Bellingham for Everyone! Support Removing Barriers for ADU’s!

ADU’s are an important part of the housing solution and removing barriers can make them easier and more cost effective for our community members to build them! The City of Bellingham’s Planning Commission will be having public hearings for the consideration of amendments to improve ADU standards, permitting process, and consistency with state legislation.

And they need to hear from YOU!

Accessory dwelling units (ADU) have the potential to increase density, housing options and affordability, especially in Bellingham’s predominantly single-family neighborhoods.

Since the ADU ordinance passed in 2018, Bellingham has seen over 50 ADU’s built per year. This is a big win for Bellingham’s residents; providing homes for disabled family members, opportunities for aging in place and an opportunity for low and moderate homeowners to build wealth. Unfortunately, ADU’s are the most restrictive housing form in our community and arguably have the lowest impact. The barriers to construction are some of the most restrictive in the state and the WHA believes Bellingham can do better for our community by removing some unnecessary rules.

There are few if any impacts that would come from ADU development that might not also come from and single family home. In fact, this housing type has likely a lower impact because of size.  Many of the recommendations below would remove unjust burdens from ADU development and employ logic and fairness.

  • Allowing ADUs by right will reduce the time and expense of the approval process for homeowners and require less staff resources. This process adds significant soft costs and has proven to be more of a burden to permit staff than beneficial for the community.
  • This is the only residential building type in single-family zones to require this additional process.
  • Anecdotally, minor modifications are consistently being requested on a majority of permits. This should not be a trigger for a Type II process because they are so prevalent.
  • ADU’s are the only housing type with this restriction and discriminates against renters who make up over 53% of Bellingham residents.
  • This barrier limits the flexibility homeowners have to retain ownership in the event of hardship or life change like divorce, job relocation, health issues, or death.
  • Owner-occupancy requirements limit institutional investor interest, but they also stifle ADU use and ownership options (and the wealth-building opportunities that accompany homeownership) for non-investor buyers.
  • All pro-housing model ordinances eliminate owner-occupancy requirements and they have been adopted by California’s and Oregon’s ADU legislation and in Seattle, Vancouver, Yakima, Olympia and Ferndale’s local code revisions
  • In many instances, single-family homes without ADUs could generate just as much traffic and demand for parking as a home with an ADU
  • One ADU designer in town suggested that about 95% of clients request a parking waiver, highlighting the difficulty of meeting this requirement while also retaining open space and tree canopy. This provides significant uncertainty in the permitting process.
  • Creating a parking space can create additional financial and logistical challenges that can discourage homeowners from pursuing an ADU
  • Not all households living in ADU’s own private vehicles and parking spaces can be left unutilized
  • Relaxing parking requirements can also incentivize residents to use alternative transportation like bike and bus
  • Bellingham should adopt pre-approved plans, which could reduce or eliminate architect and engineering fees.
  • On average could save homeowners 10% of project costs or $5-$10,000.
  • Homeowners and permit staff can save time with the building and energy code review
  • City of Lacey, WA, for example, has pre-approved plans and homeowners can break ground in as little as three weeks.
  • Remove the 66% size restriction. This just unfairly restricts those with already small homes.
  • Increasing roof limit from 20ft to 25ft would help accommodate more roof types, reduce construction costs and would not be a drastic change in terms of neighborhood impact.
  • Revise the floor area calculation to be consistent with other building types.
  • Requiring external design compatibility between the ADU and the primary unit creates rigid requirements and vagueness and uncertainty in design standards compliance.
  • Bellingham should avoid imposing prescriptive design requirements on ADU development, as these requirements can create additional financial and technical burdens that go beyond that of single family homes
  • We recommend using code language for accessory buildings/ new home construction so the design standards are the same.