Councilmember O’Brien to attend Phinney Ridge Council meeting

District 6 City Council Representative Mike O’Brien will be the special guest at Phinney Ridge Community Council’s next meeting next Tuesday, June 6, to discuss policies that he and the Council are proposing that could affect our neighborhood.

Questions for Councilmember O’Brien will be taken in advance. The Community Council’s Board is also developing topics of interest that they would like to be addressed. Suggestions include how HALA, with its proposed building height increases and no parking required, will impact neighborhoods and housing affordability for all; property ownership requirements for backyard cottages and increasing neighborhood crime.

In addition, locals are encouraged to email questions directly to Councilmember Please reference our upcoming meeting and cc so we can incorporate your questions into our meeting.

All are welcome to attend the meeting.

Councilmember O’Brien to host Health and Public Safety Forum at Nordic Heritage Museum

Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle) will host a community forum this Thursday evening, September 29, at the Nordic Heritage Museum (3014 NW 67th St) from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Councilmember O’Brien will reconvene neighbors and community members to discuss how the City can move forward to implement solutions to public health and safety concerns in District 6 during the City Council’s budget process.

Attendees will be provided with an overview of the proposed solutions and their budget implications. Attendees will then convene in small work groups and provide feedback and input on the proposals and provide additional ideas.

Many of the solutions were proposed by community at the July 29 Safe and Healthy Communities Public Forum in Ballard.

All are welcome to attend the event.

Councilmember O’Brien to host Health and Public Safety forum tonight

Our local Councilmember Mike O’Brien will host a community forum this evening (Wednesday, July 27) from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. to engage, educate, and activate residents of Northwest Seattle relating to neighborhood public safety and public health issues.

The forum will highlight different approaches to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis and give community members a chance to share their thoughts.

Speakers from the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Public Defenders Association, and Seattle Police Department will address public attendees.

Members of the public will then break into facilitated small group discussions to engage with one another in regard to earlier remarks.

Groups will have the opportunity to prepare written summaries of their discussions, and Councilmember O’Brien will provide closing remarks.

The forum will be held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (5710 22nd Ave NW).

Proposed bill released to encourage construction of Backyard Cottages

Last week, Councilmember Mike O’Brien released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle.

According to O’Brien, as of December 2015, 221 backyard cottages had been constructed or permitted in Seattle since Council authorized their use in 2009, despite approximately 75,000 single-family lots that are eligible to build one.

Backyard cottages, also called detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), are separate living spaces on the same property as an existing single-family house. Mother-in-law units, also referred to as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), are separate living units generally located within a single-family house. Both are currently allowed in single-family zones.

Councilmember O’Brien heard feedback that current regulations put significant burdens on homeowners deciding to build backyard cottages or mother-in-law units.

The proposed bill makes a series of changes to the existing backyard cottage and mother-in-law unit building code, including:

  • Allowing both a backyard cottage and mother-in-law unit on the same lot, which provides additional housing options while maintaining the character and appearance of the property.
  • Increasing the height limit for backyard cottages by 1-2 feet, depending on lot width, which would allow enough livable space to make two-bedroom units more feasible. Setback requirements from property edges would not change.
  • Removing the requirement for owners to include an off-street parking space for backyard cottages or mother-in-law unit. Currently, this requirement often requires removal of green space on the property. Feedback found the parking requirement was prohibitive in creating new backyard cottages, as additional parking spaces were either unnecessary or unable to fit on the lot. For single-family lots outside urban villages or urban centers, the one required off-street parking space for a single-family house requirement will still apply.
  • If a backyard cottage is only one-story, its floor area may cover up to 60% of the rear yard (currently 40%), creating a large enough livable space for those unable to use stairs. Existing setback requirements from the lot edge would not change.
  • Requiring that the property owner live on-site for at least one year after a backyard cottage or mother-in-law unit is created, rather than the current requirement that the owner live on-site at least 6 months out of every year in perpetuity. The requirement prevents speculative developers from acquiring property and building backyard cottages that don’t fit the character of the neighborhood, while allowing the owner future flexibility for those who don’t want, or are unable to continue living on-site.
  • Allowing backyard cottages on lots 3,200 square feet or greater in area (currently 4,000 square feet), which would make approximately 7,300 additional parcels eligible to provide this additional housing option.
  • Increasing the maximum gross floor area of a backyard cottage to 1,000 square feet (currently 800 square feet), which would provide more livable area and increase the likelihood of two-bedroom backyard cottages to better serve families with children.
  • If a backyard cottage is built above a garage, the garage square footage will no longer count toward the maximum floor area, which often results in an unreasonably small living space.
  • Additional changes can be found here.

“By expanding the availability of backyard cottages and mother-in-law units, someone might be able move to a neighborhood they otherwise couldn’t afford while helping a homeowner who needs an extra source of income to afford to stay where they are.  It’s a win-win,” says Councilmember O’Brien.

The legislation was developed utilizing feedback from neighborhood community meetings, from architects, and from current backyard cottage owners. A summary of the public feedback is available online. The Office of Planning & Community Development, also conducted an analysis of current backyard cottages in Seattle and a review of peer cities’ backyard cottage model.

“After reading the new proposed changes for backyard cottages, there are definitely some new rules which would have greatly benefited this particular project,” says Janice Reebs, a backyard cottage owner in the Sunset Hill neighborhood.

The SEPA environmental determination on the draft proposal was published May 19, 2016. Comments may be submitted through June 2, 2016.

The proposal is scheduled for consideration in the Council’s Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee in July.

Mike O’Brien to speak at SHCA general election

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is set to speak at the annual general election of the Sunset Hill Community Association (SHCA- 3003 NW 66th Street) on Monday, January 25.

Councilmember O’Brien will speak about the plans for the local area before attendees are entertained by a short program from the Ballard Civic Orchestra.

All are welcome to attend to cast their ballots for the SHCA Board.

Light refreshments will be served. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Community divided in response to encampment confirmation

Members of the community have been been divided in their response to Wednesday’s confirmation that the City was moving forward with plans to open a homeless encampment at 2826 NW Market St. Many My Ballard readers have expressed their opinion through a stream of over 76 comments on our site and via social media.

The issue has certainly been a divisive one over the past few months and has been at the forefront of the minds of community leaders, local business owners and residents alike.

The My Ballard team had the chance to speak with Councilmember Mike O’Brien this morning to gain further insight into the decision making process which led to the Wednesday’s announcement.

According to Councilmember O’Brien, the City worked with a number of community stakeholders to source another location for the encampment, however, each of the six options were unsuitable for a number of different reasons.

“A number of the six alternatives to the Market St location were located in Shoreline Management areas which would be unable to host an encampment without changes to the Shoreline Management Act. This process requires approval of the State which is a multi-year process,” says O’Brien.

For example, the option close to the Yankee Diner (5400 block of Shilshole Ave NW) had two of its three land parcels located on Shoreline Management areas.

O’Brien confirmed that a privately-owned alternative, a site on NW Ballard Way that will be vacated by Trupanion pet insurance company next year, was already under a future lease and was not available. The option at Ballard Blocks II was also deemed unsuitable due to contamination by ground water which could not be treated in the needed time frame.

“We had to find a suitable option that would be able to house those in need before the cold months set in,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien did confirm, however, that the City is still looking into a potential alternative site on Leary Way NW on the east side of 15th Ave NW near the Ballard Bridge. The land is owned by the City that can house private entities on a 20 year lease.

“In order to make this site work, legislative processes would need to be undertaken to make lease changes and the land, which is likely contaminated, would need to be treated before an encampment is erected,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien estimated that the entirety of the process, including undertaking outreach with residents and business owners in the vicinity of the property, would take anywhere from 3 – 6 months or possibly longer.

O’Brien says that he “understands the concerns” expressed by community members and is “committed to pursuing a location that is a win on three counts for the community, the homeless and the City.”

Logistically speaking, the encampment is set to house approximately 40 residents and will open in the first half of November. The operator, Nicklesville, is unable to apply for the encampment permit until 14 days after holding a mandatory public meeting. The meeting is set to be held on Monday, October 19, at Trinity United Methodist Church (6512 23rd Ave NW in Ballard) at 7 p.m.

Once issued the initial 12 month permit, Nicklesville has the ability to renew it for another 12 months if all goes well. After 24 months, the encampment would need to move and that site would not be eligible to host an encampment again for at least 12 months.

In terms of the residents that will live at the Ballard encampment, O’Brien confirms that some will be those who are relocated from the current Nicklesville encampment on S Dearborn Ave after the permit expires on October 31.

“My understanding is that the residents will be relocated to both the Interbay and Ballard encampments. After the Dearborn St residents are relocated there will be spaces for those in need to apply to live at the Market St location,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien’s opponent in District 6 in next month’s election, Catherine Westbrook, released the following statement in response to Wednesday’s announcement:

I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I know that my community is full of compassionate, caring people who want to help those less fortunate, yet many of those folks have been vilified by my opponent during this process, and are even more distrustful of the city now. This is not the way it should be. We need a city government that is open and transparent, and connected with our communities.

Members of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce also released a statement to express their disappointment. Executive Director of the Chamber, Mike Stewart, confirmed that “Ballard Chamber remains strongly opposed to the use of the Market Street site as a homeless encampment.”

According to Stewart, two viable alternatives suggested by stakeholders in the Ballard community were not considered by the City. “Rather than move to Market Street, the City could have directed Nickelsville to first locate at a larger, city-authorized SODO encampment site and then transition to the alternative Ballard site as soon as it is available,” says Stewart.

Stewart also pointed to a privately owned location that was identified and approved by Nicklesville as a viable encampment location at a site inspection on September 9.

“The Chamber secured participation from a willing private party that agreed to grant permission to use the site (which is larger than the Market Street site) for up to two years for the Ballard encampment. We also confirmed for City officials and Nickelsville that the alternative site could be cleared and ready for use within 4-5 weeks, well ahead of winter,” says Stewart.

Stewart referred to the City’s demand for a location that was “win-win-win” and believes that “the proposed alternative site could have accomplished this.”

Although opposition exists, some members of the community are completely behind the opening of the Market St encampment. A petition in support of the encampment reached over 2000 signatures and a group of Ballardites have come together to form a “welcoming committee” to organize the provision of food and clothing for the new residents.

Despite these mixed reactions, the City has made it clear that the encampment is going ahead at the Market St location.

“We know that concerns remain and we want to create a way in which to head and address these concerns,” says Councilmember O’Brien.

Locals are encouraged to attend Monday’s meeting to give their feedback or to contact Kim von Henkle in the City’s Human Services Department at (206) 615-1573 or email

City to proceed with homeless encampment on Market St

After months of deliberation and contentious meetings with various neighborhood stakeholders Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Mike O’Brien announced on Wednesday that the City is going ahead with the temporary homeless encampment at 2826 NW Market St.

After consulting with a number of local stakeholders, City staff spent the last three months evaluating the viability of six alternative sites, which included both City-owned and privately-owned properties. However, as stated in the official written annoucement, “after a thorough analysis, it was determined that the sites were either not available for encampment use or did not meet code requirements.”

City staff have expressed their concern of finding a solution to assist local homeless persons before the weather turns too cold. “As we have begun to experience the fall and winter months, it is vital that we provide those experiencing homelessness with safe, secure places to stay as soon as possible,” writes Mayor Murray and Councilmember O’Brien.

After the set up of the Market St encampment, the City will continue to review and evaluate possible alternative locations that meet the criteria set by the ordinance which authorizes encampments. Michael Fong, Chief of Staff from the Mayor’s Office, confirms, however, that another location will require the City to address a number of outstanding legislative, environmental, and safety issues first which will take months to complete.

“Until those issues are resolved, the City will move forward with the process to stand up the Market Street site,” says Fong.

In their written announcement Mayor Murray and Councilmember O’Brien acknowledged those in the community who expressed their concerns about the use of the Market Street site. “We ask for support to the people who will be living there,” writes Mayor Murray and Councilmember O’Brien.

The opening date of the encampment is at this stage unknown, however, as per the City’s Sanctioned Encampment Siting, the encampment can remain in the area for no longer than a year and must be vacant for a year in between encampments. Click here to learn more about the Director’s rules for encampments.

The encampment will be operated by SHARENickelsville, or a prequalified faith-based or non-profit organization. The operators will be responsible for safety and security within the camp and residents will be screened by the operators for acceptance. The city confirms that Low Income Housing Institute will provide case management services to individuals living in the encampments. Operators will also form a Community Advisory Committee to respond to community concerns, review operations standards, and work with neighbors of the encampment site.

As the project moves forward, it is clear the encampment will continue to be a controversial issue within the community. The My Ballard team will continue to keep readers up to date with the latest information as the situation progresses.

Email your thoughts about the announcement to

Councilmember wants $25,000 for Ballard car campers

After participating in the annual One Night Count two years in a row, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is committed to helping car campers in Ballard. During the 2011 One Night Count, 141 people were counted living in vehicles in our neighborhood.

“In January of this year, I committed to finding a solution for people living in their cars in Ballard,” O’Brien writes. Since then, he has met with homeless advocates and churches. As we reported last week, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church is the first to agree to allow one to five vehicles to park overnight in their parking lot.

Councilmember O’Brien wants to secure $25,000 in the 2012 budget to fund case managers at each church that hosts cars. O’Brien is expecting 20 parking spots at churches around Ballard by January 1 of next year.

This funding will be a topic of conversation at tomorrow night’s 2012 budget public hearing that starts at 5:30 p.m. (sign in at 5 p.m.) at Seattle City Hall (600 Fourth Ave) in the Council Chambers on the second floor. Read more from Councilmember O’Brien here.