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November 22, 2016

Tacoma makes a push for infill housing to add variety and keep units affordable

  • The city will seek proposals early next year from homeowners, developers and nonprofits.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Photo from Ross Chapin Architects [enlarge]
    Cottages like these in Langley, developed by The Cottage Co., could start popping up in Tacoma.

    Tacoma is asking developers and property owners to build infill housing as a way to add more choices and affordability in residential neighborhoods.

    The goal of the city's pilot program is to increase density by allowing smaller multifamily projects and townhouses in some new areas. The city also proposes allowing detached accessory dwelling units — a first for Tacoma — and cottage housing, which has not been built in the city in recent years.

    Senior Planner Lauren Flemister said the Residential Infill Pilot Program is intended to provide “exemplary” projects that will help the city council in 2018 when it considers rezoning to allow new project types in some residential districts.

    According to a handbook Tacoma created, the pilot is aimed at expanding housing for retired people, young families, students and young professionals.

    Another goal is to streamline the rules for detached ADUs, which can provide income for homeowners, or house older relatives or adult children.

    The city hopes adding density will support public transit, retail and other businesses.

    Flemister said some people have voiced concerns about parking and how new types of housing might change the character of neighborhoods.

    She said the public is invited to give feedback on the program and specific projects, and said the new housing will be vetted to ensure it fits the neighborhoods.

    The city hopes to see a variety of proposals from homeowners, developers and nonprofits, she said, to learn what is possible.

    Pre-application coaching from city staff is slated for early 2017. Proposals must be submitted by the end of February, and a committee will pick a maximum of three projects of each housing type to go through permitting. The aim is to start construction on smaller projects by mid-2017.

    The committee will include city staff, neighborhood representatives, a planning commissioner, and an architect or urban designer. A landmark preservation commissioner will be involved for proposals in historic districts.

    Flemister said Tacoma is growing, and needs to plan ahead and think creatively, “and we are trying to do that with this program.”

    In developing the pilot, the city looked to Portland and Seattle, though Flemister said Tacoma does not face the same issues of growth and affordability as Seattle. Tacoma also looked at cottage housing projects in Lakewood.

    In its research, Flemister said the city learned the pilot program needs community input and to provide a number of housing types — “things for folks to look at.”

    “We don't want it to just be the $200,000 ADUs, but projects of different price points,” she said.

    Flemister said ADUs are hard to get built because some people see them as “invasive and disruptive,” and it can be daunting for homeowners to go through permitting and construction.

    The consultant team on the pilot was MIG|SvR and Makers Architecture & Urban Design.

    For more information, go to http://tiny.cc/pf4wgy or contact Flemister at lflemister@cityoftacoma.org or (253) 905-4146.


    Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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