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Olympia needs more housing. Does your neighborhood have room?

Luke and Whitney Bowerman hope to build a cottage community next to a single-family home they finished building in 2017. Zoning regulations would need to change in order to make that happen.
Luke and Whitney Bowerman hope to build a cottage community next to a single-family home they finished building in 2017. Zoning regulations would need to change in order to make that happen. sbloom@theolympian.com

City of Olympia officials want your insight on a series of changes designed to increase neighborhood density and housing variety citywide.

The proposed changes are the result of eight months of discussions by the Missing Middle Work Group. Leonard Bauer, the city’s deputy director of Community Planning and Development, presented the proposal at a Wednesday night meeting at Olympia City Hall.

He explained the concept of “missing middle,” which is housing that falls between single-family homes and apartment buildings. Because of current city regulations, these housing options are few and far between.

But Olympia’s population is projected to increase by 37.5 percent by the year 2040, the Thurston Regional Planning Council predicts. That’s more than 24,000 people, if you include the city’s urban growth area.

To accommodate all of those people, the area will need to increase its housing offerings by 42.9 percent, or nearly 13,000 units. But unlike neighboring Lacey, Olympia doesn’t have much room in its urban growth area — meaning the city needs to make the most of the space it has.

As of the 2010 census, an average of 2.2 people lived in each Olympia household. About 49 percent of households were single-person or “nonfamily” households.

“A larger home might be a fit for a very small part of our population,” Bauer said.

The missing middle process focused on different types of housing:

▪  Accessory dwelling units: Units that share a lot with a single-family home. They may be an internal unit or a separate, detached structure.

▪  Cottage housing: Defined as four or more small, detached dwelling units sharing a commonly owned courtyard, common area, and/or parking area.

▪  Duplexes: A single building that contains two housing units.

▪  Townhouses: Two or more units that share a structural wall. Unlike in duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes, each unit is on a separate parcel of property.

▪  Triplexes and fourplexes: Buildings with three and four dwelling units respectively.

▪  Tiny homes: City code doesn’t have a separate definition for “tiny homes.” Under state law, tiny homes built on wheels are classified as recreational vehicles.

▪  Courtyard apartments: Attached units built around a common area or courtyard.

▪  Manufactured homes: Homes constructed at a manufacturer’s facility and brought to a local property.

▪  Single-room occupancies: A housing type consisting of one room with shared cooking and/or bathroom facilities.

The city has proposed code changes allowing for all of these housing types. Olympia residents are asked to weigh in with a survey that runs Nov. 15 through 30. It can be found at olympiawa.gov/missingmiddle.

Those who missed Wednesday night’s meeting will still have a chance to learn about the missing middle proposals. Meetings will be from 5 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, and from noon to 1 p.m. on Dec. 13. Both meetings will be in Room 207 of Olympia City Hall.

Then, the proposal will go before the Olympia Planning Commission in January and February. The commission will eventually have a public hearing.

The proposal recommends conducting studies regarding various fees, to see whether different types of housing have varying effects on infrastructure.

The city proposes the following changes for the housing types:

Accessory dwelling units: Code changes would change the maximum height of accessory dwelling units from 16 feet to 24 feet. This would allow such units to be located over garages and other accessory structures. The maximum size of the units would remain at 800 square feet, but the units would no longer be limited to 40 percent of the primary unit. Property owners would no longer be required to live in one of the units.

Cottage housing: Currently, the maximum size of a cottage, including a garage, is 1,600 square feet. With changes, the maximum size would be 1,250 square feet.

Duplexes: The proposal would allow duplexes in zones where they aren’t currently allowed, and change the minimum lot size. Duplexes would be allowed to use one sewer hookup instead to two.

Townhouses: A provision allowing only four townhouses per structure would be removed.

Triplexes and fourplexes: Triplexes and fourplexes would be allowed in additional zones, and the minimum lot size would be changed.

Tiny homes: Codes would be changed to clarify that groups of tiny homes are permitted in most residential districts.

Courtyard apartments: The proposal would create a specific definition of “courtyard apartments” in city code, creating the opportunity to place small complexes in more areas of the city, while limiting impacts to neighborhoods. Height limits would be placed on courtyard apartments in various areas of the city.

Manufactured homes: Currently, manufactured homes must be at least 12 feet wide by 36 feet long. That requirement would be removed, allowing manufactured homes to be used as accessory dwelling units. When small manufactured homes are used as accessory dwelling units, design standards would apply.

Single-room occupancies: These types of units would be allowed in certain areas of the city.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly

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