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Aiming to increase housing options, Spokane City Council loosens rules for accessory dwelling units

As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

In the name of increasing citywide housing options, Spokane lawmakers recently instituted code changes to add more flexibility to the city’s rules on accessory dwelling units.

An accessory dwelling unit is an attached or detached structure that serves as an additional living unit on a property with its own facilities, such as a kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Legislation passed by the City Council last week removed some restrictions related to ADUs, including a requirement for a property owner to occupy at least one of the dwellings on a particular site. Owner occupancy is still required on sites with ADUs if there is a short-term rental, which – per the city’s code – is a rental to overnight guests for fewer than 30 days.

The new ordinance also increases the maximum size of detached ADUs from 600 to 975 square feet or 75% of the size of the house (whichever is greater), removes the minimum lot size requirement, eases up on parking requirements and allows for ADUs on properties with any principal structure, such as a duplex or a triplex.

“The creation of more housing units, even in the form of ADUs, is only going to help,” Councilman Michael Cathcart said last week.

Loosening ADU regulations was one of the priorities set forth with the city’s Housing Action Plan adopted last year by the council as well as the housing emergency declared by Mayor Nadine Woodward.

The changes passed by the City Council last week were largely recommended by the Spokane Plan Commission.

Removing the minimum lot size requirement was done to encourage owners of small properties to pursue ADUs, Amanda Beck, an assistant city planner, told the City Council last week. The previous minimum lot size was 5,000 square feet.

With the parking change, the rule was relaxed as to no longer require an off-street parking space for studio or one-bedroom ADUs.

In addition to the increase in allowable square footage, the roof height allowance for ADUs also went up from 17 to 25 feet.

“The logic behind that would be an office shell plan for an ADU, just a typical one that you can find online, you should be able to accommodate a two-bedroom/two-bathroom with a full kitchen in that size,” Beck said of the size increases.

Ditching the owner-occupancy requirement was a point of discussion for the council, as Councilwoman Lori Kinnear pushed to require owners of properties with ADUs to have to live on-site for three years.

“I still believe we should have owner occupancy because it is a mechanism whereby we can perhaps guarantee to some extent that there won’t be … out-of-state folks coming in and buying and converting and displacing people,” Kinnear said.

The owner occupancy requirement has been a barrier for ADUs in the city, said Council President Breean Beggs. Councilman Zack Zappone said he plans to draft a resolution requiring annual reports about the city’s ADUs to help determine whether the code changes are working.

“Frankly, units in our city are already being used for Airbnbs,” said Councilman Jonathan Bingle. “So for us to just be making more units, even if that does result in more Airbnbs, it also results in more rentals or ownership opportunities or things like that throughout the community.”

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson added, “I don’t know how we could legislate people’s lives for three years.”

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