Lawmaker pushes for more transparency for building "backyard houses"

by: David Ham Updated:

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SEATTLE, Wash. —

State Rep. Gerry Pollet is disappointed a bill that was supposed to require developers to notify neighbors before building a backyard or side lot house died this session, but he's hopeful Seattle city leaders will take on the idea.

"Now we have a commitment from Mike O’Brien, chair of the land use committee, to work on providing notice to (the) community that's a big gain," said Rep. Pollet, (D) 46th Legislative District.

 Right now residents don't have to be notified when a backyard or side lot house is built.

"I was just flabbergasted, and especially seeing the back fence line, just really dumbfounded how can you divide a lot in this neighborhood.  My impression (was) these are all single-family homes," said Ruth Vega.

Vega has a lawsuit pending in Federal Appeals Court over a 3 story house built in her neighbor's backyard near an alley.

Some neighbors have nicknamed the building the "alley skyscraper."

Vega said that if the developer had notified the public about the project, she could have filed an appeal under the Land Use Petition Act.

LUPA allows a citizen to file an appeal over an approved project within 21 days.

However, because neighbors aren't notified about these projects, they miss the window.

"We have developments all over Seattle where we have people did not receive any notice until the bulldozers showed up," said Pollet.

Roger Valdez, of Smart Growth Seattle, is an advocate for higher density housing.

"Notification in and of itself isn't a bad thing.  I think as part of our proposal that's something we're willing to look at," said Valdez, who is working with the city on an ordinance that would set consistent requirements citywide on backyard or side lot houses.

"That's what our proposal would allow is appropriately scaled predictable development in single-family neighborhoods," said Valdez.

Still, Vega thinks neighbors should be notified.

"It is the right thing to do whether you're a public (or) private business, transparency is just so key," said Vega.

 Pollet said that if Seattle doesn't pass an ordinance for notifying neighbors, he'll bring back a new bill next year.

 "These are monstrosities, they ruin neighborhoods, they literally destroy the value of the houses next door," said Pollet.