As we noted in this week’s newsletter, Bellingham voted to pass an ordinance that adopted HB 1337. We want to take this opportunity to expand education on the difference between state law and local adoption of state law. Before we get into what was passed in Bellingham, let’s breakdown what was passed at the state level, with HB 1337: 

  1. not assessing impact fees on the construction of ADUs that are greater than 50 percent of the impact fees that would be imposed on the principal unit 
  2. not requiring the owner of a lot on which there is an ADU to reside in or occupy the ADU or another housing unit on the same lot 
  3. allowing at least two ADUs on all lots that allow for single-family homes within a UGA in the following configurations: one attached ADU and one detached ADU, two attached ADUs, or two detached ADUs 
  4. permitting ADUs in structures detached from the principal unit 
  5. allowing an ADU on any lot that meets the minimum lot size required for the principal unit 
  6. not establishing a maximum gross floor area requirement for ADUs that is less than 1,000 square feet 
  7. not establishing roof height limits on an ADU of less than 24 feet, unless the height limit on the principal unit is less than 24 feet 
  8. not imposing setback requirements, yard coverage limits, tree retention mandates, restrictions on entry door locations, aesthetic requirements, or requirements for design review for ADUs that are more restrictive than those for principal units 
  9. allowing detached ADUs to be sited at a lot line if the lot line abuts a public alley, unless the city or county routinely plows snow on the public alley 
  10. allowing ADUs to be converted from existing structures, including detached garages 
  11. not prohibiting the sale of a condominium unit independently of a principal unit solely on the grounds that the condominium unit was originally built as an ADU 
  12. not requiring public street improvements as a condition of permitting ADUs. 

Last week Bellingham City Council adopted the above ADU ordinance, minus #2. They chose not to retain language that removed owner occupancy as a requirement for ownership of an ADU. Bellingham is so much better than where it was before this vote, but it’s also a great example of how local control can change state legislation. This is also where City Council’s voting got a little tricky and nuanced. Cities that are impacted by HB 1337 aren’t legally required to adopt all of it until six months after their next comprehensive plan, so Bellingham could wait until 2026. Or they could choose to vote and adopt all or part of it, now. This is why there were actually. Bellingham was voting on partial adoption, which is why there were two votes: 

1) On the amendment to retain owner occupancy
2) On adoption of the ADU ordinance, with the amendment of removal of owner occupancy attached 

Two councilmembers voted “No” on the amendment to retain owner occupancy. In the end, Bellingham City Council voted 6 – 1 to pass the ordinance, with the amendment to retain owner occupancy. While not optimal, it’s still a huge step forward to a more affordable future. Retaining owner occupancy in single family zones is controversial, as the dissenting councilmember noted in his remarks. Bellingham doesn’t require owner occupancy with duplexes, triplexes and many other property types, but the amendment passed. At least temporarily, single-family zones will continue to be exempt from certain types of growth, which will reduce the number of homes that could be built.  But Bellingham will still have to adopt HB 1337 and remove owner occupancy in 2026. 

Let’s shift gears so we can bring HB 1110 into focus to understand this further. This missing middle legislation was also passed this past legislative session. It legalized middle housing in all zones, including single family. Bellingham City Council will soon deliberate HB 1110 and consider once again adopting it in full, ahead of our comprehensive plan. But how much of it will Bellingham adopt and how much will be delayed? There are also other potential influences that shape state legislation, even after it’s passed into law. As we’ve pointed out in our newsletter, the state model code is already changing to give local municipalities more leeway on what what they can adopt from HB 1110. Among other influences on how the model code toolkit might shape what is passed locally, The Urbanist observes, 

  • Parking is mandated throughout the toolkit, a reversal for many jurisdictions that are moving away from required off street parking. Indeed one of the strengths of HB 1110 is releasing parking restrictions for new housing. 
  • …The toolkit increases barriers for sites with multiple buildings on a single site, which would render many currently popular types of middle housing, such as detached townhouses, cottage clusters in Residential Small Lot zoning, and arguably even detached accessory dwelling units nearly impossible to build on compact urban lots. 

Washington State passed 19 housing bills this past legislative session. We’re so much further along than where we were and it’s important that we understand this whole process so we know where to plug in and how to make a difference. The WHA is already in talks with elected officials and housing stakeholders on what housing bills might be a part of the 2024 legislative session. We want you all to know just how long of a process changing law and local adoption is so we can work together to create the best possible future. Changing the course for the better requires so much attention and collaboration. Thank you for collaborating with us and caring about affordable housing!