Currently both Washington State and the City of Bellingham are proposing changes to the current ADU regulations and process. From the outside it may seem complicated and long winded, but we’ve been keeping up to date with it, so you don’t have to!
But first let’s back up. Why is this such an important topic? All over the state, including Bellingham, we are seeing both a housing shortage and unaffordable costs for both renters and home buyers. Accessory Dwelling Units, aka ADUs, are seen as a tool to help fight both of these issues. While ADUs are certainly not the only answer to the affordability crisis, they are a start to addressing the issue. ADUs are, however, thought to have a much bigger effect on addressing the housing shortage. According to 2020 Census data, 71% of Bellingham households are made up of only 1-2 people. This means that medium and large sized single-family residences are not what Bellingham needs in order to solve the housing crisis. It needs ADUs and other forms of middle housing. As it stands right now, State and City regulations make it more difficult than it needs to be in order to permit and build ADUs (and middle housing). So, at both levels reform to the current ordinances are being proposed in order to ease these restrictions, allowing for more ADUs to be built and with less needless regulations.
-At the State level: There were two bills currently addressing changes to ADU regulations for the entire state. These are bills HB 1276 and HB 1337. Bill HB 1276 is essentially the watered-down version of HB 1337. However, bill HB 1337 recently passed out of the House Housing Committee with no amendments. Next steps for HB 1337 are to pass through the Rules committee and then through the Floor. Organizations who support HB 1337 vocally as of the first hearing include Homes4WA, Sightline Institute, FutureWise, League of Women Voters, Habitat For Humanity, American Farmland Trust, Kirkland Planning Commission and a handful of architects and builders. TC Legend also supported HB 1337 over HB 1276.
-At the City level: There is one ordinance being proposed to amend Bellingham Municipal Code Titles 20 and 21 regarding ADU regulations and processes. This ordinance is essentially bill HB 1337 specifically for Bellingham. Whatcom Housing Alliance’s recommendations to the changes being put forth have been the main reference point for many community members and organizations. You can find their recommendations HERE. After the first hearing, City Council has sent the ordinance back to the Planning Commission for revisions for further clarification, data and feedback. Once the Planning Commission has finished this review, it will be presented to City Council again. They may need to revise again, or they will vote at that time. Once the ordinance passes through City Council it will take a bit of time for the Planning Commission to update their current ADU ordinance and implement the changes. However, assuming all goes smoothly, we should see the changes being implement most likely by the end of the year.
-Remove Owner Occupancy Requirements: This is arguably the most contested topic in the City level ADU reform. The amendment states that the owner of the ADU is no longer required to live in either the main SFR or the ADU while renting and can therefore rent both out at the same time. On one hand, this would allow flexibility for homeowners who need to go out of town for extended period of time, or are elderly, and would increase housing availability. On the other hand, if there are not restrictions added to this amendment, it could open up Bellingham to more large-scale investors, taking control of our rental market and potentially further pricing out locals.
-Remove Off-Street Parking Requirements: The requirement of off-street parking, while may seem necessary to some, is typically not necessary or feasible on infill lots which are already near shopping centers and bus stops. Cities are using this as a technique to incentivize alternative modes of transportation, while also recognizing the limitations that come with infill lots.
-Condo-ization of ADU’s: Opening ADU’s to purchase is thought to help homeownership among the many small households that are currently struggling to afford the houses currently on the market and are therefore forced to remain renting. It is debatable as to whether this would create an affordable option or not. But the best way to create an equitable housing market is for more homeownership among the lower and middle class.
-Removing Appearance Requirements: Currently there are height restrictions and appearance requirements on DADU’s stating that they must match the aesthetic of the neighborhood, however current SFR’s are not even held to that same standard. The amendment would also allow the height of the ADU to increase to 25’ from 20’. There are some arguments to increase this limit even more or get rid of the restriction altogether to be able to accommodate a second floor and higher ceilings.
Other Bills To Watch
Washington State has at least 50 proposed housing bills. So if you want to take action and help sculpt the trajectory of housing in our state, look out for these bills and submit your commentary to the Housing Committee.
Among those proposed housing bills, HB 1110 / SB 5190 should be highlighted as they are important in legalizing middle housing.
If you are a renter, then you’ll want to watch out for HB 1124 which increases the timeframe that landlords must notify tenants of any increases to rent. There are also HB 1389 / SB 5435 which puts a cap on rent increase to either the rate of inflation or 3% (whichever is greater).
For more information on the State and City level ADU reform, see the following related articles.
This just in and hot off the press – the House in the Hollow Case Study! TC Legend built this net-zero house through the winter of 2020/ 2021.
The house-in-a-hollow isn’t really in a hollow, it’s on a knoll, above protected wetlands, northeast of Bellingham. The hollow is formed by the trees, which were preserved to shield the house from overheating, and to conserve the flora of the native wetlands.
Measuring 1950 square feet, this Department-of-Energy certified Net Zero clerestory design has a central kitchen and a 1st floor aging-in-place floorplan. Designed for an Alaskan couple whose love of the outdoors demanded a house that fully engaged with the landscape, plenty of daylight is admitted & access to outdoor living is easy.
“Builder TC Legend Homes of Bellingham, Washington, aims for quality and sustainability in every home it constructs and company founder Ted Clifton Jr. has found the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program is an ideal way to achieve that goal.”
“The DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program is a great benchmark not only for ourselves, but for all those looking to build or purchase a home that is eco-friendly. Since the program incorporates ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS, holds high standards for energy efficiency, and is nationwide, it is an easy way to compare homes across the board and that reduces confusion for purchasers,” said Clifton.
“It’s also great that the DOE program has a very low cost barrier. There are many other certification programs that charge large fees, making it difficult for small builders to participate. Or, the cost of the fees gets passed along in higher home prices, increasing the barrier to purchase for many people,” Clifton added.
Since 2015, TC Legend Homes has built all of its homes to the DOE program criteria. The builder typically constructs one spec home and five or six custom homes for buyers each year and currently has nine homes under construction. In 2022, the builder was recognized by DOE for its efforts with a Housing Innovation Grand Award in the category “Custom for Buyer under 2,500 ft2.”
Modeled Performance Data of House in the Hollow:
• HERS INDEX: without PV: 33 with PV: -23
• Annual Energy Costs: without PV: $600; with PV: $-280
• Annual Energy Cost Savings: without PV: $1,200; with PV: $2,150
• Annual Energy Savings: without PV: 8,400 kWh; with PV: 20,350 kWh
• Savings in the First 30 Years: without PV: $48,930; with PV: $86,550
As we come towards the end of 2022, which in former years Winter was our slow season, the company is still quite busy with our six houses in the queue!
The end of the year is always a great time to reflect on these past four seasons and solar cycle.
Especially 2022… this was a record breaking year for TC Legend Homes!
The crew gathered for a Holiday party last Friday at Norm’s place, and took a moment to appreciate our team’s hard work and how far we’ve come….
TC Legend Homes 2022 Achievements
HIA Grand Award Winner Custom Homes for Buyer (< 2500 Square Feet) – House in a Hollow
Built Green 5-Star Certifications on all (4) projects completed this year
All (4) projects received a HERS score of -8 or better
Sold our first Net Zero spec house- Cascade!!
To be featured in (2) Bellingham Alive articles
Hired on (2) new employees & expanding diversity in our team.
Took 58th Place in the 2022 Ski to Sea event and getting 4th in the Corporate Division!
Designer Talia hosted her first educational seminar on Embodied Carbon in the Sustainable Connections Embodied Carbon series.
Owner Ted was a panelist at a conference about building with panels.
Started offering SIPs and ICF training to contractors and eligible individuals.
Senna hosted two Green Energy Home Tours.
Started a TC record-breaking (6) projects in one year!
Launching a Brand New Plans for Sale website – great work Design Team!!
Surviving and thriving during a pandemic!
And the numerous days everyone went skiing together!!
We survived and thrived in a world pandemic with zero turn-over, while retaining our staff at their full-time hours and hourly wages (PLUS+ performance & wage raises to match the increasing cost of living). That’s a HUGE feat! Major kudos to our leadership, and rock solid team!
One of my (Senna’s) favorite things about getting the crew all together are these EPIC potlucks! The team really brings their A-game! 🙂
The team & loved ones indulged in some Spiced Egg Nog, Hot Buttered Rum, Mulled Wine… and of course, dessert!
The kiddos had fun making gingerbread houses, candles, and compostable buildings! Here are the results of the Boys vs. Girls. Which one do you like most? Not sure they are net-zero energy though.
Nicole facilitated the White Elephant gift exchange. Jeff got a bunch of worker’s pencils, Mile’s got some Mad Libs, Dan got one of Isaac’s amazing pottery chalices, Nicole won a hangover kit, Jake got some truffles (which Nicole later stole!), Senna and her son got a Christmas blanket!
A knee brace, something called a ‘Damnit Doll,’ and Fun Facts for toilet reading were some other gifts that went around!
Such a big thank you to the team, our customers, subcontractors and of course, our loved ones & SUPPORT TEAM! We couldn’t do it nearly as well without you. 🙂
From the TC Family, we send you and your loved ones our warmest regards full of peace, health, happiness, and prosperity in the coming year.
Thanks to all who came out to the Zero-Energy Home tours!
And a BIG thank you to Sustainable Connections for co-hosting! We had a great turn out both nights educating the community about what a Zero-Energy home is all about, and how it differentiates from conventional home building.
Learn more about the embodied carbon and the utilities (calculated by Talia & Nicole) saved by this Zero-Energy House in this case study!