Big Picture Questions
How many new homes are needed in the City? How many of those will occur in the moderate and high-density zones? How many new homes are needed in the low-density zones? If you don’t build it, where will they go?
The City is planning for 13,000 new housing units in the City and its urban growth boundary by the year 2035. Of those, about 5,850 are expected to be single family homes, mostly built in the areas identified as “Low Density Neighborhood” on the Future Land Use Map in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The areas designated as low-density neighborhood makes up almost half of the City and its urban growth area (UGA). Some of these homes will be built in new subdivisions within the City and the UGA while others will occur on vacant lots within the City as infill.
2,500-3,500 new residences are expected to accommodate approximately 5,000 new residents in the Downtown (which is designated as one of the City’s three “High Density Neighborhood” overlays). While a specific number of units is not called for in the other two high density areas, it is anticipated that each will accommodate a similar amount of development. Future planning efforts will focus on those areas, just as the Downtown Strategy did for the Downtown Neighborhood.
While most growth is directed to high and moderate density areas, not everyone wants to live in apartment complexes or high or moderate density areas. The proposed housing types would provide for a greater variety of housing types being allowed in the low-density neighborhood areas.
If the City of Olympia and the other cities in Thurston County do not accommodate growth within our Urban Growth Areas, the pressure to develop in Thurston County’s rural and resource lands (those areas outside of Urban Growth Areas) will be increased. This would likely result in sprawl, loss of natural resources like farm and forest lands, and result in more costly infrastructure extensions into undeveloped rural lands to provide services like drinking water.
Is it possible to accommodate 20,000 new residents with single family neighborhoods? By providing for taller buildings, more floors, etc. in the city core and high-density nodes?
It is technically possible to make no changes to the low density residential zoning districts and instead direct all new growth to the moderate and high-density zoning districts or by expanding the urban growth areas and require conversion of surrounding rural areas into suburban housing developments. This approach would be inconsistent with the goals and policies of the City’s adopted Comprehensive Plan, which calls for low density neighborhoods that are primarily single-family detached housing and low-rise multi-family housing and by accommodating some of the growth by allowing for infill in existing neighborhoods. Under the Growth Management Act, cities and counties are not allowed to adopt development regulations that are inconsistent with the adopted Comprehensive Plan.
If all new growth is directed to a certain housing type (multi-family) and only in certain areas (high density neighborhoods), that would put even more pressure on single-family home prices in low density areas, making them even less accessible to moderate and low income families.
Will this result in increased population density? Will there be adequate roads and schools?
The City is required to plan for population growth, including where growth will occur and at what level of intensity (low, medium, or high density residential, commercial, and industrial uses). This includes planning for roads, schools, water, sewer, police and fire, parks and open space and other urban services. The goals and policies for where this will occur is provided in the City of Olympia’s adopted Comprehensive Plan. The City plans to grow by 20,000 people between 2014 and 2035. The majority of new growth will be directed to three high-density areas (downtown and an area on both the east and west sides of the City) and in moderate density areas. But adopted City policies also include provisions for a portion of this growth to occur in areas designated for low-density neighborhoods.
The location of Urban Growth Area boundary and the number of people, housing units, and jobs the City is planning for have remained constant since 2014. The housing options code amendments considered in this process are one tool to help implement the Comprehensive Plan to accommodate our planned growth. Other planning efforts, such as the recently adopted Downtown Strategy, focus on growth and livability in the high density neighborhoods.
Overall, the City plans for a full range of public services to serve the community and our new growth, including an assessment of infrastructure needs. This type of planning is covered in the City’s Comprehensive Plan and in the Master Plans that are specific to certain aspects, such as domestic water, sanitary sewer, storm and surface water, transportation, and schools. Once a specific development project is proposed, it is reviewed to ensure compliance with the requirements of the codes and standards, to ensure it meets today’s adopted requirements. New development must also pay impact fees for things like parks and open space, transportation, and schools.
- Neighborhood Scale and Character
- Building Orientation and Entries
- Building Modulation and Articulation
- Garage Design
- Materials and Colors
How does the City ensure new homes fit in with the architecture of existing neighborhoods?
The City of Olympia requires compliance with design standards for all of these housing types. These standards address the appearance of the outside of the building, for all duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The City’s Infill and Other Residential Design Guidelines have requirements for:
ADUs are required to reflect the architectural character of the primary home through related building features (roof type and pitch, window patterns and proportions, materials and colors) and to provide a clearly defined entrance that is easily accessible from the street or existing residence.
Because “Courtyard Apartments” are not currently defined or treated differently than apartments of any size (three units up to major apartment complexes) in our code, it is not specific about which design standards would apply – multifamily or infill. If Courtyard Apartments are allowed, this would need to be specified. It is possible existing design standards such as the Multifamily Residential Design Review standards and/or the Infill and Other Residential Design Review standards would be appropriate. Additional standards tailored to courtyard apartments may be needed to ensure compatibility and maintain existing neighborhood scale and character.
Would covenants for single family still apply? Does city zoning code override HOAs?
Private covenants will still apply. Many Homeowner Associations (HOAs) have private restrictions known as Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). CC&Rs may have restrictions that are more limiting than what is allowed by City codes. They sometimes specify which housing types are allowed to be built in an area. The City does not enforce private covenants, which would be up to the discretion of each HOA to enforce their own rules.
Will these amendments cause the most affordable homes be demolished and replaced by multiple high-density market rate units?
While it is possible, it isn’t likely in most cases. The cost of demolition, lost rental income, mortgage payments, meeting the new requirements and the cost of new construction generally do not result in a high enough return on investment for most homeowners or builders.
In a 2018 study prepared by Thurston Regional Planning Council for the City of Olympia, we found that homes valued at $70,000 or less were the most likely to be torn down and replaced instead of being remodeled or renovated. If that were to happen, the property owner would still have the option of replacing a single-family home with a new single-family home or any other housing type allowed in the zoning district if the other development standards can be met. This includes things like the building setbacks from property lines, maximum amount of building and impervious lot coverage, on-site parking, design review, etc. New residential construction must meet current building codes, which includes a residential fire sprinkler system.
How does the City address the protection of historic homes and character?
These proposed amendments do not change the way the City regulates historic homes and areas. The two primary ways the City currently addresses historic homes and character is through Design Review and Historic Preservation regulations. Proposed projects must meet the City’s Design Review standards. This can include review of the architectural character of neighboring residences and homes within 300-feet of the site on the same street. Some of the ways to meet that requirement include roof form and pitch, window patters and proportions, façade materials, and maintaining a consistent relationship to the street. Other design review standards address building orientation and entrances, building modulation and articulation, windows, garage design, and the exterior materials and color.
Historic preservation standards also apply to proposed structures on historic properties and in Historic Districts. These provisions include requirements and guidelines for new buildings, additions, and remodel projects. The City has a Historic Preservation Planner, uses the applicable Secretary of Interior standards, and relies on input from the Olympia Heritage Commission.
How does the City plan to address parking for these housing types?
With the exception of the ADU proposal, each of the housing types under consideration already requires – and will continue to require – parking to be provided onsite. The current parking standards require that a new single-family home must provide two parking spaces on the property; a duplex must provide two parking spaces per unit for a total of four. Housing options that include three or more units must provide 1.5 parking spaces per unit.
While a new ADU would not be required to add an additional parking space under this proposal, a parking space could be provided if the property owner chooses. Any existing single-family home, if proposed for conversion to a different housing type, would need to demonstrate how the minimum required parking will be provided on site before the City would issue the building permits for the conversion. New parking spaces must be paved and located on the property, not in the public right of way.
Why doesn’t the City change the parking requirements for duplexes?
The amount of parking required for residences, including duplexes, is set in the Parking and Loading chapter of the City code. Parking standards are based on anticipated needs and are generally related to “average daily trips” generated by the type of housing proposed and “average peak period parking demand” standards. Two parking stalls per unit, as is required in our current code, is more parking than is needed based on the average peak parking demand of 1.2 spaces per unit.
The City may reduce or increase parking standards at any time, as an amendment to the Olympia Municipal Code.
Can the City increase the parking requirements for duplexes in the South Capitol neighborhood?
In theory the City could establish higher parking standards in different parts of the City. The City is not proposing to change the parking requirement for duplexes at this time. A new duplex would require four new parking spaces on the property.
Can the number of parking spaces needed be determined by individual neighborhoods? Some neighborhoods can handle it but for some it is already a challenge.
In theory the City could establish higher or lower parking standards in different parts of the City. The City is not proposing to change the parking requirement at this time.
How will this impact the City’s tree canopy, which helps to cool our planet?
These amendments are unlikely to impact tree canopy. The City has adopted standards about how many trees are required on each lot, as well as how much of each lot can be covered with buildings, impervious surfaces, and hard surfaces. These requirements are a based on a percentage of the lot and vary based on the zoning district. These proposed amendments do not include changes to the development standards or tree retention requirements.
Will these changes result in more water runoff polluting our lakes, reservoirs, streams, and coastal waters?
The City has stormwater control regulations that ensure all new development address water runoff. There are also standards that limit things like building coverage, impervious surface coverage, tree protection measures, critical area protections, drinking water protections, etc. None of these standards are proposed to change with this proposal. The “developable” portion of each lot will remain the same. For example, a lot may develop with a two story 2,600 square foot single family home or two 1,300 square foot units in a duplex. Both of these options could include the same amount of building coverage, impervious surface coverage, and hard surface coverage. In either scenario, low impact development measures would be required to address stormwater.
One item being considered is whether or not to increase the building height for ADUs that are not attached to the house. This is so that an ADU could be built over an accessory structure, such as a garage or shop building that is not attached to the house. The current maximum height for buildings that are not attached to the house is 16-feet. If an ADU could be built over a garage, more of the yard area could be used or preserved for plants and allow more natural infiltration of rainwater into the ground.
How will these changes affect ability for people to have solar panels and gardens if the neighboring properties build taller buildings?
The proposed amendments are unlikely to change the current provisions for access to sunlight. This is because no change is proposed to the development standards for things like building heights, development coverage limits, tree requirements, etc. The possible exception to this is the potential for ADUs that are not attached to the house to increase in height from 16-feet to 24-feet. Currently, a single-family home can be up to 35-feet tall and can be constructed as close as 5-feet from the side property line. One of the proposals is to allow ADUs above detached garages to be built at 24-feet in height with the same 5’ side yard setback. It is likely that the 24-foot tall building would have less of an impact on solar access than the already permitted 35-foot tall building if attached to the house. However, it would have the potential to impact solar access more than the 16-foot height currently allowed for detached ADUs.s.
How does the City address stormwater from new development?
All new development is required to comply with the City’s Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual (DDECM). These regulations require all projects with 2,000-4,999 square feet of new or replaced hard surfaces to provide an Abbreviated Stormwater Management Plan and all projects of more than 5,000 square feet of new or replaced hard surfaces to provide a full Stormwater Drainage Plan. These plans must demonstrate that all stormwater will be retained onsite, or captured, treated, and dispersed into an approved stormwater system. No change to the stormwater requirements is proposed as part of this project.
Would the City ban new single-family homes to support our environmental goals?
The City of Olympia does not intend to ban the construction of new single-family homes. Single family homes are an allowed use in almost all City of Olympia zoning districts.
- Creating a webpage dedicated to this planning process
- Publishing a Notice of Proposal in The Olympian
- Sending Notice of Proposal to all Recognized Neighborhood Associations, asking the information to be shared with neighborhood members
- Contact all “parties of record” from the Missing Middle Infill Housing process to inform them of this process, given the similarities in the housing types under consideration
- Periodic email updates to all “parties of record” for this planning process
- E-Newsletter announcements sent to subscribers of the City’s “Planning & Development” list
- Coordination with the Council of Neighborhoods Association
- Announcements on the local TV channel and on lobby screens in City buildings
- For each Planning Commission meeting the City provides notice to the media, Recognized Neighborhood Associations, the Council of Neighborhoods Association, other City Advisory Boards and Committees, and people who request to be notified of Commission meetings
How is the public notified of these options?
The City provides notice of planning processes in a variety of ways. The Public Notification Chapter of the City code provides the minimum requirements. Public Notice for this process was provided by:
Additional means of notice may be used as the proposal continues. At a minimum, a Public Hearing Notice will be published in The Olympian and sent to all Recognized Neighborhood Associations and Parties of Record.
Can we have meetings in neighborhoods?
Homeowners Associations (HOAs), Recognized Neighborhood Associations, non-profit organizations and other groups may contact the City to request a presentation at their meetings. Staff attends upon request, when available.
City staff have been working directly with the Council of Neighborhoods Association to provide information and answer questions about this proposal. The City does provide for public meetings such as the Information Sessions, Planning Commission meetings, Open Houses, and the public hearing that are open to everyone to attend.
Will the City provide notice of all building permits, including ADUs and Duplexes, to neighborhoods?
All building permits can be viewed online via the City’s Permit Portal. Anyone interested can use the Portal to look at all land use and building permit applications throughout the City. The system allows refined search options to pinpoint a specific neighborhood.
Will we see the comments from Commissioners and the Councilmembers related to this proposal?
Discussion by the Planning Commission and/or City Council related to any specific topic occurs at their regularly scheduled meetings. The public is welcome to listen to the discussion at the meetings. Meetings are also recorded and the recordings for both Planning Commission and City Council meetings are posted on the City’s webpage.
The recordings are generally available within a few days of the meeting. These can be accessed by selecting “Agendas and Minutes” from the City of Olympia website (olympiawa.gov). Agendas, Minutes, and Media are organized by the meeting body and date.
Will the public be able to appeal the City if it amends the development regulations to implement these housing options?
Provisions in state law do limit the ability for people to appeal the City’s action to implement these types of development code amendments, if the City adopts such changes prior to April 1, 2021. This pertains to appeals under the State Environmental Policy Act or the Growth Management Act. Any specific questions regarding appeal rights and opportunities should be directed to an attorney.
Why not wait for passage of amendments to this new language in state law that are currently proposed in the legislature (HB2343, SB 6334)?
The Planning Commission is addressing these housing options because it was referred to the Commission by the City Council based on the housing options adopted by the State of Washington in 2019, which are now part of the Growth Management Act. If amendments are passed and adopted into law, the City Council may choose to amend its referral or take further action, if necessary.
Incentives & Pilot Programs
How can the city incentivize ADU construction given the high capital costs?
The City is working with the Cities of Lacey and Tumwater to provide ADU plans at a variety of sizes that have been designed and pre-approved. Property owners who live in the City or UGA could review the plans to see if any are appropriate for their needs and property conditions. The intent is to also offer a variety in roof types and finishes that meet the City’s design review requirements so property owners can make selections that are appropriate for the site and neighborhood character.
Additionally, the City charges reduced impact fees for ADUs and allows for shared utility connections with the existing home, which is often a cost reduction.
How does the City support small one-time projects like ADUs and Duplexes?
The City provides a variety of helpful handouts to guide the average citizen through the application process regardless of the type of housing unit being proposed. The front counter staff provide customer service and assistance. The City does not provide specific support for one housing type over any other type that is allowed within the zone for the project site.
Some of the requirements for ADUs and duplexes are slightly different for different housing types though. For example, a property owner can share utility connections with that of the primary house, which can help save money at the time of construction because an additional connection to the sewer line in the street is not required. For duplexes, the property owner is required to pay impact fees for each unit, however these fees are slightly lower than the fees that would be charged for two single family homes.
If the City of Olympia offers free plans for ADUs in the future, can one of them be for a two-bedroom ADU?
The City hopes to provide a variety of options, in addition to the two plans currently available in the City of Lacey. Ideally these will provide a variety of sizes and floor plans, as well as finishes.
Can the City provide incentives to allow more Courtyard Apartments?
The City could provide incentives, but the options being consider do not include incentives at this time.
Will the City consider piloting Triplexes or Courtyard Apartments before allowing it on a broader scale?
If the City determines that triplexes or courtyard apartments are appropriate uses in any of the low density residential zoning districts, it will be identified as a permitted use in a particular district (or districts). The wording in state law that is being considered is written in a way that applies at the zoning district scale.
The statute reads, “unless a city documents a specific infrastructure of physical constraint…”. But it sounds like the development standards are a greater constraint and may not allow the triplex apartment. How does the City reconcile this discrepancy?
Currently the development standards that are the biggest barrier to allowing triplexes in any of the low density residential zoning districts is the fact that triplexes are not allowed in most of these zones and, when they are a permitted use, the minimum lot size and lot width standards make it unlikely to occur or infeasible. This is because the current minimum lot width required, which is typically 40 or 45 feet for a single family home, must be at least 80 feet in width to build a triplex. Most lots are not 80-feet or more in width.
If changes to allow triplexes are adopted under the language in the state law being considered, triplexes would be allowed on any parcel in a particular zoning district, as long as the underlying development standards are met for things like minimum setbacks to between the building and property lines, maximum lot coverages (building footprints, impervious surfaces, hard surfaces), low impact development stormwater standards, critical areas protection measures, design review requirements, and on-site parking standards, which would remain unchanged. This also means the lot would not have to be at least 80-feet in order for a triplex to be built. To reconcile the proposed housing option with the current city code, the requirement for an 80 foot wide lot would need to be removed from the code.
Does an alley count as a street?
An alley is not a street. One example of how they are treated differently is in the setbacks that are required from a building to a street. In most cases there must be at least ten feet between a building and a street. Some structures can be placed zero feet from an alley.
Could this proposal result in fewer opportunities for home ownership?
Opportunities for residential infill can provide opportunities for a larger variety of home ownership options and provide a variety of rental options in neighborhoods. Ultimately, each home or property will still be owned by someone. One of the goals of these amendments is to address the interest by some residents in owning a home with an ADU or a duplex so that rental income can be used to help pay their mortgage. The goal is to allow for alternatives for the diversifying demand. Some people still want to own a single-family home and never build an ADU on their property, which will remain an option.
Did you know that more than 50% of Olympia’s residents are currently renters?
How will rents be set? Will they be set by landlords and investors from outside of Olympia?
Typically, rents are set by the property owner based on regional market demands. Thurston County (and Olympia) market demands are heavily influenced by Pierce and King County. Rental rates for the types of houses and housing units under consideration by the Housing Options Code Amendments will likely be rented at market rates. The City has other housing efforts aimed at addressing homelessness and to provide Low Income Housing. Examples include the Homeless Response Plan, emergency housing such as Plum Street Tiny House Village, and the Home Fund.
Providing more rental units, and all units in general, will help increase the amount of housing supply. An increase in housing supply generally has a downward effect on rents – or can at least help slow the pace of rent increases. Alternatively, restrictions on housing types can have an upward effect on rents, especially as land for new construction of single family homes becomes more limited.
Instead of requiring fire sprinklers in all new residential homes and units, could the City provide a list of options to allow safety choices, such as a menu of options (like LEED example)?
There are no plans to change the requirement for fire sprinklers in new residences as part of this proposal. The fire sprinkler requirement was adopted in 2014. At that time, alternatives were evaluated. The City could consider further revision to the fire sprinkler requirements in the future, but such changes are not anticipated at this time.
How is it appropriate, relevant, or legal to use a term like Courtyard Apartments when the term is not defined by the Municipal Code? Why not use the definition for apartment?
The term Courtyard Apartment is included in the state law in one of the housing options the City is considering. The state does not define Courtyard Apartment. If Courtyard Apartments are allowed, the City would need to create a definition, identify where courtyard apartments are allowed, and create standards for them (e.g. how much open space is required per unit). The closest defined housing type we have currently is for “Apartment”. Typically, Courtyard Apartments are smaller scaled, include fewer units, are not as tall, and are designed around a courtyard. Adding a definition of Courtyard Apartment seems appropriate to reduce confusion and to ensure the smaller scale is clearly articulated within the code.