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Why all the Hyperventilating Over Granny Flats?

By On
• In Bellingham, Planning,

Under current zoning laws, Bellingham homeowners are permitted to build Attached Accessory Dwelling Units (AADU’s) in their yards. The unit must be connected with a wall and a common foundation, IIRC. In practical terms, this means not very many have been built over the years they have been permitted. I know of only one in my entire neighborhood (York). The City now proposes, in order to mitigate a housing shortage and a massive affordability crisis in the City to permit the construction of Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADU’s) in single family neighborhoods.

This seems to me to be a pretty good idea - given the astronomical house prices in town how on earth can a young family afford to buy a home other than by sharing their space with relatives or friends in order to cover the mortgage? And if they can build a small DADU or granny flat in their back yard, this can be part of a solution to both the housing shortage and the affordability crisis.

But the devil is in the details - I met a lady whose quiet enjoyment of her backyard was ruined by the neighbor’s construction of a massive DADU that both shaded her garden and destroyed her privacy with several windows that overlooked both her yard and into her house. Obviously this is unacceptable. And another unacceptable thing would be to permit commercial landlords to build DADU’s and further cement the grip of commercial rentals on our single family neighborhoods.

So my proposal for permitting DADU’s to take these factors into account would be:

1) Only permitting DADU construction by owner-occupiers;

2) Maximum DADU living space of 400 sq. ft. - no monster DADU’s;

3) No DADU windows can overlook their neighbors’ yards;

and 4) a new DADU could not shade its neighbors’ gardens between 9 am and 3 pm at midsummer’s day, the summer solstice.

A few explanatory comments:

1) In order to avoid stealth DADU construction by commercial landlords, renting the DADU as a separate unit would only be permitted to owner-occupiers.

2) the proposed 800 sq ft. limit appears to me to be excessive - it is certainly too much for the smaller lots in the older parts of town such as York or Sehome, where lots are in the 4000 sq. ft. range. However, perhaps larger footprints could be permitted on larger lots in, for example, Birchwood, where lots of a quarter acre or more are common.

3) It seems reasonable to me that a neighbor’s new DADU should not result in my every move in my yard being monitored by its inhabitants. This may well mean that a DADU can only have skylights for natural light, maybe a frosted bathroom window as well.

4) My own front garden is shaded by large trees and effectively moves us a full climate zone north - our plums and apples ripen about three weeks later than those on the next block. So my proposal is to provide a simple method of DADU height control based on an easily-measured shading indicator. And considering that we are near the 50th parallel, the time of year shading is measured is critical - I can shade my neighbor’s yard this time of year by sticking my head over the fence!

I think that with these safeguards to protect neighbors’ and community rights, DADU’s can provide additional housing in our housing-short town, help young families to afford to buy a house in town, provide employment for those very same young families, increase the tax base, and improve the housing stock, all with no government money and using private financing and labor.

However, to hear the people vociferously opposing DADU’s, they are the righteous fighting the invasion of the the most evil proposal that has ever infected City government. They are inviting out of town activists to bolster their cause, sponsoring petitions, and attacking proponents using insult and threat. I’m not naming any names in any of this, but these people are all retired, privileged and if not wealthy, very comfortable financially. I’ve been personally insulted by one of them on Nextdoor for daring to disagree on this issue - and he’s supposed to be a moderator on Nextdoor! One of my neighbors swears that one of these anti-DADU types turned him in to the City over some renovations he was doing to his back house. And another neighbor is afraid to speak up because he’s an AirBNB host and has had veiled threats (which I’ve also heard) “I don’t know why these AirBNB people are speaking up when they are operating illegal businesses”. All this is very disturbing - very improper shutting down of public debate using tactics that can only be called draconian.

I’ve been working up a collective name for the anti-DADU types - the “Axis of Nimby” is sort of applicable, but they are trying to interfere with YOUR private enjoyment of your private property - perhaps the “AXIS of NIYBY” (Not In Your Backyard)! And maybe this is the key to their methods - they don’t care about your private property rights - because they know better and are righteous and you are wrong and to be shut down by all means - which is why they use Stalinist methods - they are collectivists!

Well, they are wrong in my opinion. This is America, not a totalitarian state and private property is the basis of our economic system. And involving myself in this thing has given me more insight into what our public representatives put up with - just the rudest and most disrespectful behavior on a civil matter from people who should know better. Anyway, my message to the City is the majority of people who could and would benefit from DADU’s are too busy working for a living to stick their heads above the transom and take fire from the Axis of NIYBY. Stay the course, within reason, of course.

About David Camp

Writer • Member since Jul 12, 2009

David Camp is a cpa (Canada'86; USA'96) and MBA (Schulich'88) who toiled thirty years in the corporate salt mines, counting beans and telling stories to the auditors and whatnot. Now [...]

Comments by Readers

John Lesow

Jan 16, 2018

David—as a fellow Canadian, you can appreciate, likely more than most, the experience of Vancouver and Surrey, B.C. and their failure to address “affordability”.  

Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson announced last week that he would not seek re-election after 10 years at the helm.  Despite his numerous campaign pledges to address housing  “affordability”,  housing prices and rents have skyrocketed during his tenure. 

99% of the homes in North and West Vancouver are valued at over one million dollars.  73% of the homes in Vancouver City and the Lower Mainland are valued at over one million dollars.  Well out of reach for most. 

Although Robertson and his developer-friendly administration built a scattering of new “affordable” housing units during his term,   such construction has  had no effect on affordability for the average citizen.   Vancouver has TRIPLED the density on single family lots to encourage ADUs and carriage houses and has ruined whole single family neighborhoods like Marpole in the process. 

Robertson then suggested that QUADRUPLING of density might produce better results.   We are talking about 12-15 people on a single family lot here.  How can you promote that kind of density, which has no effect on affordability, and pretend to maintain a decent quality of life and no additional strain on City services like police, fire, garbage, parking etc.?

The City of Surrey, just south of Vancouver, has been allowing illegal suites in single family neighborhoods like Clayton Heights for the past few years in an effort to address their  housing crisis.   As a result of the overcrowding that followed, the City of Surrey has received over 400 citizen complaints for  excessive garbage, crime, noise and traffic in the neighborhood.  Plus over 7200 parking complaints.    

Last November, the Surrey  starting issuing eviction notices to  those 175 residents (including children) that occupy these ADUs.  This is after collecting property taxes from those same residences with illegal suites.   The nerve.   

After the predictable march on City Hall, the evictions were postponed until the end of this month to give the Surrey planners and Councillors  time to deal with the problem.   But there will be no solution.   The problems of overcrowding will remain as long as irresponsible governments allow irresponsible planning to further a political agenda.

Here’s another acronym for you:    NIMTO.   Not In My Term Of Office.   That’s when local governments use land use policy to advance their political agenda and then leave the mess for the next administration to clean up.

Like Vancouver  and Surrey.   

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 16, 2018

John, thanks for providing real-world experience with DADUs.

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Thomas R. Scott

Jan 17, 2018

Unfortunately, the discussion when put into context is about upzoning either by amending single family (SF) zones until they are de facto multi-family (MF) zones that are SF in name only, outright abolishing SF zoning or lack of enforcement to curtail illegal uses with a wink and a nod from the City.  Granted, David is not advocating abolishing SF zoning, the lack of enforcement or outright illegal uses, none the less the context beyond David’s arguments is extant and colors this debate.

I’ll only address name calling and disparagement by either side of a given issue such as NIMBY, NIYBY, “rich”, racist, exclusionary (neither of the latter used by David but others including members of our City Council have indulged themselves with such disparaging terms) by considering it identity politics which add nothing constructive to the dialog or debate.

As for upzoning, de jure or de facto, as noted above it increases the market value of the land and aggregate structures thereon. Increased market value increases assessed values/taxes (relative to other properties), purchase prices, financing costs and rents (based on all the aforementioned). Conversely, it reduces “affordability”.

With the exception of MF apartment structures with economies of scale and structure and, sometimes in conjunction with subsidies, increased density has an inverse relationship to affordability.

In conjunction with “short term rentals” removing long term housing stock and the a minimal increase in supply from ADUs, illegal boarding houses and other illegal uses results in an apparent net loss of housing stock or supply vs. gradually increasing demand. Eventually, we are no longer treading water but slipping below the waves on affordability.

Regarding property rights, those living in or moving into SF zones do so with expectations of a SF environment and costs (affordability due to lower market values).  Zoning is the stable long term compact by which we all agree to abide by relatively and reasonably compatible land use between neighbors.

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David Camp

Jan 17, 2018

@John Lesow - as a fellow American, why would we think we have anything to learn from the Peoples’ Republic of Canuckistan? ;>}

Seriously, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland’s housing issues are an order of magnitude greater than ours. Not only is it a conurbation of 2.5 million people,  more than ten times the population of our entire County, it also is a magnet for immigrants, many wealthy - 52% of its population has a native language other than English.  Of course it is now the third most densely populated city in North America after San Francisco and New York, considering immigration has more than doubled its natural growth over the last 50 years.  That it is still quite livable and pleasant is rather a testament to the City’s government - do they really deserve your criticism considering the monumental job they have to manage this scale of growth?  And growth they have no control over since immigration is controlled by the federal government that leaves the downstream effects to local jurisdictions.

Our main issue  in B’ham is the growth of WWU’s student body from 3,000 students in 1960 to about 17,000 today with no commensurate construction of student housing. My own neighborhood is roughly 50% rentals mostly occupied by groups of single people despite its zoning as “single family”. How could it be otherwise considering where the growth in our population is coming from?  And a significant proportion of these rentals is owned by commercial landlords who profit mightily from rents of $500 or more per bedroom. 

IMHO permitting DADU’s to owner-occupiers would provide a way for young families to afford to buy houses and rent out the DADU - and perhaps an opportunity for commercial landlords to sell some of their housing stock and realize capital gains which are taxed at a very low rate - 20% ! Imagine that!

 

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Geoff Middaugh

Jan 17, 2018

Let me get this right.  Because I am retired, want to protect my life long investment in my home, am motivated to work with the City on this effort, have participated for 12 years on COB dictated processes, only to have the rules change in the middle of the game.    Hmmm.    I have opposed the COB’s and the planning commissions relinquishment of my trust in their process, I guess vociferously, but I don’t think I’ve been rude, I don’t think I ignore other peoples positions, and I don’t think I should be “stereotyped” by Mr. Camps shrill words.   Yes, we may have a lot of common ground, and our perspective about property rights may be similar.   But neighbors and neighborhoods should have a voice also.   We have defined the issues of owner occupancy, size and bulk, setback’s parking, public safety and others.   But this personal attack on people, this made up silly acronym, and this focus on those who just want a say in the process doesn’t serve the discourse.        

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David Camp

Jan 17, 2018

@Tom - I agree with you that the dialog on this issue and others, which should be civil as it is a civil matter, is often debased to the level of insult and ad hominem - which is not only unpleasant it’s disrespectful of fellow citizens. That was really my point because I have been insulted and disrespected on NextDoor for daring to disagree with some of the opponents of DADU’s. 

However, I don’t think it is wrong to identify the opponents of DADU’s as NAYBY’s - because they are trying to stop me and everybody else from building a DADU on their own private property.  And let’s not kid ourselves - the people who have the privilege of time to engage in this debate are generally older and wealthier than the young families who find housing unaffordable.  IMHO a young family that builds a DADU to rent out is improving the neighborhood - because they will rent to people who will be good citizens,  unlike an absentee landlord who will rent to whoever pays the rent, including a gang of rowdies partying it up every weekend. Can you see an owner-occupier renting out their space to problem tenants? 

Finally, a word on AirBNB - consider the young family with a DADU they rent to a couple of students September-May . Why should they be prohibited from AirBNBing  that unit over the summer when the students are not in town? This seems nonsensical to me. Just plumb mean. 

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 17, 2018

We are undergoing death by a thousand cuts as the city slides down the razor blade of affordable housing.  Instead of looking at the whole, we are looking into polishing holes like DADUs which solve nothing and distract from the larger issue which unfortunately is ill-defined, if defined at all, and as a consequence without measurable goals and coordinated means to arrive at those goals. 

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 17, 2018

Like a teen learning to drive, the city must learn to look farther up the road than the hood ornament.  Public banking, a topic that I have already brought before the city council and where it rests like road kill, can do so very much for cities and other jurisdictions across Washington State, not only for affordable housing but for financing myriad public projects (think jails?) at lower cost to the taxpayers.  Paul Alexander writes  “How a Public Bank Could Relieve Seattle’s Housing Crisis”. It can happen here to but the council and the mayor have to look beyond the hood ornament. 

“In order to meaningfully address the housing crisis in Seattle, it must be done at the local level; it must come not merely in the form of taxes that can be lifted or expire. Nor must it come from developer partnerships that prioritize luxury housing profits in exchange for tossing in a modicum of affordable units. Most importantly, the right to housing must not wax and wane with the stock ticker. We must build institutions capable of holistically and comprehensively addressing our housing needs until there are no more impoverished citizens sleeping on Seattle’s streets, or devoting half their paychecks to the roofs over their heads — and we can start doing this right now.”

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Tim Paxton

Jan 17, 2018

Q: Has anyone ever seen or experienced  the City actually enforce the current rule about ADU’s or Boarding Houses on their block?

 

Q: Should there be a new city Charter Initiative formed to put ALL neighborhood planning back to the input, control and approval of neighborhoods?   With actual enforcement.

 

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Thomas R. Scott

Jan 17, 2018

Steering away from comments about privilege and other pejoratives buzz words and dog whistles…

I would note that many of on both sides of these issues are not retirees.  Not myself a retiree, I would still contend that not only do they have a right to sit at the table but bring much in experience, and yes, time and energy.  Many in this debate have to participate as amateurs fitting time in outside of work.  Of course professionals also take part (politicians, non-profit employees, trade organization employees and trade business owners). Fair, unfair, frustrating or not, it is the playing field we have and a good thing too.  Thank you First Amendment, long may you last.

ADU’s have often been put forward as a method to make home ownership more affordable both for those starting out or otherwise with a burgeoning income and for those wishing to age in place on a fixed income. It is a laudable and sometimes works.

Bellingham already allows attached ADUs (AADUs) in Single Family (SF) zones as long as owner occupancy is maintained.  Arguably AADUs are more affordable and less obtrusive than detached ADUs (DADUs) given that AADUs require less in construction materials than DADUs for the same square footage of living space.

So the discussion here regarding DADUs is about a slightly more expensive building model and is against a backdrop of a City which has no real idea of the actual housing stock of the ADU type in its various forms and a City which really only pays lip service to enforcing existing zoning, ordinances and regulations.

The point of the last paragraph is that we, Bellingham, could do well to get our house in order through actual enforcement efforts and having real data from which to make such decisions.

Regarding short term rentals, anecdotal evidence (again, given that the City has done little to nothing to obtain evidence) as well as Planning Commissioner and industry insider comments about their practices and desires to exploit that opportunity to the fullest (182 days per year under present law with zero evidence of enforcement ) would indicate that the young couple renting out a second unit over the summer is more the exception than the rule.  Either way, micro motels and even not so micro hotels (apartment buildings) used in this manner circumvents zoning (bringing a de facto hospitality inside residential districts) and circumvents hospitality industry regulations and taxation.

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David Camp

Jan 17, 2018

@Geoff Middaugh - I see you are offended by the process the City has followed - in not engaging neighborhoods and those who have spent the time involved over the long haul such as yourself. And emotions are apparently running high on this issue - you berate me for “personal attacks” when I have done no such thing - rather I am responding to personal attacks on me for daring to disagree in a public forum. And your objections ring a bit hollow when you characterise my writings as “shrill words” - which seems to me to be a personal attack!

If you want to “further the discourse” as you accuse me of not doing - why not address my proposed DADU rgulation ideas? Instead you huff and puff and get all offended, is this what you mean by “furthering the discourse”? 

Don’t take your frustrations over how the City is dealing with this issue out on me please. I’m trying to get something useful done in a reasonable way. 

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David Camp

Jan 17, 2018

@Tim Paxton:

Q: Has anyone ever seen or experienced  the City actually enforce the current rule about ADU’s or Boarding Houses on their block?

DMC - Not really - in my opinion it is unenforceable because probably 50% of the houses in some neighborhoods are occupied by more than 3 unrelated persons.  

Q: Should there be a new city Charter Initiative formed to put ALL neighborhood planning back to the input, control and approval of neighborhoods?   With actual enforcement.

DMC - not unless you had a formal electoral process for “neighborhood” bodies that had legal weight and formal rules. Otherwise you would rule by those who have the time and little representation for those who work for a living. Like it or not, we have an elected City Council and Mayor who are accountable to ALL the neighborhoods. I don;t like a lot of what they do, but accept that I can;t always get my way in matters that affect everybody.  That’s why I support freedom for individual property owners to, within reasonable rules and limits, organize their properties as they choose. Freedom, you know - what a concept!

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David Camp

Jan 17, 2018

@Dick Conoboy - I actually agree with your second comment’s tangible recommendation : Yes a public  bank is an excellent idea - more at a State level than municipal, IMHO, but you are on the right track here. My reasoning is different than yours, however - we need a public bank for State legal cannabis businesses to do ordinary banking, which is denied them by the corrupt and stupid federal prohibition regime. I’m glad you agree!

As to your second point: 

“In order to meaningfully address the housing crisis in Seattle, it must be done at the local level; ....Nor must it come from developer partnerships that prioritize luxury housing profits in exchange for tossing in a modicum of affordable units. “

I agree with this also - which is why I support getting out of the way of individual homeowners to organize their properties as they see fit and according to their financial needs. No public financing needed, no subsidized developer profits, just free Americans building their own spaces as they see fit.  In an economy increasingly tilted to monopoly interests, we need to do all we can to support the yeomen (yeopeople?) who have been under attack since the beginning of the neoliberal regime in the eighties. Free Americans. We ARE the government, right? 

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 17, 2018

 

The third paragraph of this article starts, “But the devil is in the details.” I agree. Here are a few details worth considering:

1) Property Rights: Property owners in Bellingham’s single-family zoned areas do not currently have the right to build a DADU. However, they do have the right to not have their neighbors build one. No one is taking away anyone’s property rights or preventing them from the private enjoyment of their private property.

As stated in the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition comment letter:

Zoning, permitting, and nuisance laws all factor in the most basic understanding that what someone does on their property affects their neighbors. Such laws and regulations exist to ensure that the use of a property does not infringe on the rights of neighbors. Clearly, adding another housing unit on a single-family lot has the potential to change many attributes of the properties and neighborhood around it.”

2) Affordability: Housing affordability in Bellingham has little, if nothing, to do with the fact that DADUs are not legal. Raising that issue is just silly. If legalizing DADUs would have any impact on affordability, then the staff report on the ADU ordinance update would have stated so. Instead, two other benefits were listed, and neither was housing affordability. The City of Seattle has also removed affordability as a reason to promote ADUs.

3) Enforcement: Suggesting more regulations for the city to enforce is a non-starter. In fact, the city’s failure to prevent rooming houses in single-family neighborhoods is the primary cause that those houses are not affordable.

As the Seattle Hearing Examiner, Sue Tanner, found when reversing Seattle’s Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) for Seattle’s ADU Ordinance, a tipping point is created when investors are able to profit from buying homes and renting them out. This tipping point occurred when investors could rent single-family homes by the bedroom at a minimum of $500 per month each. Coupled with creating bedrooms out of essential ‘thin air’, these investors began renting fairly small houses for $2,000 and $3,000 per month.

The city’s failure to enforce their own regulations, the failure to build appropriate student housing, the ability of investors to create cash cows out of working family homes all created the tipping point that represented a “fundamental change to the land use form.”

Legalizing DADUs will only exacerbate the affordability problem because the city will then fail to enforce the owner-occupancy requirement and enable investors to rent the house and the DADU.

Anyone who thinks that these ‘safeguards’ will protect the livability, vitality and character of single-family neighborhoods has not been paying attention to the city’s failure to enforce them.

4) Process: The city’s process to legalize DADUs in all single-family zoned areas leaves a lot to be desired. It took 8 pages to address them all and list some recommendations. Of course, no one wants to read an 8-page letter, but I’m not going to provide that detail here.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 17, 2018

But here’s a link to Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition’s 8-page letter for anyone motivated enough to read it.

 

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Mike Rostron

Jan 17, 2018

The Bellingham Neighborhood Coalitions’s letter is well worth the read. Excellent summation of the issues and situation. I hope council members will read it carefully, but even if they understand, many have their agendas.

The fact that only about 43% of the houses in Bellingham are occupant owned says everything about what Bellingham is becoming. That statistic, combined with education level, pretty well correlates to the rate of property crime, among other negatives. Just a casual comparison of  two other Northwestern middle sized cities: shows the general trend.

Bellingham: 43% owned; 59 property crime

Walla Walla: 88% owned;16.6 property crime

Nampa, ID: 58% owned; 39 property crime

These statistics, which show the general pattern, are availble from census data, and sites like Sperlings. Not surprisingly, ownership confers care, responsibilty, and concern for community.

A town of mostly rentals ultimately becomes, as our president would so elegantly say: a s%$*hole town. And Bellingham is well on its way.

I no longer have skin in the game, having moved out of Bellingham recently, but things are pretty much the same all along the I-5 corridor, fast becoming a polluted, overpopulated quagmire. One thing for sure; destroying the beautiful old single family neighborhoods won’t help matters.

 

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John Lesow

Jan 17, 2018

David,

The traffic congestion, unaffordability and decline in quality life in Vancouver and Surrey are a direct result of bad government policy,  lax code enforcement and irresponsible land use decisions.

They are real-time examples of what could happen in Bellingham, albeit on a smaller scale.   Reminds me of the old hackneyed saying about “Smart Growth”—-it’s no better than Dumb Growth, it just gets you there in First Class. 

 The attempts in Vancouver and Surrey  to address affordability and housing issues by densification of established neighborhoods have resulted in more crime, traffic congestion, loss of privacy and tree canopy, noise and streets clogged with illegally parked vehicles. 

Read my comment to Dick Conoboy’s December 7, 2017 article, “City’s First Step to Rezone/Upzone Single Family Neighborhoods” for the full story. 

If you are really interested, click on my link,  “start issuing eviction notices” for Global News coverage, complete with video, of the problems the city and the residents are dealing with as a result of irresponsible behaviour by Surrey and it’s Planning Department.   These problems  are now coming home to roost.

The relative size and ethnic composition of Vancouver and Bellingham are immaterial.   People are people.   They do not do well when packed into tight spaces.   Social problems ensue.   Yet Bellingham is on the verge  of densifying single family neighborhoods without considering any of these documented negative impacts. 

 A Determination of Non Significance  for the upcoming DADU zone change?   Ridiculous.  If Bellingham ignores the impacts and  passes this re-zone, the City should be sued.   Just like Seattle was when they tried to ignore their DNS requirement  for a similar and  ill-advised rezone.   Seattle lost. 

Your photo of the San Diego “Granny Flat” is quaint.   Does it have a bathroom?  Tub or shower?   Wheelchair accessible ?

It would make a great tool shed or workshop.    But I would not let any Granny of mine live there. 
 

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@All - if ADU’s are such a terrible thing, why are people in Portland not up in arms over their very permissive ADU regime?

Actual real world experience suggests very few of these ADUs get built. Portland has only around 1.5% of ADU eligible lots built, see below: 
 
 
“Portland has some of the most permissive zoning for ADUs in the country. Almost any homeowner is allowed to add one, and the city has encouraged property owners to build them by exempting them from certain fees and parking requirements.”
 
 
 
“As many as 116,644 lots qualify as “ADU friendly,” according to an analysis done for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office. (Granny flats are technically known in Portland zoning code as “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs.)
...
As of March 2, [2017] just 1,795 properties have ADUs. It’s a relatively small but growing number. According to the Portland Tribune,  the city issued 615 permits last year alone.”
 
1,795 / 116,644 = 1.53% 
 
Growing around 0.5% a year 
 
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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@Mike Rostrom - Bellingham property crime is low compared to just about any comparable city in Washington - and property crime rates are less than half what they were 20 years ago, Your cherry-picked examples - Nampa and Walla Walla - are not particularly comparable - Nampa an agriculture-based town which has grown recently as a bedroom community to Boise, not a college town; and Walla Walla  also an agriculture-based town with a population of less than half Bellingham’s. 

I agree, however, that the trend towards more rentals as a proportion of total housing is not good. Where we disagree is that I think permitting DADU’s would encourage more young people to buy homes because if they can build a DADU it can make that home more affordable. This is how it has worked in Portland - see my links above.

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@John Lesow - you continue to blame Vancouver’s government for problems that are at root caused by massive immigration over the past 50 years - and ignore this elephant in the room. Since more than half Vancouver’s population is foreign-born, do you not think it reasonable to conclude that the city would be half its current size with just natural growth? 

Almost all the problems you cite as caused by city government incompetence are the natural consequence of crowding massive numbers of foreigners with different cultural norms into the city. I think the city has done a  pretty good job under the circumstances. 

And the granny flat that you deride is about the same square footage as the average bachelor apartment in one of those thirty story monstrosities built out all over Vancouver - would you really rather live cheeck by jowl in one of those massive warehouses for humans or rather in a nice little house in a garden?  I know where my granny would rather live.

 

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John Lesow

Jan 18, 2018

David,

I lived in Portland for 10 years—from 1970 til 1980.  Worked, went to school and raised a family.   Also active in a citizen’s movement under Mayor Goldschmidt to prevent the unbridled construction of highrises in the downtown that were killing the views from the hillside residential areas that surround Portland and creating traffic problems downtown. 

I can assure you that the quality of life in Portland neighborhoods;  Eastmoreland, Irvington, Council Crest, etc.  was a damn sight better then  than what  exists today.     Due in large part to the activism of  citizens in these, and other close in neighborhoods,  who fought to keep the developers and freeway builders from destroying their homes with ill-advised boondoggles like the Mount Hood Freeway.

Moved to Vancouver in 1980 and spent 15 years living and working in several neighborhoods and suburbs.   Can further advise that  living in  Vancouver during the 80’s decade was better by any rational measure.  Traffic, crime, congestion, loss of green space, etc.   All these problems were  much less onerous than the conditions that exist today. 

Considering that  Vancouver has not added ONE new bridge lane to the Lions Gate and Ironworkers bridges since 1959 , back in the 80’s commuting was still  manageable.  Today it is not.   

 Vancouver has the worst traffic congestion in Canada.   Even though it’s population of 650,000 is considerably smaller than Toronto or Montreal.   

My point is, and continues to be, that infrastructure and services have not kept up with increases in population numbers and density.   This is a result of bad planning and weak civic politicians that never met a development scheme they didn’t like.    

The idea of Concurrency—which is at least given lip service in Whatcom County,  is not given consideration by politicians and planners in Vancouver. 

 I attended a forum on Housing and Transportation  last year and raised the question of building infrastructure prior to, rather than after construction to a panel of planners and politicians.  They were not even familiar with the term “Concurrency”.   A quick look around Vancouver today bears witness to their ignorance.

Vancouver does not even have a Planning Commission.   So I guess we are fortunate in Whatcom County to have both City and County review of planning activities by citizen representatives.   Whether or not they are effective in truly making responsible land use decisions is an open question.    

 

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John Lesow

Jan 18, 2018

   

 

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@John Lesow - Desirable Cities like Portland and Vancouver attract people which can and does paradoxically make them less desirable through crowding. And protecting neighborhoods from multi-family development causes property values to rise, creating affordability problems. 

So the problem is how to maintain the quality of life  with healthy neighborhoods while creating space for new residents above the natural increase in population thru migration?

One issue is demographic - you and I are part of the baby boom which is occupying disproportionate housing space - how many empty-nesters do you know who live in one bedroom of a three- or four-bedroom house? Neighborhoods need to “turn over” so young families can start out. This is a natural life process that other societies handle with multi-generational housing units. Where the grandparents anchor the house, looking after the kids while the parents go out to work. Not an arrangement that is common in Anglo-Saxon culture - but very common in Italian and Sikh cultures, for example.

DADU’s can permit this turnover - by providing smaller housing spaces for empty-nesters and freeing up the main house for younger members of the family.  Or alternatively providing housnig for newly-married children who need a separate space from their parents. Or bachelor housing for adult children. My point is people organize their lives according to their free agency - if we are serious about affordablility and quality of life for younger people we need to make it possible for them to create living spaces rather than monopolizing all space and lamenting the loss of quality of life.

And permitting DADU’s for owner-occupiers is a positive step in this direction. 

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@John Lesow - re: Vancouver bridges - yes the City has not grown - almost all population growth has been in suburbs that rely mostly on automobile transportation to get to work, shop, etc. This is a problem in a world warming as the result of CO2 from totally irresponsible fossil fuel usage.  Public transportation is the answer, not more roads and bridges for cars. 

Also strict controls on immigration. If you are serious about maintaining quality of life you want less crowding, not more. I look at large cities in China or India - where the quality of life is infinitely worse than in any North American city - the result of unbridled population growth. Why should we want this to be our future? It will  be if we don’t strictly control population growth through immigration.

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Mike Rostron

Jan 18, 2018

Check your facts, David. Bellingham crime rate of 360 per 100,000 in 2016 was higher than the national average at 280.  Bellingham’s crime rate did edge down from 2002-2012, but has been creeping up the last several years, driven mainly by property crimes and assualts—typical for places under population growth stress. Bellingham’s crime rate is significantly higher than the overall Washington state rate of 280, which is similar to national average.

Bellingham is in fact comparable to my two examples. Bellingham is in a county noted for its farms and dairies, and has acres of land even in the city limits devoted to the storage, freezing, and shipping of produce. Walla Walla, including East Walla Walla, is the size Bellingham was 30 years ago, and is also a college town. Nampa has almost the same population as Bellingham, and over 19,000 college students at College of Western Idaho. All three communities have a long agricutural history. The only real difference is Bellingham’s status as a port, which for decades has had a surprisingly small economic impact on the city.

The point would be the same regardless of the size and history of the cities. Destroying single family neighborhoods by handing them over to developers and using them to increase city density has more negative than positive effects. Rapid population growth is always a bad thing (like cancer), and generally cannot be prevented, but it should not be encouraged, and those who profit by it should pay the for the needed infrastructure improvements, not the citizens.

Anecdotally, when I first moved to the Sunnyland neighborhood in 2002, virtually every single one of my neighbors reported thefts, vehicle prowls, and burgleries during my first two years or so there, though Sunnyland was and is one of the lower crime areas of the city and county. Our lawnmower was stolen from our yard in broad daylight on a sunny Sunday afternoon in 2003.  We had several vehicle prowls and break-ins. But we did notice that as the north Sunnyland (the single family zoned area north of Alabama) went through a period of higher owner occupancy during the years from 2002 to about 2012, the crime rate seemed to go down significantly. This seems to be confirmed by the statistics, and is related to population growth rate, which dipped some during the recession, then accelerated again.

I have lived in four states and at least a dozen cities, and never experienced any property crime or vehicle prowls until moving to Bellingham. 

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Bellingham-Washington.html

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 18, 2018

Why all the hyperventilating over granny flats?  Where do I begin?

1) The Planning Commission’s bait-and-switch, which began as a Happy Valley (HV) pilot project and morphed into a citywide upzone all of single-family zoned areas, is a major step backward that undermines the decades of deliberate Neighborhood Planning by replacing neighborhood plans with overreaching, top-down, cookie-cutter directives that fail to respect neighborhood input.  Happy Valley was (theoretically, but not really) allowed to vote on the fate of their neighborhood.  The rest of us had this forced down our throats.

2) This autocratic upzone constitutes a breach of the city’s 2009 promise to only allow infill toolkit housing forms into single-family neighborhoods IF a proposal is submitted by the neighborhood association, property owner, or developer.  Other than in HV, there are NO such proposals.   If you support the city’s top-down directive, you are also supporting the city’s breach of its promise.  Eventually, the city will renege on all of its promises and bite you in the ass.

3) The city has absolutely failed to consider and evaluate the probable and significant adverse impacts of this citywide upzone.  These potential impacts are listed in BNC’s 8-page letter for those who have a long enough attention span.

4) The citywide upzone will not achieve the prime objective stated by Planning Commissioner Iris Maute-Gibson - to increase housing inventory.  It only increases land capacity.  Not the same thing.   If legalizing detached ADUs now could directly increase housing inventory, then wouldn’t legalizing attached ADUs back in 1995 have done so?  That’s now how this works.  A fuller discussion can be found in BNC’s 8-page letter.  (See the theme here?)

5) The city’s process failed to meet the GMA requirement for early and continuous public participation.  Guess where you can read more about that.

6) The city failed to uphold its promise to meet with MNAC and get MNAC’s input and to meet with EACH neighborhood as well.  More info can be found…  Well, you know where.

 

 

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@Mike Rostrom - I stand corrected - my crime data was for the County as a whole, and only felony crime, which is down over the past 20 years in both absolute terms and in rate per thousand - the actual crime rate is down more than 50% 1995-2015 according to the FBI. The crimes you are talking about are generally non-felony property crimes and yes they are up and these are the most irritating - because thievery is damaging to the common trust which is the bedrock of community. We’ve only lived here for 14 years and friends who have lived here longer unanimously report a decline in community feeling in B’ham and no doubt common thievery is a contributing factor. I’ve had several items stolen from my yard from the alley behind - including a large quantity of triple-wall polycarbonate for a greenhouse (which must have required a truck to pick up), my almost-new battery drill, and a bicycle.  I’m not sure where these thieves are coming from but my son tells me that in Indonesian neighborhoods when somebody spots a thief they go after him with machetes. He says even the poorest neighborhoods in Indonesia are remarkably safe and orderly and perhaps we can figure out why!

To your other point: “Destroying single family neighborhoods by handing them over to developers and using them to increase city density has more negative than positive effects”.   I totally agree. That’s why I support permitting owner-occupiers to build DADU’s should and could make it easier for young families to afford to buy a house in our very hot real estate market. Keep the developers and commercial landlords out and let families manage their own properties, create employment, and improve their neighborhoods. And make sure that decent tenants live in the neighborhood.

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@Larry- thanks for the explanation of why all the hyperventilating. As far as I can see, most if not all your points are process-related - that the City has offended you by changing the rules, not listening to neighborhoods, etc.

Let me ask you a direct question: Are you for or against permitting owner occupiers to build a DADU, subject to reasonable rules and restrictions, in their yard? 

And if not, why not? I mean real reasons, not a bunch of process objections.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 18, 2018

As I’ve stated all along, the adverse impacts of DADUs are unique to each location.  In some locations, I would have no objection, but in many others, I would hyperventilate.  Only the people directly affected by the imposition of a DADU in their neighbor’s backyard know precisely how their quality of life would be impacted.  That is why I support the BNC’s recommendation to require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) as opposed to by-right zoning.  See recommendation 2 on page 7.  CUPs allow neighbors within 500 feet to provide input during a public hearing.

That is also why I support adopting the Bellingham Planning Department staff’s recommendation: “Allow D-ADUs in single family zoned areas on a per neighborhood basis by legislative action.”  Neighborhood input must be considered.  But this process has not done so.

I am genuinely concerned that DADUs will morph into non-owner occupied short-term rentals (STRs).   Last year, a majority of city councilors telegraphed their desire to eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement - and even voted to delete it from the comp plan, before backpedaling as a result of heavy blowback.  I’m certain they’ll try again, but even if they don’t, an expert in the field who spoke at a recent Portland-area conference on ADUs has already acknowledged that “owner occupancy is hard to enforce.” 

Given the city’s distaste for enforcement of their own regulations, owner occupancy will become a joke before the first DADU is ready for occupancy.  And so will any STR regulations.  No way the city is prepared to walk into people’s backyards to make sure someone isn’t occupying a DADU for less than 30 days.  These regulations are useless, and anyone who suggests otherwise simply wants a DADU in their backyard that they can rent as an Airbnb.

DADUs have tremendous potential to impose adverse impacts that affect the quality of the human environment in the categories of: public safety concerns; increased stormwater runoff, erosion near foundations & loss of topsoil; excessive noise; light pollution; loss of tree canopy; obstruction of views & sightlines; inordinate height, bulk & scale; incompatible design; blocking of natural light & direct sunlight; loss of privacy; off-street parking challenges; and reduction or effective elimination of buffers & setbacks.

Each of these impacts has the potential to impair the quality of life for all neighbors who live close enough to the new DADU.  Of course, if you don’t care about livability and quality of life, then these adverse impacts are immaterial.  But I’ve listened to a friend in tears as she shares the nightmare she experienced.  Her tears were real, as was her agony. 

Have we gotten to the point where we no longer care about the agony of our neighbors?

 

 

 

 

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 18, 2018

David, I really abhor the way you spin these issues.  Using the term granny flats when talking about structures that can be 1,000 square feet and more than 20 feet tall at their peak.  Saying I’m “offended” because the city changed the rules, which is simply BS.  I’m not offended; I’m scared to death.  If we simply stand by as the city reneges on its promises and commitments, and breaches the social contract of fairness and due process, Bellingham’s livability is doomed.

So no, these are not granny flats.  And no, people are not hyperventilating simply because they are offended.

I enjoy the debate, but not the spin.  Can we have a spin-free zone here?

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David Camp

Jan 18, 2018

@Larry - you say  “Can we have a spin-free zone here?”

Perhaps you could start by not misrepresenting my words. My article is quite clear that I favor a 400 sq ft size limit on DADu’s; no windows overlooking neighbors’ yards, and height restrictions based on measurable shade. 

I guess your answer is that you are against DADU’s in any event except through a variance which requires all neighbors to approve it. WHich is the current situation. 

And you insult anyone who doesn;t share your view as follows:  

“Of course, if you don’t care about livability and quality of life, then these adverse impacts are immaterial.  But I’ve listened to a friend in tears as she shares the nightmare she experienced.  Her tears were real, as was her agony. 

Have we gotten to the point where we no longer care about the agony of our neighbors?”

SO if we disagree with you we don’t care about our neighbors, nor their agony. Get a grip, Larry. Stop with the insults.

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Tim Paxton

Jan 18, 2018


By the way.  The CUP (Conditional Use Permit) process in Bellingham is a cruel joke.  Don’t count on it as a legal or just process.  Effective Public notice is optional.

An ADU in Sunnyland was just sent out a notice, for example.  The project site drawing was printed on a dot matrix printer and shrunk down in size so as to be totally un readable.  Typical contempt of public by the City’s Planning Department smug public servants.

The City should go back to the Hearing Board of Adjustment with 3 or more members so that they have a harder time gaming the system.

In my experience, If you don’t have an expensive attorney for the CUP hearing.  You lose.

 

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Doug Karlberg

Jan 18, 2018

Wow, hot topic.

What I see that all these great minds other than David are missing, is a solution for the affordable housing crisis.

Easy to criticize David, but at least he is trying to address a real problem for too many people, and that is affordable housing.

Ideas for solutions, and where your ideas have worked successfully. Attack the problem.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 18, 2018

Doug, some of us have already written extensively about affordable housing.  This article asks the question, “Why all the Hyperventilating Over Granny Flats?” and that is what our responses have addressed.  

For the question about affordable housing, consider these NWC articles:

Affordable Housing: Mission Impossible?

Self-Determination or Self-Defeat?

Myths Around Affordable Housing in Bellingham

Single Family Home Rental - Got $40,000 per Year to Spend?

 

 

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Satpal Sidhu

Jan 18, 2018

Hi All

very interesting comments and good discussion however everyone is thinking of incremental patch work of solutions to a situation we have arrived at after 100 or so year of urban planning. Basic motive of housing  is not only family living space but is has become the biggest retirement asset and only saving any family has over their lifetime. Secondly we keep annexing adjoining city boundaries and expand the cities.  USA and Canada have enormous land mass which has not been used wisely. We want housing prices to go up. That is the plan all along. But when it goes too high the only people complaining are who do not own a house or young starting families.   We  can easily plan for next 50 years and plan entirely new cities and promote business commerce and manufacturing by good incentive to locate into the new cities which are several miles apart and have limited annexation over next 30 or so years. Then we start another city rather than making Vancoucer to Chilliwack as one humongous population center or same as marysville to Olympia. It take foresight and political courage and put immediate profits at lower priority. I was shocked to learn that each city must be a contiguous City. Why is it so?  

What was good 100 years ago is not good or workable now and same thing over next 50 years. We must have a plan for 7 generation. 

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Satpal Sidhu

Jan 18, 2018

Continuing 

we can have protected buffers of AG land and natural habitat between the cities which can never be built over  this is possible only in USA and Canada. We are living only within 30-50 miles from water along the ocean. We do not build in the mountains which can be beautiful and not other use of that land. We can spread out into hinterland and spread our commerce and business along with people who work there. We have no economy of distance with large sprawls.  It takes more time to travel 10 miles to work everyday   It will be more cheaper to distribute goods and services to 100 cities of 50000 people than 2-3 million people cities. Will be less crime and better environment for kids to grow up  

 

Our shortbsighted silutuon are just that and we will be at it every 10 years and spend more time on the road than with our families pay more taxes and live lower quality of life

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David Camp

Jan 20, 2018

@Satpal - yes I agree we need a longer view - thinking of the generations to come. If we continue to price young families out of the market how can the new generation come to be?

Older generations such as mine (and yours!) need to be part of the solution which requires making way for young people to succeed while they are still young. Helping them create work for themselves. 

Cities and neighborhoods have lifecycles - just like families- the neighborhood I grew up in has new young families and that is good. Without young families how can we say we have a healthy society?

anyway, thanks for commenting, Mr. Sidhu. It certainly seems to be easier to be against something than make the effort for positive change but it is important that we make that effort.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 20, 2018
My comment letter on the ADU Ordinance Update and legalization of DADUs in single-family neighborhoods can be viewed at the following link. My letter focuses solely on the need to allow neighborhoods to determine whether to allow DADUs in their single family zoned areas.
 
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vJKaNuvGF36TsMXXBvIoDZ6o6HpEMekZ/view
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