Motionspace Architecture + Design

A Seattle Architecture Blog

Seattle Height Limit Change + Redesign


In September 2012, Seattle passed an emergency measure lowering the height limit for single family residences on lots of less than 3,750 square feet from 30 feet to 22 feet.  The rhetoric around this measure focused on developers building tall houses in yards where the neighbors never expected a house to be at all. And despite the fact that some claimed the measure had too many loopholes, we had clients (a couple, not developers!) who were caught by it.

The measure was passed months into the design process of a new house in Madrona.  We heard about it as we were finishing up the permit drawings.  Particularly frustrating was the fact that there was no grace period- we had spoken to DPD and had our preliminary application for a 30 foot tall house approved months before, but because we had not yet submitted for permit, we were forced to quickly find a way to shave 8 feet off of the three story house that our clients were already happy with!

Original 3-story plan

View of the originally designed 3-story house with the garage on level 1.


Updated 2-story design

View of the updated 2-story design. Basement terraced garage with deck above is visible to the left of the house.


The original plans called for a small basement (basically taking advantage of the existing house’s cellar), but we were able to expand that beneath the entire house footprint, as well as out into the front yard as a terraced garage.  The clients will still have a view of Lake Washington from the great room on the top floor.  Unfortunately, they lose some of the view from their study, but moving the garage to the basement level makes the house seem much smaller and more similar to the neighborhood’s older houses, even if the size in square feet has not changed much.

We were disappointed when we found out that the measure would apply to this house, particularly because our clients were not developers, building a house where one had never been, but homeowners looking to get more space by demolishing their current house (which was under built for the neighborhood).  After completing the redesign, though, we are just as happy with it as we were with the original design.

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When to start your project


One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, “when should we get started on our project?”  Well, that will vary depending on which building department will issue your permit (if required) and the type of project you want to construct.

Let’s first begin with how long the design process may take. If the project is smaller like a kitchen remodel or bathroom remodel, and either has no structural changes or minor structural changes, then the design time would likely be about 2-6 weeks.  A larger project like a room addition that involves an architect and a structural engineer will likely take 6-8 weeks to design. An even larger project like a whole house remodel or second story addition may take 3-4 months to design. Most of my clients who design a new house from scratch take over 6 months to go through the process.

Building department review times will vary depending on the jurisdiction. Many small projects can get over-the-counter permits, or permits that are issued within one or two weeks. Larger projects should allow 8-12 weeks for review and one round of revisions with the City or County.

If your goal is to start a project in 2011, be sure to leave enough time for design and permitting. If you intend to start a construction project this Spring or Summer you should start the design process now. This is especially important for weather sensitive projects like second story additions, or other projects where good portions of the home are open to the weather.   If you would like to discuss your project please give us a call at (206) 204-0490 or use the contact form on our website.

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