Seattle and Tacoma weigh changes to single-family zoning with key differences

Jun 29, 2021, 8:59 AM | Updated: 12:30 pm

A pair of Seattle councilmembers unveiled a proposal on Monday to do away with the “single family zoning” label. In Tacoma, a different plan to reimagine how the city looks at zoning is underway, bearing some similarities to Seattle’s, as well as some key differences.

How to ‘sympathetically’ upzone single-family neighborhoods

Seattle’s proposal, led by Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss, doesn’t actually change the city’s zoning rules, operating only as a means to relabel the existing zones.

“Language matters,” Mosqueda said Monday. “‘Single family’ zoning may seem to some as merely a planning term, but we know historically it has been used to further exclusionary practices and discriminatory policies of the past.”

“At this point, I am only proposing to change the name of these areas through technical amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and land use code,” she added in a news release.

Tacoma’s plan — known as the Home in Tacoma Project — bears one similarity to Seattle’s, in that it also seeks to do away with the “single family zoning” label entirely. It will instead use two categories: Low-scale residential and mid-scale residential.” What it also does, though, is take it a step further.

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.

The goal is to then have the city consider a variety of combinations of the two new categories, ranging from 75% low-scale and 25% mid-scale, to 40% low and 60% mid.

While Seattle’s plan isn’t as aggressive, Mosqueda did note that she expects “there will be a robust discussion about what our neighborhood residential areas should look like to meet our goals for an equitable and just future.”

Roughly 70% of Seattle is zone for single-family homes, restricting the construction of larger, dense housing options like duplexes, triplexes, and apartments. With eight historic districts that also severely limit the ability to tear down or alter older buildings and homes, the city has long grappled with how to increase its density and make its existing housing options more affordable.

Economist: Seattle’s single-family zoning ‘doesn’t make any sense’

Tacoma faces similar obstacles, having been primarily zoned for residential homes dating back to the 1950s. In total, roughly 90% of the city exists under the single-family zoning moniker, with just 10% available for multifamily buildings.

The Home in Tacoma Project will look to directly address that, with information meetings scheduled for July 6 and July 8 on Zoom, and a public hearing set for July 13’s city council session.

Seattle’s own roadmap will kick off with a “public hearing to receive input” on July 28 at 9:30 a.m.

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Seattle and Tacoma weigh changes to single-family zoning with key differences