Is Kent ready for cottage-style developments? Council votes Tuesday

A revised ordinance to bring cottage-style housing to Kent goes Tuesday before the City Council for approval.

The City Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 3-0 on Monday night to recommend approval to the Council of the ordinance. If passed, the measure will allow developers to build up as two cottage-housing projects. No cottage-style housing developments currently exist in the city.

Cottage-style housing developments feature small, detached single-family homes clustered around a common open space with garages and parking located away from the homes. Under the measure, cottage homes in Kent would need to be 1,500 square feet or less. Carriage homes, which would be built above the detached garages, would need to be 800-square feet or less.

The City Council voted 4-3 Oct. 21 against the original ordinance. Council members asked city staff to allow fewer homes in denser neighborhoods and to require that neighbors of a proposed development be allowed to comment on the project. The Council sent the ordinance back to city staff and the planning committee.

“This is a demonstration ordinance to find out what does and doesn’t work,” Councilman Tim Clark said at Monday’s committee meeting. “The marketplace will determine if it works. There’s no question it meets certain lifestyle needs. We’ll find out if it’s the time and place.”

Council members Elizabeth Albertson, Clark and Ron Harmon form the Planning and Economic Development Committee. Harmon voted for the revised ordinance Monday, although he opposed the original ordinance last month. That was partly because too many cottage homes could be built in dense neighborhoods, he said.

City staff revised the ordinance to reduce the maximum density bonus from 2 times the existing density to 1.5 times. For example, developers would be allowed to build as many as nine cottage-home units per acre in neighborhoods zoned for six homes per acre rather than the 12 under the initial proposal.

“We believe the reduction still will result in an ordinance attractive to developers with the right mix of incentives and safeguards,” City Planner Erin George said to the planning committee.

City staff also revised the ordinance to allow a neighborhood meeting to give neighbors a chance to comment on a proposal before approval of a project.

Another revision would allow developers the option to build underground vaults for storm-water detention.

Several developers and real estate representatives spoke in favor of the ordinance to allow cottage housing during a public hearing Monday before the committee.

“I congratulate the city for stepping up to this opportunity,” said Sam Pace, a Kent resident and housing specialist with the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors. “You are headed in the right direction. Do a couple of projects and work the bugs out.”

Developers have built cottage-style homes in Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle and other neighborhoods over the last several years.

The proposed ordinance would allow a maximum of 24 units per development and a minimum of six units. The demonstration ordinance would allow as many as two projects but would not be a permanent ordinance.

Council members on Oct. 21 voiced concerns about who could afford to buy the houses. But developers and real estate agents told the committee buyers exist.

“I know I could sell them to clients moving out of big houses,” said Vicki Johnson, a real estate agent from Normandy Park. “Affordability won’t matter to the people you are appealing to. They no longer need a 2,400-square foot home.”

Cottage-style homes at Danielson Grove in Kirkland sold for a median price of $594,000 in 2007, George said. All other homes sold in 2007 in Kirkland for a median price of $779,000. The median home price means one-half of homes sold were above that price and one-half of homes sold were below that price.

Homes in 2007 in Kent sold for a median price of $339,000.

“Cottages tend to sell for less or at the median price,” George said.

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