Character - The Content of Bellingham’s Neighborhoods Part II

For the February issue of Whatcom Watch I wrote an article entitled, Character - The Content of Bellingham’s Neighborhoods. In the April issue of the same newspaper, Shannon Maris, a self described “residential designer” and Happy Valley resident, wrote a riposte to my article entitled, A Different Take on Neighborhood Character. In that article, she ostensibly corrected assertions made by me while she promoted a YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard) project in Happy Valley to rezone the single family areas to permit detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs).

Ms Maris tried to clear up what she thought were misconceptions on my part. Unfortunately, what she wrote was confused. To be exact, as to the topic of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in general, attached ADUs are allowed in both multi and single family areas. Detached ADUs are only allowed in areas zoned multi-family. In 1995, detached ADUs in single family zones had to register and meet current code to remain legal, essentially grandfathered. Further creation of detached ADUs in single-family areas was no longer permitted. The 2009 Infill Tool Kit, which included detached ADUs as a housing form, explicitly excluded the Tool Kit from use in single-family zones. Therefore, Ms Maris’s contention that the Tool Kit (along with detached ADUs) was authorized in single-family zones is incorrect, only new legislation by a Type VI process can do that.

Ms Maris also tried to defend against fears about the creation of ADUs in single-family zones by citing the statutory limit of 20 such units per neighborhood, at which time a review of the ordinance is required. This is true but not reassuring. A review of the city’s ordinance on ADUs was kicked off recently by the permitting of the 20th unit in Sehome. The problem Ms Maris fails to mention is the proliferation of unpermitted/illegal ADUs in our neighborhoods, notably in higher density areas such as York, Sehome, South Hill, etc. Unfortunately, there is no current inventory of these unpermitted units and the city will not investigate these units unless a code violation complaint is filed. This pits neighbor against neighbor, not exactly the kind of action that brings cohesion to neighborhoods. So the automatic brake that Maris cites as a control is a fiction. Complaint-only systems do not work. We saw that with complaint-only enforcement on rental conditions and now the results of rental inspections are proving the point.

There appears to be several other points of misunderstanding. Ms Maris contends I suggest that “landlords in single-family zoning can add another residence to all their existing rental properties if the detached ADU ordinance goes through.” I did say, “Some landlords are certainly eager about the possibility of adding dwelling units on single-family property rentals.” She also states “To say it is WWU’s responsibility to house all of its students states the impossible and improbable.” when what I said was “Western Washington University has chosen not to be a player in Bellingham housing issues, and has spent the last 40 years increasing enrollment by about 50 percent without adding to its existing, on-campus 4,000 bed dormitory space.” Finally, Ms Maris wrote that I proposed “ take all the rentals and make them affordable housing.” Context is important as I wrote this, “Here’s the problem: the city wants neighborhoods to take on more density, but there has already been a continuous, hidden density increase over the decades, a de facto up-zone to boarding house districts. And landlords won’t voluntarily relinquish these cash cow illegal rentals, which removes single-family homes from the market and drives up purchase prices for all. Single-family rental homes should be returned to the market as affordable housing.”

At the end of her article, Ms Maris took the opportunity pitch the Happy Valley YIMBY project that I mentioned above. At the March 13th meeting of the Happy Valley Neighborhood Association, “they” voted (Was it just the board voting or a general meeting of Happy Valley residents?) to ask the city for a rezone of all their single family areas. The requested rezone would allow the building of detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) that are currently only permitted in multi-family zoned areas. The Happy Valley action is termed a “pilot project.” Ms Maris claims it will add no more than 6-10 units, although she does not say how many permitted units already exist or how many unpermitted units might already be in Happy Valley, perhaps taking the actual count to 20 before they even begin. Nor was there any indication whether these 6-10 units already exist and the owners are looking for legalization. What they really need is a moratorium until the number of permitted plus unpermitted units is determined.

Nonetheless, if the pilot project does not work out, it will be difficult, albeit impossible, to roll it back. Units once built would have to be razed. One legitimate fear is that the proliferation of DADUs would open the door to investor or homeowner misuse as illegal vacation rentals to maximize income while depriving permanent tenants of rentals units. Hundreds of vacation rentals are listed in the Bellingham area, as Bellingham Herald reporting on the topic has shown. Since attached ADUs are already permitted in Happy Valley and are cheaper to build, why all this folderol about detached ADUs?

The planning department has stated that the Happy Valley pilot project would be brought forward through a Type VI legislative process and would take place concurrently with the citywide ADU Ordinance update that was initiated in 2015 but then sidelined while the Comprehensive Plan update occurred. City planning staff meets this week to discuss re-initiating the overall ADU Ordinance update. In late April or May, the planning department is looking to reconvene the ADU focus group that met several times last year. The group consists of neighborhood and business representatives. Planning Commission work sessions would follow and flow into the Type VI process mentioned above. That means both the Planning Commission and City Council would gather input on the proposal and hold public hearings before voting on the new ordinance or the Happy Valley proposal.

Before we as a city move on ADU code revision, we need to resolve the vacation rental problem. If not, neighborhoods may be well inclined to heavy skepticism about ADUs absent effective controls and the very existence of illegal units. Concomitantly, the Happy Valley project must be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that it represents the consensus of the general membership of the Happy Valley Neighborhood Association and not just that of a handful of board members acting as surrogates for particular homeowners.

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About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Apr 11, 2017


Once again, I’d like to propose a truce - or moratorium - or total ban on the intellectually lazy terms NIMBY and YIMBY.  In fact, life is more nuanced than black & white.  When life’s gray areas are considered, we are all MIMBYs (Maybe In My Back Yard) because the devil is always in the details, and no one wants everything in their back yard.

As Catherine Gross, PhD and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University writes, Calling people NIMBYs won’t stop development arguments.

Rather than using ill-conceived labels to dismiss, out of hand, legitimate concerns of those who will be affected by adverse consequences, wouldn’t it be preferable to have a genuine dialogue with those who might be impacted; listen to their concerns; and determine together which ones need to be addressed and mitigated?

Please, let’s stop using intellectually lazy labels to dismiss the legitimate concerns of others and focus on working collaboratively.


I applaud Happy Valley’s desire - and attempt - to address the need to provide affordable housing, but I’m concerned that their pilot project is taking energy away from where it really needs to be focused: on the elephant in the city.

More than 15% of Bellingham’s population consists of students attending WWU. In adjacent neighborhoods such as Happy Valley, Sehome, South Hill and York, the percentage is much higher. Creating solutions to properly house WWU students who do not live with their parents is, by far, the best way to alleviate pressure on housing preferred by working families and provide affordable housing for those falling through the cracks.

The NXNW project on Lincoln is now housing 600 students that were either renting – or would have rented – other homes and apartments. When completed, the project on Forest Avenue will house another 400 students. WWU is planning to add capacity for another few hundred. There are places in the Samish Way urban village, along Bill McDonald Parkway, and on the old Regal Theater property to accommodate several hundred more.

In addition to these projects, in his comment on Nextdoor, Sean Wheeler identified several single-family and multi-family housing projects already in the works that will provide more than 3,000 housing units.  When combined with the projects specifically designed for students, it appears we are well on our way to addressing any housing shortage that may exist.  As Sean asks, “Would it not be wise to allow these projects, which have the capacity to significantly influence our local struggle with housing, to be borne out in the next 1-3 years?”

Let’s prioritize, and let’s not promote solutions in need of a problem.  Ten or twenty ADUs in Happy Valley will have absolutely zero impact other than to create problems for the neighbors who live near the ADUs.  On the other hand, if we focus on providing appropriate housing for Western’s students, we can free up hundreds of single family homes, duplexes and more family-oriented apartments.  Doing so will create a significant supply of affordable housing.

People suggest that we can prevent sprawl. Impossible! We can postpone it a year or two but only by sacrificing what’s actually livable within the city.  The GMA requires that the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods be protected.  RCW 36.70A.070(2).  Based on the ADU horror stories I have heard from more than a dozen fellow residents, there is considerable evidence that detached ADUs in single family neighborhoods will have the potential to do significantly more harm than good.

Before we introduce new adverse impacts in these neighborhoods, would it not be better to work together and focus on the elephant in the city?


David Camp

Apr 12, 2017

 I’m amazed at all the heat generated by the simple proposal to allow detached ADU’s in single-family neighborhoods, where attached ADU’s are already permitted. Oh shock horror! And the main arguments expounded above by Dick and Larry are: 1) The illegal detached ADU’s that exist are terrible! and 2) we don’t need the additional housing stock because development.

Detached v. attached form of ADU is a trivial and meaningless difference - it seems to me the bigger issue is WHO can build them - only owner-occupiers, or also commercial landlords. I think restricting ADU’s to owner-occupiers only is sensible policy - it allows younger homeowners to do what they have done for years in Bellingham - buy an older house and improve it with sweat equity - this improves neighborhoods because the investments are being made by people who live there and will rent to compatible people who will not be a neighborhood problem.

Housing is increasingly expensive in B’ham - legalizing detached ADU’s can make housing more affordable for young people starting out and also improve neighborhods. We want young people to be able to afford houses and live in them in Bham - and not create more absentee landlord houses with short-term tenants. And by all means for comfortable older people like DIck, Larry, and myself- we won’t be building ADU’s in our backyards - but how selfish and ultimately bad for our neighborhoods to tell young owner-occupiers they can’t.


Larry Horowitz

Apr 12, 2017

David, less than a year ago I had no opinion on D-ADUs.  Then Anne Mackie invited me to attend a meeting of a group she founded, the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition (BNC).  I did.  And there I learned from fellow residents why THEY oppose expanding the ADU ordinance to include D-ADUs.  

You claim that it’s selfish to essentially observe the law as it stands.  But not a single “young owner-occupier” who owns a house in a single-family zoned neighborhood purchased their home with the right to build a D-ADU.  Old people like Dick and me are not trying to take something away from these young owner-occupiers.  But those who want the law to change are trying to change the rules for all existing single-family homowners after the fact.  How is that more fair?

Why are you so dismissive of legitimate concerns?

And what makes you think City Council won’t eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement, as a majority attempted to do during last year’s comp plan revision?  If D-ADUs are allowed and Council then removes the owner-occupancy requirement, single family neigbhorhoods will be irrevocably changed… and not for the better.   For those who have invested a significant portion of their life savings, there is an unwritten social contract that certain rights will be protected.   Some of those protections for established residential neighborhoods are codified in the GMA.

I encourage you to attend a BNC meeting.  If you do, please come with your ears open.  You may learn something.


David Camp

Apr 12, 2017

Hi, Larry -You ask “Why are you so dismissive of legitimate concerns?” Well, I don’t think disagreement is dismissive - it’s just disagreement!

As a practical matter, I don’t see a whit of difference between a detached and an attached ADU - I really think all the hoo-ha in this regard is unjustified - EXCEPT that it is important to keep it unavailable to non-resident landlords.

I think the much bigger issue is affordability - because the less affordable homes are for young people the more non-resident-owned rentals we will have. Do you doubt the rental market is underpinning Bellingham house prices? We need to encourage owners, which means making it possible for young people to afford to buy. And one affordability tool for renovating first-time buyers is to rent out part of their house - or build and rent out an ADU.

We have a saturation level of rentals in many neighborhoods - York and Happy Valley, e.g. - the demand is very high. Better in my opinion to satisfy this demand with owner-occupied rentals than more non-resident landlords. The infill toolkit if properly restricted to owner-occupiers will help make home-ownership more affordable for first-time buyers. Otherwise we will continue the emerging trend and have neighborhoods consisting only of older homeowners and young renters renting from absentee landlords. And first-time buyers will have to go further afield. Do we really want that?


Larry Horowitz

Apr 12, 2017

David, disagreement is a good thing.  But when you embellish with flippant phrases like “Oh shock horror!” you become dismissive.  I respect you and your opinions, so you have no need to overstate your point of view.

Clearly, it is your opinion that there is no “whit of difference between a detached and an attached ADU.”  Great, we now know your opinion.  But consider the fact that the city passed a law around 1995 that allowed attached ADUs but not detached.  Why would those Councilmembers have done that?  Did they not know there was no whit of difference?  Or is it possible they had a different opinion than you?

The people I’ve listened to feel very strongly about not allowing detached ADUs in single-family zoned areas.  Your primary argument seems to be (but please correct me if I’m wrong) that allowing DADUs will improve housing affordability.  Based on evidence I’ve seen, the jury is still out, but I defer to those who know more.  

If someone is looking to purchase an affordable home, it seems to me that, all things being equal, the one with a DADU would cost more than than one without a DADU.  How many years of renting the DADU before they could break even, both in terms of outlay and cash flow?

You wrote earlier that “the main arguments expounded above by Dick are Larry are: 1) The illegal detached ADUs that exist are terrible! and 2) we don’t the need additional housing stock because development.”  I don’t believe your understanding of my argument is complete.  When I wrote about the elephant in the city, my primary concern was the lack of focus on priorities.  Perhaps I was too nuanced, so please allow me to clarify.

To solve the affordable housing problem, we should prioritize the solutions that will provide the most bang for our buck and focus our energies there.  Detached ADUs are a sideshow compared to providing appropriate housing for WWU students who comprise more than 15% of Bellingham’s population - and a greater percentage in nearby neighborhoods (Happy Valley, Sehome, South Hill and York).  Providing student housing will free up many more affordable single family homes for young people to purchase than a dozen or so detached ADUs.

The reality is that we are housing way too many students in single family homes because better options are not available.  Correct that imbalance, and many of the issues you seem to be concerned about are well on their way to being resolved.

The ADU issue is distracting our focus on priorities.  While there may be some benefit to legalizing DADUs, the net benefit when considering the adverse impacts on those who will be affected is negligible, in my opinion.  I don’t see how it’s worth the effort to engage in that dogfight.

David, thank you for disagreeing with me and allowing me to clarify.



David Camp

Apr 12, 2017


I don’t disagree that more student housing is required - WWU has expanded mightily these last ten years and has housed only a teeny fraction of these new students. Part of the problem seems to be that an institution like WWU is capable of building only high-cost units or none at all- leaving accomodating most of the additional students to private landlords.

But I think you misunderstand me - you say “If someone is looking to purchase an affordable home, it seems to me that, all things being equal, the one with a DADU would cost more than than one without a DADU”.  Well, yes - but you are putting the cart before the horse - I’m talking about people who buy fixer-uppers and who would then build an ADU, thereby increasing the value of their property by their own work.  This is why York and Happy Valley, the Lettered Streets and Sehome, are such vibrant and desirable neighborhoods - people have bought houses there and renovated and improved them themselves. No government subsidies needed, no grants, no programs - just a permit to build!

And permitting owner-occupiers to build ADU’s, detached or attached, would both increase the rental stock and also help them afford their houses - and improve the neighborhoods!

Finally - what’s the diff, really, between a detached and an attached ADU? Yes, Larry, I have an opinion - but honestly, you haven’t given even one argument supporting any distinction between them. What is the actual difference? Why the distinction? Enquiring minds want to know!

And thank you, Larry, for all your positive civic activities. I think we agree more than we disagree! Thanks for the opportunity to respectfully disagree on this issue. No offense intended - I grew up in a household where sarcasm was used in family discussions - oh the horror! - so thanks for making me make my point in a rather more long-winded way!




Larry Horowitz

Apr 12, 2017

David, always enjoyable to engage in dialogue with you.  

Regarding the scenario you have presented: people looking for an affordable house who buy a fixer-upper and then build a detached ADU; I’m not buying it.  If affordability is the primary concern, how can they afford to build a detached ADU?  Who would loan them money to do so?  I can’t see there being more than a dozen people in search of affordable housing where legalizing a DADU will help.  And, as you’ve argued, if there is no whit of difference between an attached and detached ADU, why wouldn’t they just add an attached ADU, which is perfectly legal, to the fixer-upper?

As I wrote previously, less than a year ago I had no opinion on D-ADUs.  But I have since listened to many fellow residents describe the adverse consequences they have experienced.  Do I remember every story?  No.  And I hope those who have had personal experience will chime in.

Certainly, poorly designed DADUs have the potential to dramatically reduce sunlight that reaches their neighbors’ yards and homes.  I’ve listened to people complain that DADUs have blocked many hours of sunlight from reaching their gardens and have darkened the rooms in their homes.  Attached ADUs have much less affect on sunlight.

As well, those who previously enjoyed substantial backyard privacy can lose most, if not all, of that when a new detached ADU is built next to them.  

I have no proof, but I suspect that an owner-occupied attached ADU will result in less noise than a detached ADU where the owner is not under the same roof.  Again, no proof, just using common sense.

Those who have views are also likely to be more affected by a DADU than an attached one.  

These are just a few off the top of my head.  Again, I have no personal experience, but I have spent a fair amount of time listening.  To some extent, I’m simply trying to represent my fellow residents.  I do so because (obviously) I have the time; but, also because I am concerned about the very clear writing on the wall that single family neighborhoods in Bellingham will die a death of a thousand cuts, just as single family neighborhoods have in Seattle and other larger cities.  

My dog in this fight is the preservation of single family neigbhorhoods.  DADUs are simply another cut, but you don’t need to be Nostradamus to figure out where this is headed.   

For anyone living in an established residential neighborhood who might also be concerned about where we are headed, consider getting more organized because governments like to marginalize those who stand alone.  The Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition (BNC), founded by York resident Anne Mackie, is an alliance of community members working together to ensure that:

- The vitality and character of established single family and multi-family neighborhoods are preserved as the city accomodates additional growth and development; 

- Bellingham’s urban villages are targeted for future infill projects; and

- Existing residents and taxpayers are not unfairly burdened with the costs associated with growth and development.

Please consider attending a meeting if that’s of interest to you.

Again, David, I really appreciate hashing this out with you.  I have long enjoyed our conversations and always look forward to them.  Having one’s views challenged is a fast-track toward clarity.

Best, Larry

PS - My better half, who has apparently been tracking our whereabouts, just reminded me of two important aspects of legalizing DADUs:

1) The city has absolutely reneged on its responsibility to enforce existing ADU regulations.  They have no clue how many legal and/or illegal units exist, and they refuse to develop and provide an inventory.  They also have failed to enforce the so-called ‘rule of three’ law, which has allowed boarding houses with 7 bedrooms to proliferate.  Given the city’s history, how likely is it they will enforce any new DADU laws and guidelines?  How can we trust them to do so?  And why would we legalize more when they refuse to determine how many already exist?

2) As opposed to an attached ADU, the DADU can be sited on the owner’s lot as far away from the owner’s house as possible and as close to the neighbor’s house as possible.  Your neighbor’s DADU can be within 10’ of your house.  TEN FEET.   That’s five feet LESS than the distance between the foul line and the basket.   You can shoot free throws to each other!  Great for practicing your shot, but not so much for privacy and peacefulness.   While the DADU provides the owner with benefit, the neighbors pay the cost without any compensation.  Where’s the fairness in that?


David Camp

Apr 14, 2017

Larry - as always, the devil is in the details. In the York neighborhood, much of the housing has alley access and detached garages or shops along the alley. How nice for a homeowner if they can convert these into a small detached adu. With strict limits on square footage - I’d suggest 400 sq ft of living space maximum - and requirements to be in character with the neighborhood and not overlooking the neighbors’ backyards. This kind of incremental construction does not require a massive investment other than in labor - no subsidies, no grants, just owners putting their labor into making their house and their neighborhod better.

As it stands now, a detached ADU is not an option and I think it should be - because only a small fraction of houses are set up to permit an attached adu especially in the older neighborhoods. The current setup is inequitable.

Also - I know there are adu horror stories - I’ve met the lady whose neighbor was permitted to build a monstrous pile of an adu that overlooked and shaded her backyard - with proper guidelines, this would not occur. And there is no way an alley-facing adu would be closer to a neighbor’s house than to the owner’s house - I think you are talking about 10 ft. setbacks, Larry. Your free-throw metaphor is cute but a fantasy.

The City is in a tough position regarding enforcement - they represent all the people, and that includes a lot of landlords and young people living 4 or 5 to a house. SO sure, they could send in a swat team and demand papers from everybody living in a rental, and arrest those who don;t pass the rule of three. Good luck with that - it’s unenforceable, as a practical matter.

And, as always, good discussion, Larry. Thanks for making me spend time and think deeper about the issue. In general, IMHO, City policy in regard to housing should minimise public spending in favor of encouraging private activity by homeowners - this is why our older neighborhoods are so nice and spruce - because the people who live there take pride in and work on their houses. Anything we can do to make home ownership more affordable will make sure homeowners, and not absentee landlords, thrive.


Larry Horowitz

Apr 14, 2017

David, I could not agree more: the devil is in the details.

So, in York, the details suggest that detached garages already exist is some places and would not need to be constructed.  The problem, of course, is that very few neighborhoods are like York.  Again, details.   Should we allow D-ADUs only where existing structures exist?  Would you consider that equitable or inequitable?

Another detail is that single family neighborhoods were designed for a single family to live in a single structure on each lot within the neighborhood.  At what point do the changes we make convert the initial design to something else? Do these changes effectively reneg on the social contract (promise?) that people relied on when they purchased their homes?

Another detail is that every time you give something to someone, you take something away from another.  Each gift is inocuous, but the cumulative effect can be substantial.  Where are we today on this slippery slope?  How many of the thousand death cuts have already been inflicted on existing residential neighborhoods?

You suggest that the “current setup is inequitable.”  I’m not sure I agree.  No right is being taken away.  Is there a single person who purchased a single family home in Bellingham who was promised they’d be able to build (or convert) a D-ADU when they purchased their home?  Yes, attached ADU’s became an added benefit in 1995, but, by your accounts that represents subtraction by addition.  Does that calculate to you?

You indicate that with proper guidelines, the “monstrous pile of an adu that overlooked and shaded” a lady’s backyard “would not occur.”  Really?  Out of nowhere we are to expect the city to enforce their regulations?  It seems more likely that the monstrous pile of an adu actually violated existing laws that were not enforced.  To expect the city to establish good, enforceable laws and then actually enforce them is a gigantic stretch.  

Here’s an idea:  Let’s take a wait-and-see approach.  Let’s see if the city will enforce existing laws whose failure to enforce has already allowed innumerable illegal units.  (They are not actually innumerable; it’s just that the city refuses to inventory them even though the comp plan requires an inventory before enacting new law.)

Regarding enforcement of the ‘rule of 3’, I won’t respond to your swat team sarcasm.   The city already acknowledged they created a crappy law they cannot enforce, but have promised an enforceable revision that involves fines rather than jail time.  Again, let’s wait and see.  Fool me once…

We are in definite agreement about the desire to promote home ownership and replace absentee landlords.   Let’s keep putting our heads together (or knocking them as the case may be) until we get it right.

My best to you,


PS - I forgot to address your comment, “And there is no way an alley-facing adu would be closer to a neighbor’s house than to the owner’s house - I think you are talking about 10 ft. setbacks, Larry. Your free-throw metaphor is cute but a fantasy.”

First, I wasn’t refering to an alley-facing D-ADU.  Many, if not most, SF neighborhoods don’t have alleys.  

Second, you know me well enough to know I don’t tend to over-exaggerate my positions, and I generally have a fact or two to support them.   The Happy Valley DADU Pilot Project, which is the city’s trial balloon for its citywide DADU ordinance revision, requires only a five foot setback from the adjacent lot.  For proof, see Figure 20.xx.060(A) on page 3 of the Happy Valley Pilot Project draft ordinance at the link below.

Two five foot setbacks is a total of ten feet between structures, which is five feet less than the distance between the free throw line and the basket.  Cute, but, unfortunately, no fantasy.

Here’s the link to Happy Valley’s DADU Pilot Program Overlay District: Happy Valley DADU Pilot Project


David Camp

Apr 15, 2017

Wow, Larry - good discussion. To your points:

1) The “social contract” is whatever we as a society decide it is. Our messy democracy is a way of doing this - and it involves citizens doing exactly what we are doing - which is debating alternative ways forward. Here’s the problem - Single family neighborhoods, which occupy the majority of the developed land in Bham,  were laid out in the days of Leave it to Beaver. Well, society moves on, and more and more people are living in single-PERSON households today than at any time in history. So our housing setup should be adjusted to reflect social reality, don;t you agree? What we are debating is ways to do this. I think it is important to encourage owner-occupancy over absentee landlords, and I think you agree on that, also. And I think we should minimise public spending and rely on the efforts of private people. Permitting ADU’s to owner-occupied housing accomplishes all these goals.

2) The current situation is inequitable because it allows only for a specific type of ADU - which is not available for most housing situations. This is the inequity that allowing detached ADU’s overcomes.

3) There are mechanisms which work well for neighborhood comment on proposed construction to make sure it meets neighborhood standards- which should include ADU’s. I’m not sure of the particulars of the monster ADU but were there objections during this process? I’ve seen this process result in significant adjustments to an original plan in another jurisdiction - where neighbors were involved in the process and it was a City-“adjudicated” decision. Yes some people will be unhappy whatever the outcome but generally in my experience people will work with their neighbors to come to a result acceptable to all.

4) Ok here’s my serious non-sarcastic point - the rule of three is unenforceable and it’s a complete waste of time debating it or trying to get the City to enforce it - you have to acknowledge the reality of how people live TODAY and not be continually fighting a reactionary rearguard action. Yes we should not be permitting construction of new rental units with more than 4 (e.g.) bedrooms - the 7 bedroom unit that replaced the Moss house in the 1200 block of Humboldt a case in point of undesirable buildings - this is a PERMITTING issue, not an enforcement issue after-the-fact. Any regulations or zoning changes should address this upfront.

5) Re: setbacks - most houses in York are about ten feet apart - this is standard in the older parts of the city - so sure, I could throw a free throw into my neighbor’s living room from my dining room - so what? It sounds cute to say it like that but the reality is that’s urban living.

6) I’m happy to review all the above with you after we see what happens on the Happy Valley DADU pilot project. I hope it succeeds.

As always, nice visiting with you, Larry. Thanks for all you do.



Larry Horowitz

Apr 15, 2017

David, the numbers are a nice touch, which I appreciate.

1) When one enters into a contract, the terms cannot be changed unilaterally after the fact.  Families who purchased single family homes have invested a significant portion of their assets to do so.  In your mind, changing the social contract after the fact is ok.  But that’s not how contracts work.  Note to self: Avoid entering into contracts with those who want to change them unilaterally after the fact.

2) I disagree that the current situation is unfair.  Nothing has been taken away from anyone.  That said, something was given away years ago that some are not able to take advantage of.  You want to give more to try to balance that, but that’s how the slippery slope (and death of a thousand cuts) begins.  If the city were to offer another lollipop now, what prevents those who can’t lick it from complaining about the inequity in the future?   Not to mention the inequity of those who suffer the adverse impacts of each new lollipop.

3) The public comment system has been broken for years.  I have participated in that system for more than a decade, and I know first hand that plenty of crap is permitted against tremendous public objection and outcry.  The public comment safety net has more holes than swiss cheese.  Are you seriously asking us to trust the city to do the right thing?

4) Regarding the rule of 3, we are in agreement.  The reason rooming houses have proliferated in single family neighborhoods is easy to understand.  WWU failed to accommodate its student population growth, and the slack was never picked.  We don’t have adequate facilities to house the portion of Western’s 15,000 students who rent their accommodations.  That said, between the two student projects on Lincoln and Forest and the commitment by Western,  another 1,700 or so student rooms have - or will - become available.  Additionally, more apartments that may be suitable for students are being constructed that should free up single family homes.  There are always delays when the pendulum has swung to the underbuilt side.  In time, it will swing back to the overbuilt side, and we’ll fondly remember the good old days when our homes were overvalued.

5) David, again, the setbacks in the Happy Valley pilot project are 5 feet, not 10 feet.  As a result, the distance between houses is 10 feet, not 20 feet (which is more akin to a 3-point shot than a free throw).  You claim “so what… that’s urban living.”  Maybe in York, but not everywhere.  Again, that rezone is a major shift from what many single family homeowners invested in.  The GMA requires that the vitality and character of single family neighbors be protected and preserved.  Each cut may not change the vitality and character much, but unless we begin to consider the cumulative effect, we’ll be boiled alive without any knowledge.

6) The Happy Valley DADU pilot project and the citywide ADU ordinance revision are being brought forward by city staff concurrently.   What’s the point of having a pilot project if the citywide revision is being done at the same time?   

David, although it may not appear to be the case, I really enjoy your unique perspective and insights, and I’m glad you share them freely.

Best, Larry


David Camp

Apr 19, 2017

Larry - I’m happy to debate you but I really wish you would not use misleading arguments. For example, you equate the democratic process that results in zoning laws, which you call a “social contract”,  to an actual legal contract. This is simply not true and very misleading - it is a disingenuous argument.  When you enter a contract to buy a house, there is no contract with the local municipality that your zoning and what you can do with your property will remain the same forever. And no, you cannot invent a “social contract” out of whole cloth. Very creative but, really, Larry, a bad faith argument designed to mislead people who don’t know any better.

Second, you defend an unsustainable car-based suburban layout as somehow an ideal. It is not. The layout of pre-car neighborhoods like York or Sehome should be the model for sustainable living - which means less waste of urban space on car-sustaining items (massive garages; no public transport; huge driveways) and more focus on making the City liveable for walking, biking, and public transit - which means more efficient use of space. My house, like most houses in York, is ten feet from my neighbor’s - why is this such a problem for you?

Third, you state the current system is not unfair - without any supporting argument. It seems to me that only very few homeowners can build an attached ADU - and since detached ADU’s are not permitted, the much greater number of homeowners who could build a detached ADU are treated very unfairly. Inequitably. Surely we should have equity under the law?

I think we have a pretty good democracy at the City level, despite your complaints. Just consider how quickly Council withdrew the detached ADU permission for landlords after all the hew and cry - sure, sometimes staff and Council try to game the system but Council is very responsive in my experience to reasonable citizen concerns. 

As always, enjoyable jousting with you, Larry.




Larry Horowitz

Apr 19, 2017


One: It has never been my goal to mislead anyone, especially NWC readers.  I believe everyone reading what I’ve written is well-equiped to judge whether their truths are consistent with my truths.  I am disappointed you have judged me to act in bad faith.  I have never thought that of you.

Please help me understand your comment.  Which of the following are you saying I invented out of whole cloth: the social contract concept or this particular established neighborhood social contract?

Clearly, the social contract concept has been around for a long time.  I’m not implying that everything you read on Wikipedia is accurate, but Wikipedia lists eight philosophers who wrote about the social contract, including Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  The social contract notion is certainly not a fabrication I created.

Regarding the established neighborhood social contract, I believe the GMA, as amended in 1995 by SSB 5567, provides support.  Among other things, the GMA was enacted to protect the “health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents” of Washington State.  

The 1995 amendment of the GMA elevated the protection of the vitality and character of single family neighborhoods to a requirement, not merely a goal.  As I’ve written elsewhere, that’s critical, because none of the 13 often conflicting planning goals listed under RCW 36.70A.020 are required to be met. The legislature’s elevating the established neighborhood social contract to a requirement was a significant, and as far as I know unique, legislative move. 

And, while it’s true that circumstances do change, the GMA protection of established residential neighborhoods has been firmly in place for more than two decades, and in my opinion, rightly so.  Why else would people make their largest investment in their homes?  Without some understanding that conditions would, more or less, remain the same, it would be too riskly to purchase single family homes.  It that the ultimate goal?

You wrote that I tried to equate a legal contract and a social contract.  I disagree.  I was simply comparing the two.  Clearly,  they are different.  One is based in law and the other in morality.   Is one superior to the other?  I challenged your apparent belief that it’s “ok” (a moral question) to change the social contract after the fact.  I did not write that it was illegal.

Two: I do not consider myself to be “the defender of the unsustainable car-based surburban layout as somehow an ideal.”  I am not that deep or complex.  And I don’t have any problem that your house is ten feet from your neighbor’s.  I suspect it was ten feet when you purchased your home.  But had it been 20 feet and your neighbor wanted to illegally move it to ten feet after the fact, I would be the first to defend your right to maintain your 20 foot buffer.   

The point I was making in my prior comment is that the Happy Valley pilot project provides for five foot buffers for a total of ten feet between buildings and that my free throw analogy, which you challenged as “cute but a fantasy,”  is in fact valid.

Three: Thank you for forcing me to clarify why I believe the current system is not unfair.   Everyone who purchased a single family (SF) home in a SF-zoned area prior to 1995 bought their homes without any right to build an ADU, either attached or detached.  

In 1995, the city changed the law to allow the addition of an attached ADU.   No rights were taken away.  You claim that that those who could not build an ADU were treated unfairly.  I disagree.   In truth, I have a difficult time understanding why someone could build a detached ADU and not an attached ADU, but I admit I can be spatially challenged.

Four: We’ll just have to agree to disagree about how well the city responds to public input.  I have more than a decade and a thousand hours of experience, so I stand by what I know to be true.  

Regarding the example you cited, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.  I believe the “hew and cry” was over City Council’s majority vote to remove the ADU owner occupancy requirement from the Comp Plan, with the intention of ultimately removing it from the development regulations.  While that decision was walked-back two weeks later, the proponents made it clear it will be brought up again.  

Do I trust them?  No.  I may have moved here from North Carolina, but I cut my teeth in New York.

If we are to continue this dialogue, I believe alchohol (or at least Arnold Palmers), and lots of it, is in order.  Maybe shoot some free throws while we’re at it.



David Camp

Apr 21, 2017

Larry - I think we are reaching the point of diminishing returns here - sorry to impute bad faith to you - I’m just getting impatient with all the verbiage! After all, we are unlikely to change the other’s opinion - you oppose ADU’s in general in  single-family neighborhoods, and the rest of the infill tool kit similarly. So you represent the “Nay to all” side of the box.  I’m not opposed to ADU’s, but they should be restricted to owner-occupied houses and subject to neighborhood review.  Hopefully the achievable middle of the box. I just wish certain Council members would not try to define the “Yes to everything for everybody including commercial landlords” side of the box!

That’s it - I’ll take you up on your offer soon. Free throws not my thing - drinking and talking work well tho!



Larry Horowitz

Apr 21, 2017

Nice chat, David.   Just to confirm, we are only talking about Detached ADUs (DADUs) here since Attached ADUs are already legal.  

I would not say I represent the “Nay to all” side of the box.  I am open-minded and understand gray areas and nuances, but I like to make sure adverse impacts are fully considered before irrevocable changes are instituted.

I do not oppose the infill toolkit, but any application of the infill toolkit in single family zoned areas should be fully vetted as opposed to being ramrodded into existence like the city did in Sunnyland.  The city requires a Type VI process for inclusion of toolkit housing forms in single family.   That’s good.  Unfortunately, a Type VI process was not followed in Sunnyland.  Has a precedent been established?

Inf the future, perhaps it would be better to ask my opinion rather than box me in based on an incomplete understanding.

Take care,




Larry Horowitz

Apr 21, 2017



Shannon Maris

May 01, 2017

In  response to Mr. Conoboy’s evaluation of my article…

He says I am confused on where D-ADU’s are allowed. The  statement in question was taken directly from the City’s website as noted.

Detached ADUs are allowed in single-family zoning with exceptions as noted in the “Guide for ADUs in single-family zones.” (2)

In which case, the City is confused ?

As much as some would like to think D-ADU’s are black and white, yes or no… there are indeed a grey areas.

I am aware of members of the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition citing examples of structures that don’t have an ADU, D-ADU, or rental, were built to legal setbacks, current building codes and fully permitted - perfectly legal single family homes - used as reasons to fight the D-ADU ordinace ? Now THAT’s confusing!

I have been designing for over 15 years and have filed hundreds of permits in both City and County for a variety of projects including ADU’s, legal conforming ADU’s, and In-Fill Toolkit projects in multi-family zoning. I know more than the average bear about residences, and I have been transparent about my occupation by stating it in beginning and ending of my article. I am not perfect but I did research my article very carefully because of the  mis-information that is being presented and because, as stated in my article, planning/zoning and permitting is not for the faint of heart - it is very complex with many layers and contradictions.

As another online entry stated “What’s all the fuss? Attached accessory dwellings are already legal!”

We had a great Yes! In My Backyard event on Saturday with a highly qualified group of professionals from many different areas gathered to share and answer questions, and field concerns about the possibility of adopting alternative forms of housing. Is is unfortunate you were not there to benefit from that opportunity.

One shocking statistic mentioned from the affordable housing speaker was that mean average house price in Bellingham is now $356,000 requiring an income of $90,000 to purchase - but  Bellingham isn’t offering those types of employment. Surprising fact #2 : 71% of Bellingham households have 1-2 people.


Dick Conoboy

May 03, 2017



The “Guide for ADUs in single family zones” is not the city ordinance which is clear on ADUs and other such housing types.   Here is the ordinance:

20.28.020 Applicability.

A. The housing types in this chapter are not permitted in residential single zones, neighborhood commercial zones or property regulated by Chapter 16.80 BMC, Lake Whatcom Reservoir Regulatory Provisions, except in those areas that were annexed into the city after 1995 with a “mixed” qualifier that allows multifamily residential, and in Area 8 of the Sunnyland neighborhood. The housing types in this chapter are permitted in all other zones that allow residential, including specifically designated areas of urban villages. In the residential multi-duplex zone, only small house, smaller house, cottage, detached accessory dwelling unit, carriage house and duplex are permitted.


Shannon Maris

May 03, 2017

Yes, Area 8 is single family and has a special restriction to use detached ADU, and so are single family neighborhoods in Urban Villages of which Bellingham has several urban villages - thus the “grey zone” of allowed with special restrictions.

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