Density is coming, no matter who wins Tuesday. Can Tacoma neighborhoods keep their charm?

Various zoning changes that increased density across Tacoma went into effect Thursday as part of the city’s 2019 Amendment to its Comprehensive Plan.

Many areas originally zoned as single family neighborhoods will now allow for higher-density residences like town homes and apartments.

From the North End to Eastside, there was worry across the board from residents about how higher density would impact neighborhoods.

“Why are you wanting to take the views and property values away from our homes to give views to affordable housing residents?” asked one resident from Eastside’s Strawberry Hill in written testimony in May.

“The charm and history of the North End is of a bygone era never to be found again which creates its value,” wrote a North End resident. “If you destroy homes and put up more apartment buildings, it’s not going to be pretty.”

People might be disappointed if they are seeking a candidate in this year’s City Council election that will put an end to density increases.

In fact, there’s something candidates in all the district races generally agree on: Density is increasing, whether we like it or not.

Changing Tacoma

Part of the goal of the 2019 Amendment was to align the city’s One Tacoma Plan with the city’s current zoning, said Steve Atkinson, principal planner for the city of Tacoma.

The plan is essentially the “blueprint” for the future character of Tacoma and supports the development of “compact, complete and connected with a variety of housing choices in close proximity to schools, parks, transit, and other amenities.”

As executive director of Downtown on the Go, Kristina Walker is a transit advocate. During an interview with The News Tribune’s editorial board in September, she mentioned she would liked to have seen density increased even more across Tacoma.

“If we have places that are transit-rich, we should embrace that as much as possible,” she told The News Tribune in a later interview.

Does every candidate feel the same way?

John O’Loughlin is running against Walker for the At-Large Position 8 council seat. O’Loughlin said he feels the city is moving in the right direction with density increases but wants to bring neighbors more into the process, whether that’s about design, parking, green space or pedestrian safety.

“The critical conversation is not if we need to get more dense — but how do we bring the neighbors along with us?” he said.

Courtney Love, who’s running against incumbent Conor McCarthy for the At-Large Position 7 council seat, echoes the sentiment. Love said growth is coming and that less-affluent neighborhoods can’t be left behind in the public process.

“I would like to see a clear vision of where we’re going,” Love said.

Planning can be difficult in some areas, such as Proctor where there’s no subarea plan, McCarthy said.

“I think every neighborhood in Tacoma is going to have to eventually accommodate more housing,” he said.


More than 70 areas were proposed for a rezone in the 2019 Amendment, but residents in North End were among the most vocal of the changes — specifically in Proctor along North 34th Street, where density changed from a single-family dwelling district to a two-family dwelling district, such as townhouses.

That doesn’t come as a surprise to City Council candidates Nathe Lawver and John Hines, both of whom are running for the District 1 seat. Both say that they think the current council is moving in the right direction when it comes to increased density around transit areas but offer some things they’d like to see.

“I hear lots of different things — people are upset about parking, green space, pedestrian safety,” said Hines.

Hines, who ran for City Council in 2015, uses Proctor as an example of an area where the city can create a model that brings residents into the development process. Earlier this summer, the neighborhood made headlines when an 80-unit apartment complex was proposed.

“Proctor is changing, the neighborhood is growing … That’s the future of Tacoma, so we have to get out ahead of it,” he said.

Aside from Proctor, Hines wants to see other areas with higher density, such as Westgate, which doesn’t have much residential housing.

Lawver cautions against building out, saying that it’s more expensive to build out into green spaces and farm land rather than building in areas that already have the infrastructure available.

“Density is the most prudent way to absorb the population moving into this area in the next 20 years,” he said.

Lawver said more needs to be done to inform people and get them involved in development projects — not everyone gets the postcards or sees the online notice. Changing public hearing or meeting times to accommodate residents who work various hours has been suggested by more than one candidate.

At the end of the day, city officials can’t ignore needed housing but must also try to keep the peace with residents, he said.

“Not everybody is going to be happy,” Lawver said.


In District 3, where property values are historically lower in Central Tacoma and Hilltop neighborhoods, the concern is slightly different, says council candidate David Combs.

People are coming to the city, District 3 especially, Combs said. But it’s less about looks and more about displacement and affordability.

“It’s a different tone on the Hilltop, where we need more of any (housing) right now,” he said.

He pointed to the recent sale of the former Rite Aid property to Forterra.

“People are kind of looking at that (and) wanting to ensure that whatever is built there is affordable to people already living in the community,” Combs said. “I don’t think people really care what type of housing it is, as long as it’s affordable.”

District 3 incumbent Keith Blocker told The News Tribune he did not have time to be interviewed for this story.