You are here: Home Making it Easier to Build Green! Code Innovations Blog Northwest Cities tackle "infill" development codes

Northwest Cities tackle "infill" development codes

All over the Northwest, cities large and small are struggling with how to concentrate growth in their urban centers without damaging the unique character of existing districts and neighborhoods. One strategy getting serious consideration is "gentle densification" through urban infill policies to encourage smaller clustered housing and other innovative ways of "doing more with less."
Northwest Cities tackle "infill" development codes

Bungalow court built in 1921, Pasadena CA

All over the Northwest, cities large and small are struggling with how to concentrate growth in their urban centers without damaging the unique character of existing districts and neighborhoods.  One strategy getting serious consideration is "gentle densification" through urban infill policies to encourage smaller clustered housing and other innovative ways of "doing more with less."

In June, I was on a panel with Leonard Bauer, Deputy Director of Community Development at the City of Olympia, at an evening education session: "Big Ideas / Tiny Homes" attended by over 100 people.  The session was focused on code barriers and the growing popularity of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), tiny homes on wheels and tiny home villages.  Bauer bemoaned the lack of the "missing middle," a hot new concept in the planner's lexicon that refers to "a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living."  Since WWII, codes and zoning have favored single-family only neighborhoods or mid-rise multifamily apartments, where before we saw a mix of duplexes, fourplexes, courtyard apartments, live work units and more.  See MissingMiddleHousing.com

Olympia, like other Northwest Cities is preparing to revisit their rule-books to encourage more residential infill development:  The planning commission will be asking for public input beginning in October, with code change proposals expected to go before Olympia City Council in early 2017.  Portland, always a step ahead but still late to the game if you ask Portland millenials, just completed a public comment period during which they received 1400 comments on proposed code changes regarding scale of houses and housing types near urban centers as well as city wide.

Proposals and changes in Portland Seattle, probably Olympia and other cities most often include:

  • Smaller housing footprints and scale
  • More flexibility for ADUs, such as allowing two ADUs on one property, or not requiring property owners to live on site (often required)
  • Incentives for clustered cottage housing or "pocket neighborhoods" and other missing middle housing types
  • Zoning codes to allow tiny homes and in some cases villages with up to 30 sleeping units served by a shared common house with facilities

 

Encouraging smaller, clustered housing types could help increase density in Urban Growth Areas.  From an environmental perspective, this is desirable not just because city life is seen as more walkable, sustainable and vibrant. Density also has the potential to divert some of the impacts that growth will have on outlying forests and farms if sprawl continues for another 20 years.  However, some current residents express legitimate concerns about what this will mean, if it will change the character of their historic or iconic neighborhoods, with new development out of sync and scale with what's already there.  And who will pay for the impact costs of such development?

There are no easy answers, but its clear that the spirit of innovation is alive, and with housing becoming more unaffordable to many every day, small is a beautiful way to innovate.  The best thing is to get involved in your community, express your opinion and show examples of what's possible from case studies in the Code Innovations Database!

To build on this idea, we're reposting a couple relevant articles from the Municipal Research Services Center, a non-profit serving primarily Washington City and County governments.

Document Actions
  • Print this Print this