SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Building mother-in-law suites, converting garages to living quarters or isolating a portion of a home as a separate residence will soon be allowed in Sedro-Woolley.
Those kinds of residential spaces — called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — are becoming increasingly popular throughout Skagit County and the state as the need for affordable housing grows.
The Sedro-Woolley City Council passed two ordinances at its March 11 meeting to authorize accessory dwelling units. The rules will take effect July 1.
Discussions about the concept of ADUs began years ago, when city officials raised concerns about some already established without approval.
But in 2019, as the state Legislature began considering rules that would apply anywhere existing regulations were not in place, the city decided to set its own rules.
“Sedro-Woolley wanted to get the ball rolling,” former City Supervisor and Attorney Eron Berg said. “It looks like the future is ADUs ... If we accept that we have to have them, what’s the best way to do them in Sedro-Woolley?”
City Planning Director John Coleman worked with the city Planning Commission to draft ADU rules under the “optional housing” section of the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning code.
A section of the comprehensive plan states the goal is to “maintain Sedro-Woolley’s small-town feel while accommodating the projected 20 year housing growth per the Growth Management Act.”
Leaders throughout Skagit County have said there’s not enough housing, particularly at affordable rental rates, to meet demand.
That’s a trend statewide, and although the bill proposed in the state Legislature in 2019 did not pass, another this year made it through and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 27.
“Washington state is experiencing a housing affordability crisis ... The legislature intends to promote and encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units as a means to address the need for additional affordable housing options,” the bill states.
The new state law will require any jurisdiction that does not have rules in place by July 1, 2021, to comply with state requirements.
Sedro-Woolley will be a year ahead of the curve, joining other local jurisdictions including Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes, Concrete, Hamilton and Lyman in having local ADU rules.
Establishing an ADU in Sedro-Woolley will require a city permit and several stipulations, including:
— Consistency with the character of the neighborhood.
— Resemblance of the primary dwelling on the property.
— Sized between 205 square feet and 800 square feet, and no more than 20 feet high.
— Access to its own entrance, its own off-street parking space and utility shut-offs.
— No more than one per property.
— No more than four occupants may reside in an ADU.
— ADUs can only be established on lots with an existing single-family home.
— Property owners must occupy, at least six months of the year, either the primary home or ADU.
“This is intended to provide housing,” Coleman said of the regulations, adding that these units will not be allowed to act as vacation rental units such as through VRBO or Airbnb.
The Planning Commission crafted the rules through five meetings, a joint study session with the City Council and two public hearings before making an official recommendation to the city in February.