What You Can Do

Want to keep a small-lot house from being built in YOUR Seattle neighborhood? Start here.

Tell the PLUS committee how angry you are

The Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (a committee of the Seattle City Council) is the group charged with overseeing the Department of Planning and Development and the development of small-lot housing. The members of that committee are regularly lobbied by developers, so it’s important that citizens also take the time to call and meet with them. Ask all your neighbors to contact all the members of the PLUS committee by phone and email. Mike O’Brien is the chair of the committee, Tim Burgess is the vice-chair, Nick Licata is a member, and Sally J. Clark, while listed as an alternative, is a very influencial member.

Contact information for the four members of the Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee:

The other members of the city council:

Get to know the developers and their tactics

Learn more about the developers, architects, contractors and lobbyist behind these projects:

Don’t allow the developer to move any fences

Over time, fences between neighbors usually end up veering off the true property line – especially on older properties, where the fences have been rebuilt multiple times. Often, the developer will need to get a neighbor to agree to move the fence back to the historical property line before they can get approval to build a small-lot house. If the neighbors refuse to move their fences, it can stop the project dead in its tracks. This is one of your best defenses.

Learn the basics about the parcel in question

Use the following tools to learn more about the parcel in question:

Learn the status of any building permits for the property

You typically only have 21 days from the time a building permit is issued to protest the project via a LUPA appeal. To learn the status of the building permit (and any other permits related to the project):

Check the deed for restrictive covenants

In 2009, a group of neighbors in Mt. Baker succeeded in stopping the construction of a small-lot house once they discovered that the original deeds for each property in the neighborhood included a covenant that stated only one home could be built on each lot. The developer had already purchased a lot and begun planning to divide it. Instead, the neighbors sued, arguing, “one house on one lot means no houses on half lots.” Today, that half lot is a community garden, not a backyard house.

Contact Andy and Bill at the DPD

There are two land use planners at the Department of Planning and Development who handle almost all of the small-lot project applications. These two review the basic proposals submitted by the developers, consult with those developers about their proposals, then rule on whether those proposals are legal or not. These two key decision-makers are Andy McKim (DPD Supervisor, Land Use Planner) and Bill Mills (DPD Senior Land Use Planner).

  • Andy McKim’s email: Andy.McKim@seattle.gov
  • Bill Mill’s email: william.mills@seattle.gov
  • Ask about the status of any boundary lot adjustment request (i.e. when is the decision expected to be delivered)
  • If the lot adjustment has already been approved, request a copy of the “opinion letter” (see a sample)
  • Ask about the status of any associated building permit (or if it’s already been approved, ask for the building permit number)

Ask the DPD for more information

Use the Department of Planning and Development Q&A Service to gather more information about the project.

Get the developer’s plans for the property

The developer’s plans for the property will show not only the new structure to be built, but also the placement and format of the historical tax parcel (and how it may have been reformatted for this project). To get a copy of the plans, visit the Department of Planning and Development Public Resource Center in downtown Seattle.

NOTE: If the project is not being constructed per the approved set plans, you can file a complaint asking the inspector to request the developer submit a “post permit revision” application, which allows any revisions or changes to be reviewed for compliance.

Become familiar with the Seattle land use code

The rules regarding setbacks, structure heights, short plats and more are all covered in Title 23 (the Land Use Code) of the Seattle Municipal Code.

Hire a lawyer/attorney

Included below is the contact information for lawyers/attorneys who have successfully represented homeowners in cases involving small-lot houses:

Hire a consultant

It can be very difficult to determine on your own whether a small-lot house is legal and code-compliant. Fortunately, there are a number of local experts who can quickly root out any infractions:

File a complaint with the DPD

To file a complaint about the project with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, visit this Web page (or submit this paper form).

File a LUPA appeal

In the state of Washington, if you want to appeal a small-lot house project, you must do so within 21 days “of the issuance of the land use decision” (which usually means the issuance of a building permit, but can be interpreted otherwise), and you must do so via a process known as a Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) appeal. This requires a land use lawyer.

See the documents from this neighborhood’s LUPA lawsuit against the city and developers (the suit cost $30k; all the neighbors contributed):

  1. The opening brief
  2. The response from the city’s lawyers
  3. The response from the developers’ lawyers
  4. The neighborhood’s reply to the other lawyers’ arguments
  5. Live blog of the court hearing for the case
  6. The judge’s ruling
  7. Seattle Times article about the judge’s ruling

Also see this LUPA lawsuit filed by a Queen Anne couple:

  1. The original petition
  2. The opening brief
  3. The city’s response
  4. the couple’s reply to the city’s response

Review the Department of Planning and Development’s rules

Learn the rules regarding the protection of “exceptional” trees on the property, construction noise and more on the DPD Codes website.

Track the documents exchanged

One way to track the status of the project is to track the documents exchanged. To see all the documents, enter the project/permit number into this DPD Web page, then click the Search button.

Report any construction infractions

Once the project gets underway, you can report any construction infractions directly to the Department of Planning and Development at this website. If the infraction is serious, these can result in “stop-work orders.”

  • Learn more about how to file a complaint (and how the DPD responds to these complaints).

Report other infractions

If the construction is too noisy, the workers litter, or their equipment blocks streets or sidewalks, you can report those infractions to these city departments.

Buy the property from the developer

Buying the property from the developer (most certainly at an inflated price) may sound ludicrous. But if you talk to the people who have had a small-lot house built next to them, they usually say they wished they’d pooled their money with other neighbors and bought the lot after they learned what the developer was doing.

Estimate your lost value

The impact one of these projects can have on the value of your home can be significant. For tips on estimating that cost, see these resources:

Establish an online presence

Having an online presence is one of the best ways to galvanize neighborhood resistance, garner media coverage and get the attention of city leaders. See the four different approaches these neighborhoods have used:

Distribute flyers

Once you have an online presence, you need to let neighbors know about it. Delivering flyers door-to-door is easy, efficient and low-cost. See this example.

Print yard signs

Yard signs are great for letting the neighbors (and the developer, and the media, and others) know that the community is united in the fight against your neighborhood’s small-lot house. Just be sure to ask permission before placing a sign in anyone’s yard.

Gather email addresses

Keeping the neighbors informed as things progress is important. And email is a very efficient way to do so. However, recipients will probably become disillusioned if you send them messages more often than once a week.

Take photos and video

Whether you’re planning legal action, or documenting the impact, photos and video are very important (and usually something people regret not doing more).

Find the historic lots in your neighborhood

It takes real effort to find the historic sub-lots that qualify for development, because they aren’t included on modern day survey maps. The developers ask real estate agents to keep an eye out, and scout around for potential sites on their own, then hire professional researchers to dig through the historical archives. However, if you are able to find these parcels in your neighborhood before the developer, you can take preemptive steps to keep any small-lot houses from being built: