Free to B&B

Seattle's zoning tyrants.

Two years ago, concerned about a local shortage of bed-and-breakfasts, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that loosened restrictions on such inns, allowing them in neighborhoods of single-family homes. Taking the city at its word, Julie and Blayne McAferty opened the Greenlake Guest House B&B last summer. The city is now trying to shut it down, under pressure from the couple's neighbors.

Among other things, the neighbors complained that the B&B changed the character of the neighborhood and that its guests were disturbingly friendly. "I've got people waving at me and I don't know who they are," said one.

The city, which threatened the McAfertys with fines of $75 a day if they failed to close the B&B by the end of March, does not claim the Greenlake Guest House is disturbing the peace or causing traffic problems. (The inn is located on a busy street near a commercial district.) Instead it cites renovations the McAfertys did to their home before opening the B&B, which included adding one dormer and expanding another on the second floor to enlarge the upstairs rooms.

The city says these changes amounted to illegal "exterior structural alterations." According to its reading of the relevant ordinances, it would have been fine if the McAfertys had simply remodeled their home, or if they had remodeled it and sold it to someone else who then used it as a B&B. Where they ran afoul of the law was in remodeling their home and subsequently offering rooms for rent.

This interpretation is contrary to explanations offered in 2003 and 2004 by the city's Department of Planning and Development. In any event, argues a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice in King County Court, the rule the city is trying to enforce is arbitrary and capricious, violating the McAfertys' right to substantive due process under the state constitution. The suit also argues that the city's refusal to allow a sign in front of the B&B violates the couple's right to free speech.

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