Pierce County might allow taller buildings to entice affordable housing as area grows

Pierce County residents could see taller buildings in their neighborhoods in the future.

Proposed zoning changes would increase the maximum height of development by up to 20 feet.

In some areas, that could be as high as 85 feet total — as long as 20 percent of the housing units are considered affordable.

Affordable housing targets those who earn 80 percent of the average median income, county planner Jessica Gwilt said. Pierce County’s median household income between 2013 and 2017 was $63,881, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The proposed changes are part of a larger effort to update Community Plans for the areas of South Hill, Parkland, Spanaway, Midland, Frederickson and Mid-County near Canyon Road East.

The updates allow a wider range of housing options and focus on concentrating growth along five major transportation corridors:

Pacific Avenue/State Route 7

Meridian Avenue/State Route 161

176th Street East

112th Street East

Canyon Road East

“There are different styles of housing that have come along in the last few years that might make more sense in certain areas that have already started growing more intensively,” said Gwilt. “This is an opportunity to identify those areas.”

The zoning changes do away with existing codes and adds new ones called Centers and Corridors.

Towne Centers are community gathering places that include a “jobs and services, high-density housing and commercial and civic uses and walkable and transit-oriented developments.”

There are two Towne Centers proposed along the Pacific Avenue in Parkland and Spanway, one along Canyon Road in Frederickson and two along Meridian Avenue in South Hill.

Towne Centers allow a maximum height of 65 feet, or 85 feet if 20 percent of housing using are affordable. Density would allow 20 or more housing units per acre. Current maximum height is 60-70 feet in most areas.

Corridor zones can be either Neighborhood, Employment or Urban.

Urban Corridors allow a mix of commercial, civic and multifamily uses with a lower height requirement than Towne Centers, ranging between 45 and 65 feet (if 20 percent of housing units are affordable).

Employment Corridors are spaces for employers, including professional offices and industrial uses. No new housing is allowed. Maximum height is 65 feet.

Neighborhood Corridors provides a buffer between single family neighborhoods and high-density zones, with a lower maximum height of 45 feet.

The Community Plan updates also propose new pockets of Moderate Family-Single Family housing, which could mean tighter subdivisions. The change increases density from 1-3 housing units per acre to 4-6 housing units per acre with a maximum height of 35 feet.

The changes make the areas “in line with more housing options and trends that we’re seeing today,” Gwilt said.

County Councilman Dave Morell said Pierce County faces a challenge with growth.

“That’s why a lot of the housing is more compact,” Morell told The News Tribune. “If we want affordable housing … we have to be able to produce more options.”

Local groups including the Pierce County Master Builders Association (MBA) and the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of Realtors have been involved with planning the Community Plan, which has been ongoing since 2016.

Jessie Gamble, government affairs manager for the Pierce County MBA, said the organization supports the County’s effort and thinks the Centers and Corridors zoning will bring more development to the area.

“It’s incredibly innovative,” Gamble said.

Pierce County is hosting an open house on the updates to the Community Plans on April 13. An open house is also available online.

Pierce County aims to put the new plans into effect by 2020.

Those interested in seeing if they’re affected by the changing can check an interactive map on the Pierce County website.

Pierce County Community Plans Open House

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 13

Where: Pierce County Skills Center, 16117 Canyon Road E.

More information: co.pierce.wa.us/4693/Community-Plan-Updates

Questions? Contact 253-798-2799 or CommunityPlans@piercecountywa.gov

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