Tacoma unveils plan to do away with ‘single-family’ zoning label, reimagine housing options

Mar 11, 2021, 7:54 AM | Updated: 10:49 am

Tacoma housing market, single family zoning...

Tacoma's housing market is one of the most competitive ones in the entire nation. (John Lloyd, Flickr Creative Commons)

Tacoma has officially unveiled its plan to reimagine its single-family zoning, which would do away with the moniker entirely and divide the city into new categories that encourage what it’s calling “middle housing” options.

Did Seattle’s upzoning measure not go far enough?

Tacoma’s history as a city primarily zoned for residential homes dates back to the 1950s. Today, the Home in Tacoma Project planning commission estimates that the city is zoned 90% for single-family homes, and just 10% for multifamily buildings like large apartments, condos, and duplexes. A newly proposed plan from the commission would eliminate the “single family” and “multi-family” land use designations altogether, replacing them with “low-scale residential” and “mid-scale residential.”

Low-scale residential would group single-family homes together with duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, cottage housing, mobile homes, and mother-in-law units. Mid-scale residential would encompass more traditional large apartment complexes and live/work spaces.

A pair of potential options would either have the city be 75% low-scale and 25% mid-scale, or 40% low-scale and 60% mid-scale.

“The difference between the scenarios is the extent of each of the two proposed new Residential designations,” the commission notes. “Both scenarios include significant new housing options, with the most substantial increases in [the 40/60 split] Scenario 2.”

Tacoma housing market continues to heat up

Ultimately, the goal is to focus on expanding “middle housing” options, represented by housing options that provide more density than a simple single-family home, but aren’t as expansive as large apartment buildings. By grouping things like town homes and duplexes together in the low-scale residential category, the goal is to promote more diverse housing types in a city where they’re already in short supply.

The hope is to also update and increase incentives to ensure that portions of new middle housing options are set aside for affordable housing developments.

The proposal from the Home in Tacoma Project was compiled at the direction of Tacoma City Council, “informed by extensive stakeholder engagement and technical analysis.” Now that it’s fully unveiled, the timeline for its further development and potential approval is scheduled to move ahead as follows:

  • Thursday, March 18: Information meeting held over Zoom
  • Wednesday, April 7: Public hearing over Zoom
  • Friday, April 9: Deadline for comments that residents can send to
  • June 2021: Tacoma City Council scheduled to take action on these proposals
  • December 2021: Deadline for staff and planning commission to provide updates to zoning and development standards to the eventual policy the council adopts.

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Tacoma unveils plan to do away with ‘single-family’ zoning label, reimagine housing options