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Rental Cottages? One Group Says, 'Not In My Backyard'

Backyard-Cottage-in-Ballard3.jpg
Seattle City Council
The circle in this image provided by Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien's office highlights an example of a backyard cottage in Ballard.

A proposed Seattle law that aims to ease the city's housing crisis by encouraging homeowners to build cottages in their backyards has run into resistance.

The Queen Anne Community Council is trying to force the city to conduct an environmental review of the law. The nonprofit has brought a case before the city's hearing examiner and says it has raised $25,000 for legal fees.

Queen Anne residents have jealously guarded the neighborhood's aesthetic of landscaped yards and detached homes for years. Martin Henry Kaplan, a member of the community council, said he fears the law would unleash a wave of new dwellings and cars in single-family neighborhoods like his.

"If this legislation were to pass as is, it would have far-ranging, lifelong, citywide impacts to every single-family neighborhood in the city," said Kaplan, an architect. 

City Councilman Mike O'Brien, who introduced the law in May, said those fears are overblown. The proposed rule changes would make it easier for a homeowner to build a cottage or accessory apartment. 

"The idea that somehow this is going to drastically reshape the fabric of these neighborhoods, I just don't buy it," he said. "And I think it's really an attempt to mislead the public — to raise fear, to raise money for lawsuits." 

Homeowners would  be required to live on their property for a year after they build a rental cottage. O'Brien said that will discourage developers from building spec cottages throughout the city. 

The case goes before the hearing examiner on Aug. 31. O'Brien said that, if the city comes out on top, the law could go before the city council in December. If the Queen Anne Community Council has its way, city staff will have to complete an environmental analysis of the law and schedule a series of public hearings.

Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.
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