Duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes - Oh my!

The "Missing Middle," revisited, also allows backyard "accessory dwelling units" to be added to existing single-family properties


The Olympia City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a group of amendments to city housing code, loosening restrictions on accessary dwelling units and allowing duplexes, triplexes and other dense housing options in a wider variety of residential zones.

Housing code amendments have been a recurring topic of conversation for years. This recent round of amendments was recommended for approval by both the city planning commission and land use and environment committee.

In 2019, the legislature passed House Bill 1923. The bill encouraged cities to plan and allow for additional housing to meet a rising need for housing. The bill also provided a bevy of options on achieving that goal. City council members identified three of those options, and tasked the planning commission with picking the two most feasible. The committee ended up recommending all three.

The amendments increase the maximum size of ADUs to 850 square feet and do not require the owner to live on-site. It also strikes a requirement for an off-site parking spot.

Amendments also allow for duplexes to be built on corner lots in all zoning districts where single-family homes are allowed.

Additionally, it allows duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built on R4-8 (4 to 8 residential units per acre) and R6-12; and sixplexes and courtyard apartments in R6-12 zones.

The ongoing conversation on the amendments has been contentious, with proponents believing diversified housing options will allow affordable options to people struggling to pay pricey housing costs.

“This policy for me is a drop in the bucket. We know we need 13,000 units of housing over the next 20 years to accommodate population growth. … I’m assuming this is give or take about 1,000 units, possibly, if all property owners were to utilize this zoning change,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Bateman.

Opponents to the amendments — several of whom spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting — fear the changes will drive housing prices higher still, citing gentrification in Seattle as both a warning and an example of unsustainable housing.

Council member Clark Gilman addressed those concerns, saying the amendments alone will not solve affordability problems. That will require further conversation and work from officials on housing.

Council member Jim Cooper also spoke of affordability, floating the idea of an incentive package developed by the land use committee, allowing for reduced costs or loans for property owners that provide for lower income tenants.

“Density is great, and every unit helps, but how can the city spend a little bit of its incentive time on that affordable piece,” Cooper said.


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