Everett passes code changes that could boost ADU construction

Since 2020, only 53 “mother-in-law” units have been approved, with another 11 under review. New rules could streamline the process.


EVERETT — More small homes in back yards, in converted garages and next to existing homes could be on the way in Everett after code changes for accessory dwelling units.

The Everett City Council unanimously approved Wednesday a suite of changes under consideration since last year. The council also approved an amendment to allow the so-called mother-in-law units in zones that allow housing from triplexes to high-rise apartments.

State law approved earlier this year prompted the city to shift its code for accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

“While ADUs are not even going to touch the surface of getting enough housing in our city, I am very thankful to the state,” Council member Liz Vogeli said.

Everett’s changes take effect immediately, barring a veto by the mayor within two weeks.

The new rules:

• Allow two accessory dwelling units on each qualifying lot;

• Allow a maximum height of 24 feet for lots without an alley, and 28 feet for lots with an alley;

• Reduce required parking from one off-street space per unit if the property is within a half-mile walk of transit that operates at least one trip per hour between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays;

• Remove appearance and character design standards, requiring a street-side entrance, roofing, roof pitch, siding and windows to match the main home; and

• Cap ADU size at 1,000 square feet, unless it is within one floor of the main home.

Everett has tracked ADU construction and permitting since 2020. In that time, only 53 have been approved, with another 11 under review.

Over 19,500 parcels in the city are candidates for an ADU, planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda told the City Council last month.

Another 23,000 housing units were needed based on population growth projections when city staff made a housing action plan in 2020.

Land use designation maps of Everett show the city, which the U.S. Census estimated had over 110,000 people, is mostly zoned for single-family development.

Some people opposed the potential infill in Everett over concerns about public street parking space and making the city overcrowded. One speaker during public comment Wednesday mentioned a study about rats in a confined area killing each other.

Paula Jones Gong, an Everett resident, said after 50 years in Everett she’s come to rely on it as a haven from feeling confined and cramped in Seattle.

“It is congested beyond anything I could have imagined back when we lived there,” she told the council. ”I don’t think we need little houses behind our houses to make it happen.”

Dylan Sluder, the state government affairs director for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, said when he first moved to the state he lived in an ADU and knows they are an opportunity for people to establish themselves in a community.

“It allows Everett to hopefully grow sustainably in a way that makes sense and provides more housing affordability,” Sluder said.

ADU supporters say the small homes can make home ownership more affordable and generate income for people who build them on their lots.

Whoever is thinking of building one should make sure they’re financially ready. The construction of an ADU can range from $73,000 to $450,000, depending on the type of dwelling. A small basement conversion into an accessory dwelling unit can be on the lower end, with a large above-garage detached unit costing more, for example.

Loans tapping into home equity are options.

That kind of expense could deter some people.

Olympia, Renton, Seattle and other cities have preapproved designs for detached accessory dwelling units, often called DADUs.

Everett’s planning commission and staff are considering following suit to reduce the cost and time. That wasn’t part of the Everett code changes approved Wednesday.

Some council members said they wanted to ensure ADU designs fit with the neighborhoods in which they are built. In some cases, design review can limit and slow construction, in others it can make new buildings look “bland” across the country, as The New York Times reported.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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