Stop It

Now that individual neighborhoods are banding together against backyard/side yard houses, we have a real, viable opportunity to finally close the loophole that allows them to be built. There are also some things you can do on your own.

Follow along as the City Council takes action

The city is trying to do something to control the spread of backyard/side yard houses. Here’s the current status of those efforts:

NOTE: These dates are very loose and always changing. Check back often for the latest. Also, the Department of Planning an Development (DPD) has established this website to help keep people informed about the issue (however, it’s rarely updated).

September 10, 2012 — The Seattle City Council (lead by councilman Richard Conlin) unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on the construction of any more tall, skinny backyard/side yard houses (projects that already have building permits will be allowed to continue, as well as projects constructed on tax parcels larger than 2,500 square feet, in most cases).

March, 2013 — The Department of Planning and Development made public its preliminary recommendations for permanent building code changes regarding backyard/side yard houses.

June, 2013 — The DPD made public its final recommendations regarding permanent building code changes.

September, 2013 — After receiving an outpouring of feedback and criticism regarding its recommendations, the DPD produced a revised set of recommendations for the permanent building code changes.

September, 2013 — The city council extended the moratorium for another six months, because the city (the city council and the DPD) needed more time to work on the permanent building code changes.

January, 2014 — Richard Conlin (the council member leading this effort) was voted out of office, and the sub-committee he chaired was revamped.

March 10, 2014 — The city council again extends the moratorium for another six months, because the city (the city council and the DPD) needed more time to work on the permanent building code changes.

March 13, 2014 — The DPD makes public its final, formal proposed building code changes for backyard / side yard houses (this memo outlines the proposed changes in easy-to-understand terms).

April 1,  2014 — The DPD will formally present the building code changes to the Planning Land Use and Sustainability committee during the regular PLUS committee meeting (in the city council chambers at City Hall). Public comment during this meeting is allowed and encouraged.

April 18, 2014 — The Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed building code changes (this is your chance to sound off about the issue, face-to-face, with the city council members who will be making the final decisions about what the new building codes will be).

April – May, 2014 — The Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee will debate the details of the proposed building code changes among themselves, meet with lobbying groups and, most likely, make changes to the original proposals based on what they hear from the public and lobbying groups.

May 6, 2014 The Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee will vote on whether the proposed building code changes are ready to submit to the full city council (public comment during this meeting is allowed and encouraged).

May 12, 2014 — The PLUS committee will present its finalized changes to the full city council, and the full council will hold a short public hearing, then vote to approve the changes or not (it would be very unusual for the legislation to not be approved at this point).

May, 2014 Once the changes are formally approved, the emergency moratorium will be ended and the new building codes implemented.

See a detailed summary of all that’s occurred to this point.

Our objections to the current recommendations

In February, 2014, the Department of Planning and Development released its final recommended building code changes for backyard / side yard houses. While those recommendations close a number of the loopholes developers have been abusing, there are still a number of big problems not addressed, and some of the new ideas suggested create new problems:

Let the City Council know what you think

The Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (a committee of the Seattle City Council) is deliberating how to make backyard/side yard houses more “appropriate” for their surroundings. The members of that committee need to hear from people like you. 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:

Meanwhile, developers Dan Duffus and Mark Knoll have hired well-known Seattle lobbyist Roger Valdez to pressure those city leaders into watering down any development regulations. The name of their lobbying group: Smart Growth Seattle.

Don’t believe what Smart Growth Seattle is saying

From the very beginning, a few developers have been distorting the facts and arguing that Seattle’s building codes for backyard / side yard houses need to be loosened, not tightened. Now they’ve hired a professional lobbyist and formed a lobbying group called Smart Growth Seattle.  Learn the truth about their arguments.

Share these reports

Show people these photos of Seattle backyard/side yard houses so they can see that the project in your neighborhood is not an anomaly, but rather just the most recent example.

Show people this report so they can see that the developers are selling these houses for an average of $700,000 apiece (while arguing that it’s affordable housing).

Get to know the developers and their tactics

Learn more about the developers, architects, contractors and lobbyist behind these backyard/side yard projects:

Lobby your City Council members

Members of the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee have been receptive to requests to review the building codes that allow backyard/side yard houses to be built. But they won’t push for it until they hear from more disaffected neighbors and neighborhoods. Get their names and contact information, then send each of them a letter:

Lobby the Department of Planning and Development

Diane Sugimura is the director of the Department of Planning and Development. Send her a note and let her know what you think of backyard/side yard houses.

Lobby the new mayor

On January 1, 2014, Seattle’s new Mayor, Ed Murray, took office. Shortly before then, in a November 6, 2013, radio interview with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds, Mr. Murray listed the issue of “neighborhood density” as the second item on his Top Five list of to-dos as mayor. Let him know that backyard/side yard houses need to be a priority.

Engage the mainstream media

Most mainstream reporters aren’t much interested in writing a story about just one neighborhood’s backyard/side yard house. That’s too focused for them. But if you present the project on your street as the latest in the ongoing epidemic of backyard/side yard houses, then you just may get the attention you seek.

Engage your neighborhood media

The blogs and newspapers that serve your neighborhood should be interested in running a story about the backyard/side yard house on your street.

Write a letter to the editor

When an article about development appears in the newspaper, take a few minutes to write a letter to the editor about backyard/side yard houses. Studies show that the opinion/editorial section of most newspapers are by far the most-read pages. Plus, this kind of reader feedback encourages the paper to continue reporting on the subject.

Request a code amendment

If you think the building code should be amended so that these old, historic tax parcels can no longer be built upon, take a few minutes to say so on this DPD request form.

Add a restriction to your deed prohibiting a backyard/side yard house

To protect your own property (after you sell), you could add a restriction to your deed stating that your property can never be divided or a have backyard/side yard home built upon it. But making such a restriction stick is difficult. A more effective approach would be to get your neighborhood to add a “plat restriction” to everyone’s property.

Other actions you can take

You’ve got to make an extra effort and get involved if you want to stop developers from building more backyard/side yard houses.

  • Distribute this website to others (most Seattleites don’t even know this issue exists – until a backyard/side yard house pops up next-door).
  • To volunteer your expertise, contact us.
  • Help us show the city council that there’s widespread citizen support for reigning in the spread of backyard / side yard houses by becoming a supporter.