'Missing Middle' is back.  Missing Middle is back in court.

Advocates for Olympia’s multi-year effort to increase housing density counted down the past 30 days, hoping the court’s decision would stick


The “Missing Middle” efforts that started in 2016 to expand the variety and density of housing in Olympia have been the subject of legal battles that some hoped would have ended today, at the end of a 30-day appeal period.

Instead, yesterday, a citizens' group filed another appeal. The battle continues. 

Here’s a brief (and partial) chronology:

  • November 5, 2018: City council unanimously approves Ordinance 7160, what was commonly called the Missing Middle ordinance.
  • Citizens appeal the ordinance in multiple venues.
  • The Legislature in 2019 passes two laws that encourage building capacity and protect cities’ authority to make some of the changes that Olympia passed in 2018, such as adding accessory dwelling units in single-family zones and more.
  • July 10, 2019: Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB), a state agency, rules against Olympia’s missing middle ordinance
  • The city appeals the GMHB’s ruling; the case goes to Thurston County Superior Court.
  • December 14, 2020: Olympia passes a series of code amendments that take advances of the 2019 state laws; these include a portion of the missing middle package.
  • May 31, 2022: Thurston County Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas reverses GMHB’s order, sends the case back to the hearings board. Thomas ruled that the GMHB committed “an error of law by failing to dismiss this case after the enactment of HB 1923 and SHB 2343." It ordered the case remanded to the GMHB for dismissal.  
  • June 29, 2022: Yesterday, Olympians for Smart Development and Livable Neighborhoods (OSD&LN), the same local citizens group that has been fighting all along, filed an appeal that will move the case instead to the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Judy Bardin, a member of OSD&LN, confirmed they had taken their appeal to the Court of Appeals.

“How is it that community members like us don’t have the right to challenge bad land-use decisions and that we can be denied standing after winning rulings and paying our way forward with effort and money for so long?,” Bardin asked in a press release today, adding, “It is unfortunate that the city decided to spend time and money on legal maneuvers rather than doing what the GMHB initially recommended, which is to simply fix the flaws in the Missing Middle ordinance."

Missing Middle housing

Olympia’s Ordinance 7160, approved by the city council in 2018, allowed changes to developmental regulations, including regulations for building accessory dwelling units, cottage housing, courtyard apartment, and duplexes. The ordinance was in force for approximately four months before it was withdrawn due to legal appeals.

The ordinance allowed for the missing middle housing program, which according to the city’s website, refers to a range of housing types that can provide more than one housing unit per lot in a way that is compatible in scale with single-family homes.

The 2019 Board decision made the ordinance ineffective.

The 2019 state laws

Two acts of the legislature enabled Olympia and other cities to take another look at some aspects of Ordinance 7160. These were:

  • HB 1923, which encouraged cities to increase residential building capacity in urban areas.
  • SHB 2343, enlarged the types of housing ordinances that are not subject to the GMHB or SEPA challenge.

Following the state legislation, Community Planning and Development Director Leonard Bauer said Olympia adopted housing code amendments in 2021.  

He said the new ordinance allows the building of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in specific community areas.

It also includes some provisions around accessory dwelling units, including:

  • Can be built up to 850 sq. ft. in size
  • No additional parking required
  • Owner is not required to live on-site
  • The maximum height for detached ADUs is 24 feet.
  • Can be built above garage that is not attached to the primary house.

According to Bauer, the Housing Options ordinance was able to re-adopt some aspects of the missing middle regulation that had been declared invalid by the Board.

Because the missing middle case is again on appeal, Bauer told The JOLT today, “the missing middle ordinance is held in abeyance and those other aspects of that ordinance are not in effect, only those that were adopted by the housing options.”


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  • waltjorgensen

    The article is slanted and leaves out or mischaracterizes many important facts.  First, Accessory Dwelling Units were not newly allowed by the Missing Middle.  They have been allowed in single family neighborhoods since 1994.  Also cottages, townhouses, tiny homes and manufactured homes were allowed in these neighborhoods prior to the Missing Middle.  Therefore single family neighborhoods have long allowed diverse housing types.

    The Missing Middle would allow some new forms of density at the expense of the environment by including: duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and courtyard apartments; and would  permit long rows of townhouses similar to the row houses of Baltimore.  It would also give density bonuses, decreased lot sizes, and setbacks in yards, thereby decreasing greenspace.

    The reason the Growth Management Hearings Board invalidated the Missing Middle ordinance is because they found that it violated two major State laws, SEPA (the State Environmental Policy Act) and GMA (the Growth Management Act).  The Board found that the City had done an inadequate environmental review (ignoring over half of it) and there were serious concerns about stormwater and protection of water bodies.  The Board also found that density could more than double what was allowed by the City's Comprehensive Plan and that adequate infrastructure such as roads, school and fire had not been planned for.

    All these concessions, and still no incentives for affordable housing.


    Walter R. Jorgensen

    823 North St SE

    Tumwater, WA 98501-3526


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  • sunshine39

    Not only did the Superior Court judge inexplicably find that this group of citizens from every area of Olympia had no standing to bring this appeal, but the judge also ruled that the state laws 1923 and 2343 could be backdated, altho that is not stated in the laws

    Friday, July 1 Report this

  • vkrull

    I heartily agree with the following quote from your article:

    “It is unfortunate that the city decided to spend time and money on legal maneuvers rather than doing what the GMHB initially recommended, which is to simply fix the flaws in the Missing Middle ordinance." I, for one, am glad to know that Olympians for Smart Development and Livable Neighborhoods are steadfast in their commitment to both protecting citizen voices in the land use and development activity of our city (a protection sorely needed after City officials' maneuverings managed to strip us of our rights at the State level) AND call out the clear and very destructive pattern of handholding going on between wealthy developers with hefty profit motives and our City government, which is supposed to be upholding quality of life for all Olympians, including and especially, our precious natural environment.

    Monday, July 4 Report this