Property Q&A in 98105>Question Details

Brian K, Home Owner in Seattle, WA

I own a legal duplex in a single family zone in Ravenna, and am looking to redevelop the property. Can I build two houses?

Asked by Brian K, Seattle, WA Fri Mar 1, 2013

The land use is permitted as a duplex, but the zone is SF5000. I have seen a property or two in the Green Lake area where a legal duplex was demolished, and two new homes were built with a common wall. I have reviewed the SMC and could not find any reference to how this could be done. Does anyone know the rules around this, or is it a practice that has been stopped?

The lot is large (6000 sq ft), level, and with a view. A larger development would fit the scale of the neighboring houses.

Help the community by answering this question:


It really depends on where. There are more variances of this type when you are within a block or two of a major arterial, than when you are buried deep into a residential neighborhood. If you can see a big apartment complex across the street or within a block of this duplex, you will more likely be able to get a variance from the actual zoning than when every single property 4 blocks in all directions is a "conforming" structure to the SF 5000 zoning.

In other words you have to apply a layer of common sense as to whether what you want to do makes sense for where that duplex is. No one who owns a conforming single family home nearby would expect the City to give a variance for less than the SF5000 zoning allows. People rely on zoning as a support for their property value. But if most of the neighboring properties don't conform anyway and the City is targeting that area for revitalization via zoning variances, then it would make sense to be thinking along the lines that you are thinking.

Would two homes on less than 5,000 sf lots be an improvement to the block? If yes, then you have a strong maybe. If no, then don't get your hopes up. Check it out in either case, but your expectations of a yes or no answer should be set before you start spending money on getting that real answer. You can save yourself a lot of time and money if you apply common sense first.

At the moment, past history is not a good indicator, as Seattle is leaning away from being generous on this issue recently...vs 1 to 7 years ago. The wind has changed.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
Hi Brian,

It sounds like your grandfathered with the duplex, but any new changes have to be done according to the SF5000 zoning rules at the DPD. Which says you won't be able to build 2 homes on one single family lot of your size.

Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD)
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD)

To clearly determine what you can do, you can go to the front desk and ask a them what the rules are or look at their website.

I have been in real estate and construction for over 25 years here in Seattle and have a vast knowledge of the codes, but always double check with them for any rule changes.

Good luck!
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
Your only reliable answer will come from the Seattle Department of Planning & Development. So often the "rules" as stated get waived, amended or have variances granted due to other circumstances that even if you get a "yes" or "no" from someone here, I wouldn't take that as a final answer.
I've added a link to the City's site below. Let us know how it turns out.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
Thank you for your thoughtful response, I am heading down to the DPD on Wednesday.
Flag Sun Mar 3, 2013
A slight warning regarding "asking" and relying on the answer. I have seen more than one situation where the person asking was told yes verbally, but after spending money on that outcome and submitting the actual paperwork, the decision was no.

What someone tells you "might" happen, isn't always what happens.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
See the post below by Dave. I agree that you would have to go down to the city's DPD and ask questions. Since the home is already a duplex you might be able to get a combined wall structure built. the city likes density, so give it a try. Good luck.
Maggie Weissman
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
Unless the rules have changed, you do not have enough land to build two homes in a SF 5000 zone.

Your best bet is to schedule a sit-down with DPD. They charge you a fee for the meeting, but you'll have an opportunity to talk with a land-use specialist.

You can also submit specific questions to DPD via email, but you really need to know what to ask, or you will not get the answer you seek.

In my opinion, having a duplex in a single-family zone may be more desirable than demolishing it and replacing it with one new single-family home. Good luck with your decision.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
You can build townhomes on single family 5000zoning. They must be attached and they must meet all current setback requirements. I have dealt with homes built on similar properrty for several years. You need a good architect and probable a structural engineer for design to meet the building
codes. I would have references for you if you would like to contact me, Mike Knutsen, John L Scott
KMS, Inc, 206-941-3300.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
Hi Brian K.,

What you want to do is walk into the city of Seattle permit desk and ask your question. The person at the counter can pull up the zoning maps and can answer your basic questions. If, after the basic questions, your plan looks fruitful, you can set an appointment with a higher level planner., or maybe even talk to one when your there.

The next step, if your plan still looks good, is to set up a "pre-development" meeting or building feasibility meeting.

None of us can answer your question without specific location and without looking into the detailed requirements for your zoning code.

Good luck,
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 1, 2013
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