City considers more megahome restrictions

The city of Bellevue is considering more laws that could limit the size of “megahomes” and prohibit residents from combining lots on which to build them. The city adopted a first round of regulatory changes last December.

The city of Bellevue is considering more laws that could limit the size of “megahomes” and prohibit residents from combining lots on which to build them. The city adopted a first round of regulatory changes last December.

Critics of megahomes say the giant houses dwarf neighboring homes and block out sunlight, impede privacy and destroy neighborhood character.

The December changes included a 50 percent greenscape requirement in the front yard setbacks of new single-family homes; a 30 percent retention of significant trees when single-family homes are redeveloped and a change in the way height is measured to discourage people from building up lots.

In addition, the city now prohibits portable carports that are visible from public streets and declares unscreened construction debris a public nuisance.

A second set of changes – more complex and controversial – were held off until this week.

If approved, phase two of the Neighborhood Character project could limit the bulk of new homes to protect neighboring homes from loss of sunlight and privacy. The city also will consider restricting residents’ ability to combine lots on which to build a larger home, establishing separate setback requirements for guest cottages and reducing hours when remodeling construction can occur.

On Tuesday, about 40 people gathered at City Hall to give their input on the second phase of changes. During the meeting, Cheryl Kuhn, neighborhood outreach manager, presented research data to give residents an idea of how megahomes are transforming neighborhoods.

Older homes are being torn down and rebuilt, especially in west and north Bellevue where 75 percent of the activity has occurred over the past few years, she said.

“Homes are getting much, much bigger in Bellevue,” Kuhn said.

In 1990, only one-fourth of homes built were between 3,500-5,000 square feet; in 2005, nearly 60 percent of new homes built were between 3,500-5,000 square feet and 20 percent were built as large as 7,000 square feet.

The average size of a new Bellevue single-family home is 4,268 square feet and when a home is demolished and rebuilt, the average increase in size is 163 percent.

During the meeting, the city asked whether people thought it was a positive or negative trend when smaller one-story homes were torn down and replaced with much larger homes. Using hand-held devices, 9 percent answered it was a positive trend.

“The value of your home diminishes dramatically when you have a bunch of substandard housing stock that is substandard in plumbing, electrical, roofing and has garbage and debris,” one man commented, who believes building up the neighborhood will raise the value of his home.

Another woman was worried that her home would be devalued if the changes are approved. She said if the city restricts the size of a house that can be built on her lot, then builders are not going to pay the same for her home as they did for her neighbor’s megahome.

Kuhn said when looking at the proposed amendments, the city has a difficult task of balancing the rights of property owners who want to develop their property with those of people who want to preserve the neighborhood.

Regarding noise, the city allows construction for residential additions until 10 p.m. daily. The majority of participants, 10, said they would like the time to be changed to 7 p.m.

However, that raised some concerns with others.

Remodeling is often done by the homeowners themselves, not just contractors, said west Bellevue resident Sheehan Robert.

“If there is a change in the regulations, there should be some allowance given to the homeowner who comes home from work and he’s only got two or three hours to work on his particular project – whether it’s building a fence or remodeling a garage or whatever it is – there ought to be some kind of loophole for the homeowner to do work,” Robert said.

Doug Leigh, also a west Bellevue resident, agreed.

“I think it’s mostly abuses by contractors who are trying to extend the work hours.”

Over the next couple months, several more community conversations will be held, Kuhn said.

Carrie Wood can be reached at or 425-453-4290.

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