Samish Neighborhood Association

Neighbors in Bellingham, Washington, working together

Samish ADU letter 10-20-2017

October 20, 2017

To: Bellingham Planning Commission

From: Samish Neighborhood Association

Copy to: Mayor Linville, Bellingham City Council

Subject: Revisions to the ADU ordinance

Setting aside the area included in Lake Padden Park, and except for a very small amount of residential multi and commercial property, Samish Neighborhood is a residential single neighborhood. This residential single character is what has attracted homebuyers to our neighborhood for many years, and continues to do so. Our neighborhood does not oppose growth but we do not want to sacrifice our neighborhood character in order to grow. Samish residents attracted to the single family residential character of our neighborhood need to have confidence that the investment in their homes and their quality of life will not be degraded by growth-driven changes.

We support attached ADUs (A-ADUs) for existing single family homes consistent with current city code. We see these as both useful and supportive of neighborhood character as long as they are well designed and constructed in a way that blends in with the main house and surrounding houses. We see detached ADUs (D-ADUs) as potential threats to neighborhood character and quality of life in a number of ways. Therefore, we ask that the following requirements and recommendations be considered as the City of Bellingham contemplates revisions in the code governing ADUs.

  • Complete the inventory of existing ADUs. Regardless of how a revised ordinance may be written, the city must have a baseline for how many ADUs exist (including unregistered ones) and their locations. In other words, fully document current ADU density. It makes little sense for the city to revise ADU density regulations without knowing where it started. We believe the city has already set this goal in place. Finish it.
  • Maintain the owner occupancy requirement for properties that include an ADU. Eliminating this requirement would create an “open season” on real estate speculation, particularly by out-of-town landlords who want to turn reasonably priced single family homes with ADUs into rental cash cows. This has no benefits for the long term neighbors surrounding the property and would, in fact, be a giant step toward turning a comfortable family neighborhood into a rental slum. An owner constrained to live in either the main house or the ADU will have a stronger interest in maintaining property appearance and in contributing to community. An absentee landlord will have neither.
  • Ensure adequate provision for parking. Parking seems to be a growing problem in many areas of the city now, especially if the location is close to one of our post-secondary schools. Inadequate on-site parking for additional ADUs is likely to squeeze the vehicles of current residents into fewer and fewer spaces, possibly leading to the inability to find a spot close to one’s home. Streets crowded with parked cars can also interfere with access for emergency and delivery vehicles, raising safety concerns for residents.
  • Maintain the prohibition of D-ADUs in single family neighborhoods. D-ADUs change neighborhood character in ways that are subtle but significant to homeowners. Required minimum lot size in Samish Neighborhood residential single zones is either 12,000 or 20,000 square feet. There is a sense of space and a feeling of openness to our neighborhood that will be increasingly lost as D-ADUs pop up on existing residential single lots. A sense of crowding will replace that feeling of openness. This sense of openness is a large and desirable part of neighborhood character.
  • Develop enforcement procedures that include detection of violations and non-compliance penalties that have teeth. Without enforcement there is no incentive to comply. An example of this is the conversion of moderately priced single family homes into rooming houses for five to eight unrelated persons. The city has chosen not to enforce the current definition of family with regard to housing. As a result, some landlords have no compunction about adding three bedrooms to the basement of a normal three bedroom home and charging $3600 per month rent. Such a house – an otherwise affordable home for an actual middle-income family – has been made out of reach to them.

There is room for growth within Samish Neighborhood. We welcome this but want growth to be consistent with current zoning requirements. Growth that is inconsistent with our single family residential character betrays current residents who bought homes here because they wanted their families to enjoy what they found here. This is true for recently arrived residents as well as those who have lived here for decades.

Samish residents deserve protection from code changes that will lead to the gradual loss of our neighborhood character. Forces within the city that want growth by any means and try to label neighborhoods that resist as exclusionary are simply wrong. The Samish Neighborhood Association, along with many other neighborhood associations in Bellingham, is trying to provide stability and predictability to our residents.


Steve Abell, President
Samish Neighborhood Association

Posted in General 1 year, 3 months ago at 6:31 PM.

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