The Queen Anne Community Council, which filed a legal complaint to halt the city’s plan to make it easier to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in single-family neighborhoods, now says it has reached the $25,000 contribution goal it set in July to cover its legal fees.
According to a post on his website and an email sent out to neighborhood activists across the city, complainant Marty Kaplan and other HALA opponents “have now completely funded our appeal,” which seeks to force the city to submit the proposal to a costly, time-consuming, and unnecessary environmental review. The money, Kaplan’s email continues, will pay for a “team of the most qualified experts, witnesses, and land use attorney. We are ready to advance our defense of every Seattle citizen and neighborhood’s right to a fair, transparent, unbiased, and fact driven public process for professionally evaluating actual environmental impacts from O’Brien’s proposed legislation. “
The legislation, as I’ve reported, would allow homeowners to add both an internal apartment inside their existing house (typically, a basement unit), plus a garage apartment elsewhere on their property, subject to the same lot coverage limits that already exist for backyard cottages. It would also allow homeowners to add a basement unit or backyard cottage without building additional parking spots.
Homeowners opposed to these changes describe a worst-case scenario in which every single-family home is converted into an investor-owned triplex, and every new triplex is occupied by renters not “invested” in their neighborhood. Leaving aside the class judgment inherent in these homeowners’ fear of renters, the scenario they envision is totally contradicted by reality on the ground in Seattle. Opponents painted a similarly dystopian picture when the city allowed backyard cottages citywide in 2009, but since then, fewer than 200 have been built in Seattle. Removing parking requirements might make garage apartments somewhat more affordable to build, but the main barrier remains the cost of construction and the layout of many single-family lots, which just aren’t the right shape or size to accommodate a mini-house in the backyard.
Kaplan’s letter continues in similarly hyperbolic fashion: “We will fight for our right to review actual studies and participate in the process to review and contribute to what should be a city-wide inclusive and honest dialogue, instead of an ideological top-down proclamation from O’Brien and Murray that not one environmental impact will result from converting every Seattle single family neighborhood to multi-family zoning; destroying the very fabric of over thirty very special and different communities, and offering in turn a significant development gift to every investor at our expense!”
The council’s complaint got a boost when the Seattle Times handed over valuable column-inches on its op/ed page to chief complainant Kaplan, who argued that the new rules would lead to “uncontrolled speculation, immediate displacement, removal of affordable housing, and considerable environmental impacts to every single-family property owner.”
The city’s Hearing Examiner will hear Kaplan and the community council’s appeal at 9am on Wednesday, August 31, at Seattle Municipal Tower Room 4009. Details about the case are available on the hearing examiner’s website.