertook a review of Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations years ago. The emergency vote seems to be emblematic of the Seattle Problem—trying to make good things happen but then when they do, imposing rules that effectively prevent those good things.

The substance of the issue is that a developer has figured out what the planners at City Hall call the arcane details of the land use and tax code to figure out how to build tall, cool looking cottages on small and irregular lots in single-family neighborhoods. This has provoked the ire of some single-family neighbors who, in turn, have provoked the Council to throw on the brakes. The truth is that there are very few of these houses being built, and what’s so bad about them being “out of scale” with the surrounding neighborhood.

The fact is that the emergency in Seattle is that we have yet to see innovative land use solutions for Transit Oriented Development, for infill, and for other housing options. It’s true we have apodments and other efforts are underway to make a dent in our need for more housing, so why would we stop something that seems to be addressing that need?