Tumwater Council, Planning Commission tours housing options


The Tumwater City Council and Planning Commission took to the road in a joint work session on Tuesday, April 9, to look at existing approaches to housing developments in the city and in Olympia.

City's Planning Manager Brad Medrud led the tour, which was open to the public.

Titled “Balancing Nature and Community: Tumwater’s Path to Sustainable Growth,” the trip provided both information and discussion on housing, which the city’s next comprehensive development plan aims to address.

Rather than sit in a meeting room and talk about housing, the two leadership groups – along with members of the public – piled into two city Parks and Recreation vans and took a field trip to several neighborhoods, both historic and recently constructed, considering the numerous factors that weigh on future plans to increase housing in the city, as well as pros and cons of various elements of these existing communities in terms of the city and its future residents’ needs.

While the needs and requirements for more housing in Tumwater consist of a vastly complex and intricate 3-D puzzle, this tour focused on “Middle Housing” options.

Middle housing refers to types of housing between single-family, detached dwellings and larger, higher density condominium and apartment buildings.

This middle housing, both house-sized and block-scale construction, and ranging from duplexes to triple-stacked block homes, includes triplex and quadruplex buildings (both stacked and side-by-side), courtyard buildings, cottage courts, townhouses, and multiplex medium-density structures.  

The participants assembled in front of City Hall on Israel Road at 6 p.m. and heard opening remarks and explanations from Medrud, both regarding housing issues to consider and the logistics of the off-road trip. En route to the first stop,

Medrud explained current city policies and regulations, and the group discussed design standards for residential development.

First, the group stopped at the Yauger Way Development in Olympia, a recently built neighborhood (2017). It includes a mix of single-family houses and duplex, triplex, quadruplex, and sixplex structures.

Standing in this neighborhood highlighted the complexity of factors involved in housing planning, including elements such as garages, on-street parking, yard setbacks, and density.

Group members expressed surprise at the cost of these homes, with the single-family homes priced upwards of $500,000. City staff research and leaders of the Thurston County Realtors’ Association provided the estimate.

Some tour members with fast online search skills looked up prices of for-sale homes in the neighborhood and confirmed the figure. Several members of the tour pointed out that young adults such as their children, looking for a first home, would most likely be unable to afford such a price-tag.

Next, the group drove to downtown Olympia's historic neighborhoods and saw some older middle housing structures, particularly historic homes, converted to multi-family dwellings. These homes demonstrate “organic middle housing” - middle housing that developed without direct planned development.

Heritage houses

One such building was the Bettman House on 9th Ave., one of Olympia’s few remaining Victorian homes, and which is on the Olympia Heritage Register. The 1890 home, renovated extensively in 1988, now comprises 12 units in a total of 5,663 square feet and 2.5 stories.

Returning to Tumwater, the group viewed several 1960s/70s-era middle housing units (duplexes, triplexes, quadruplexes, cottages) along North, Lorne, and McDonald Streets. Several people remarked on a positive aspect: many of these buildings did not look from the street like multi-family units. On the downside, Medrud observed that single-story, ranch-style homes on spacious lots would be unfeasible in the future.

Finally, the group visited newer developments in Tumwater, such as the Forest Park Townhomes -- three-story triplexes on Tumwater Hill -- and Ridgeview Loop, Vista Verde Lane, and Barnes Lake Condos. Group members discussed factors such as the importance of housing accessible to senior citizens and people with disabilities. They also observed that the time-honored approach of empty nesters downsizing to a smaller home and selling their larger homes to the next generation of young, growing families is rapidly becoming unachievable: the new smaller homes are becoming more expensive than the older, larger houses.

The tour promoted in-depth discussion from council and commission members, citizens, and city staff. While extensive work remains in deciding how to meet the complex needs, the tour provided food for thought and opened channels of dialogue with the public for the upcoming planning process.

The Tumwater City Council and Planning Commission will hold another tour exploring transportation on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2024 at 6 p.m. City Council meets monthly on first and third Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in City Hall and holds work sessions on second and fourth Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at Tumwater Fire Department Headquarters. The Planning Commission meets on second and fourth Tuesdays monthly at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Residents’ attendance and participation are welcome; for more information, visit the city website.


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  • JudithB

    KUDOS to the folks that loaded up in vans and went on a field trip to see and feel and hear and smell the realities on the ground. I appreciate the work that is going into this sustainable housing plan.

    Friday, April 12 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    More central planning. This is not the way.

    Friday, April 12 Report this