County considers accessory dwelling unit code

Island County commissioners took a concrete step to help increase affordable housing on Whidbey.

Island County commissioners have taken a concrete step towards making a significant policy change to help increase affordable housing on Whidbey.

During a public hearing April 19, county officials discussed amendments to the zoning code for ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, that would affect Ebey’s Landing and Freeland.

Jonathan Lange, assistant director of the planning community development department, explained to the commissioners that proposed code changes include an update of the terminology, which changes the formerly used “guest cottage” to “detached ADU” and “accessory living quarters” to “attached ADU.” Also included are changes to size limits, from 800 to 1,000 square feet for an attached ADU and from 1,000 to 1,200 square feet for a detached ADU.

The proposed code allows for detached ADUs on any size rural residential zone lot, whereas previously there was a one-acre minimum for that zoning district. It also eliminates the requirement for an attached ADU to be located within an owner-occupied primary residence, allowing for both the single family home and the attached ADU to be a rental.

The county’s planning commission held a public hearing in February 2021 and recommended approval of the proposed amendments to the ADU zoning code. Lange said the majority of comments the planning department has received have been in favor of the proposed ordinance.

Comments have addressed the question of a detached ADU and an attached ADU on the same property. The planning commission, however, has expressed that allowing this may go against the intentions of the Growth Management Act and encourage sprawl in rural areas.

During the public hearing April 19, Martin Vandepas questioned some of the restrictions in the proposed code, such as the limit of 1,200 square feet for a detached ADU.

“There is an exception if you have an exceptionally large main house that’s over 6,000 square feet, then 20% of that would be larger than 1,200 square feet so you’re allowed to have a larger ADU,” he said. “I don’t understand why we would need to do that to give extra incentive to people to build very large houses over 6,000 square feet. It seems like they could be limited to the same size ADUs as everybody else.”

The board of commissioners agreed this was a valid point to consider.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said she did not understand how the code could allow a 6,000-square-foot house to have an even greater footprint for its ADU, yet micromanage the size of an ADU for a 2,000-square-foot home.

“I’m on Team Commenter that this is actually not logical,” she said.

Commissioner Janet St. Clair said she didn’t disagree.

Johnson said her limit on detached ADUs would have to be 1,200 square feet, no matter the size of the main house.

“The footprint is already bigger for the 6,000 square foot home,” she said. “So why would we incentivize a larger footprint, if what we care about so much is rural character?”

The board discussed the possibility of making an additional change to the code that would eliminate the section that states “a detached ADU shall not exceed 1,200 square feet of gross floor area or 20% of the gross floor area of the single family dwelling, whichever is larger, but not to exceed 2,500 square feet.”

Since this change was not part of the documents made available to the public previously, the public hearing will be continued Tuesday, May 3. Members of the public will have an opportunity to review this change prior to a decision being made by the board.