Roundtables: Issues on the Radar Screen

REALTORS® meet periodically with the Masterbuilders and cities, including cities in South King County, on issues important for the future supply of housing and the cost of construction.  The following are representative issues the REALTORS® and Masterbuilders are pursing together:

Covington: Side yard setbacks (to reduce the current setback regulation of 7.5 feet to 5 feet), short plat thresholds, codification of a Park Impact Fee schedule, and changes in the regulations of the Covington Water District which serves as the provider of water not only in the city of Covington but also in much of the surrounding area.

Kent: Creation of a guidance document that will implement predictable design alternatives to the City’s existing diminished garage requirements. According to Kent City Code section 15.02.106, a diminished garage is set back no less than 10 feet from the front façade of a home. The code currently allows for other design alternatives but does not give guidance on city preferences. The City Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee is expected to consider the guidance document later this year.

South King County “Short Plat Thresholds: Some years ago the Legislature and the Department of Ecology recognized the benefits of increasing the “short plat” thresholds from 4 lots to 9 lots.  Under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) passed in the 1970s, any development of more than 4 lots had to be evaluated as a full-blown subdivision instead of as a “short plat.”  The Legislature decided it made sense to allow cities to increase the threshold to 9 lots, up from the original limit of 4 lots.

Nevertheless, many cities in our region have not yet revised their development codes to account for this change authorized by the Legislature, even though the benefits of increased short plats include avoiding hearing examiner cost, reduced permitting fees and reduced municipal staff time…all without compromising environmental protection.

The reasons environmental protections are not compromised is that comprehensive, detailed new environmental development regulations have been adopted – with much tougher standards – than the provisions that were included in the SEPA law passed in the early 1970s which required any development of more than 4 lots to be regulated as a subdivision rather than a short plat.

South King County cities dealing with this issue this year include Enumclaw, Kent, and Auburn.