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The “Smoking Gun” to Provide Amnesty for Illegal Housing Units

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On October 24, our City Council voted 5 to 2 (with Terry Bornemann and Gene Knutson opposed) to accept Policy H-18 of the Comprehensive Plan.

Policy H-18 is a mere 47-word statement playing a minor role in a much grander planning document. My fascination with H-18 began last spring when I read the Housing Chapter of the Comp Plan and noticed its reference to an outside group known as the CHAT (a 2009 Countywide Housing Affordability Taskforce). I wondered, “Why would this group and its 58-page findings now warrant, seven years later, a reference in the City’s 2016 Comp Plan and be deemed worthy of its own policy?”

Here, in my letter to the City Council, I explore a possible hidden purpose behind H-18, and ask is it a back-handed way to grant amnesty to zoning violators and introduce more Infill Toolkit multi-housing units into single-family zones.

For readers interested in reviewing the video in which this topic is debated, tune into City Council, Oct. 24 broadcast from link at bottom of this article.

November 1, 2016

Dear City Council:

I am writing about Housing Policy H-18 in the 2016 Comp Plan Update and its implications for illegal units.

As you know, when the City adopted its rules for ADUs under BMC 20.10.035, it established an amnesty program whereby existing illegal units could apply to become legally permitted without penalty as long as the application was made by December 26, 1996. That seemed like a fair approach at the time.

But what about the illegal units that did not take advantage of the generous amnesty program and the illegal units that were constructed since that time? How will the City treat those illegal units that are identified through the rental registration program and by local residents?

I am concerned that the administration is planning for Housing Policy H-18 to serve as a secondary amnesty program camouflaged as a benevolent policy to provide affordable housing. Is a secondary amnesty program fair to those who applied for permits in 1996? Is it fair to existing residents who have suffered from the City’s lack of enforcement?

Policy H-18’s provisions are designed to undermine single family zoning, and, by doing so, magically make illegal units legal. Is that the real purpose of H-18’s policy that allows for detached ADUs and cottages in single family zones?

Or H-18’s policy that allows for detached two-story garages to house ADUs and the conversion of garages to ADUs? Or H-18’s policy that allows condo development in single family zones? Condos in single family, how is that even possible? Or H-18’s policy to allow duplexes in single family “in some circumstances”?

Or are H-18’s “pilot projects” a mechanism to legalize already built illegal units that will now be elevated to legal status, calling them “pilots”? Yes, all of these provisions are what you voted to continue evaluating as part of the Comp Plan, but these “code changes” were never discussed by this Council.

Policy H-18 was not conceived by the City Council through an extensive review as part of the Comp Plan, nor was it reviewed by the Planning Commission prior to being brought to Council. It retained its mystery status until on October 24 when you received a three-page memo from Mayor Linville during the Committee of the Whole that outlined a series of housing proposals that had not before been discussed. And you voted, 5 to 2, to approve these proposals after having just received a copy minutes before your vote.

You voted to “continue evaluating” ways to diminish single family zoning through the use of H-18. You voted to endorse the recommendations of the Mayor’s Community Solutions Workgroup on Affordable Housing, which had as its participants, according to the Mayor, “builders and bankers,” and was characterized as “a balanced group of people.” There were no participants from the non-building, non-banking community in that workgroup.

On May 23, 2016, I wrote to you to recommend deletion of H-18 because it represented the work of a countywide group from 2009, and the full contents of their recommendations were unknown and not included in the Comp Plan. As the mystery continued, we found out that H-18 was really now intended to reference the recommendation of another group formed in 2014, the Mayor’s workgroup. Its recommendations had not been published either until Oct. 24, 2016, when you received a handout from the Mayor with a full set of recommendations that have never before been discussed during the Comp Plan public hearings.

I believe Policy H-18 has the potential of being a back-door way to allow illegal units to be transformed into legal ones. It lists housing forms from the Infill Toolkit that are explicitly not permitted in single family zones.

I urge you to rescind your vote of October 24 and remove Policy H-18 from the Comp Plan.

Sincerely,

Anne Mackie

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Editor note: the link below is to the 2 hour 25 minutes video of the October 24 afternoon council of the whole meeting. H-18 concerns start at 1:45:45, with Terry Borneman explaining the problem at 1:52:45, with Gene Knutson explaining at 2:05:00, and the discussion continues till 2:17:35 vote of 5 - 2, and a second vote. And then confusion about what they even voted on.

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About Anne Mackie

Writer • Member since Aug 21, 2016

Anne Mackie joined the anti-war movement in 1966 as a Western student and quickly linked up with other political movements such as Radical Women Seattle, where she was a founding member [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Nov 04, 2016

Here is the text of Policy H-18 as amended by the city council on 24  October:

Policy H-18 Continue evaluating the recommendations of the City’s Community Solutions Workgroup on Affordable Housing, including:

 Detached ADUs, small lot and cottage housing in single-family zones;

 Impact fee reductions for ADUs;

 Reduced parking requirements; and

 Other code changes and incentives that allow and encourage well-designed infill development.

 

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Geoff Middaugh

Nov 06, 2016

The critical problem involving H-18 is that it has never been proposed, vetted or presented to citizens and neighborhoods.   This is a failure of governance in the process.    H-18 was created in secret, and is being implemented through the Comp Plan by a trick.   H-18 provides a loop hole to take apart protections in other places of the Comp Plan for single family residential zones.   It’s a bait and switch, under the lure and trickery of “affordability” and “innovation”.    H-18 must be removed and an open discussion on critical affordable housing option undertaken that includes citizen’s and neighbors, and not just bankers and builders.  This open discussion must occur before it is incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan, not after. 

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