Cottages on rural lands

Cottages on rural lands
HB 2503 would give counties the option to allow detached accessory dwelling units outside of their urban growth areas (UGA). Photo: freepik.com

As the state legislature considers proposals for detached accessory dwelling units within the urban growth areas (UGA), legislators are also looking to expand those opportunities in rural areas. HB 1353 would give local governments the option to allow detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs)or “cottages” in or outside the UGA.

Sponsored by Rep. Brandon Vick (R-18), the bipartisan bill received far less pushback at a Feb. 14 public hearing of the House Environment & Energy Committee than similar legislation, likely due to the bill language making it voluntary rather than required.

Cottages are seen by builders and some policymakers as one way to improve housing affordability for newly-married couples, young professionals and retirees who don’t want to sell their property. The city of Seattle is looking to streamline its ADU permitting process after a study found 55,000 potential new ADUs could be built on existing land.

Under the state Growth Management Act, counties can zone for cottages within the UGA. However, ADUs can only be built on rural land if they are attached to the existing house.

Vick told committee members that “really what we’re looking for is another way for a family to be able to have the parents age in place, another way for the student who just graduated college and can’t afford a home to be in an affordable situation but still have some independence.”

The proposal is similar to HB 2503, which Vick sponsored last year. However, the bill faced opposition that prevented it from clearing the House Committee on Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs after a public hearing. Vick said that there were concerns that the bill was too vague in how it defined detached ADUS, leading to fears that regular-size houses would be built.

He added that they’re “not looking to build McMansions and swimming pools.”

The move is supported by the Building Industry Association of Washington, Washington REALTORs and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Also supportive are local governments such as Clark County. Lobbyist Josh Weiss told committee members cottages “are a nice opportunity to provide the ability for elderly people to continue to age in place, age with their families. It’s also an opportunity in the farming community for younger farmers to be able to get started in the farming business while their parents stay on the farm with them. Having that sort of joint family situation together makes a lot of sense, we think.”

One concern raised by Chair Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) is how counties would be able to handle the added demand on local infrastructure such as roads or fire servicers. Weiss replied that demand isn’t likely to be that high, though he added they’re open to further stipulations “if that’s necessary to move it (the bill) forward.”

No further action has been scheduled for HB 2503.

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