Puyallup Herald

Puyallup says no to tiny homes on wheels but considers other affordable housing measures

Could tiny homes help alleviate Pierce County’s homeless crisis?

Councilman Rick Talbert and assistant Mark Williams visit Thurston County's innovative Quixote Village homeless community to explore the potential they believe tiny homes can have in helping Pierce County deal with a growing crisis.
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Councilman Rick Talbert and assistant Mark Williams visit Thurston County's innovative Quixote Village homeless community to explore the potential they believe tiny homes can have in helping Pierce County deal with a growing crisis.

Tiny homes on wheels won’t be coming to Puyallup anytime soon.

In a 5-0 vote, City Council struck down proposed code amendments on March 26 that included tiny homes on wheels as an affordable housing option.

Mayor John Palmer said he felt the structures could result in dilapidated or messy development.

“I think it’s really about maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood,” Palmer told The Herald.

Councilwomen Robin Farris and Cynthia Jacobsen abstained from the vote, disagreeing with various parts of the amendment package.

Other code amendments meant to increase affordable housing options in the city are still in the works.

Adding a second living space on properties could get easier as the council considers an ordinance that would incentivize the construction of accessory dwelling units.

Called ADUs, the structures are second living spaces built on the same grounds as a single-family house. They’re commonly referred to as “mother-in-law units,” and can be attached to the home, like an apartment over the garage, or detached, like a tiny house.

Currently, the Puyallup City Code allows ADUs in all single-family residential zones. Six have been permitted since the city began allowing detached ADUs in 2014.

The city receives anywhere from 10 to 12 inquiries about them every year, according to Chris Beale, city senior planner, but only about one is actually permitted due to costs.

“(People) think fees for permits are going to be in the range of $1,000, and when they find out the fee for impact fees, review fees and inspection fees is closer to $15-$20,000, which is typically a third or more of the budget of an ADU, most people walk away from the counter fairly disappointed and don’t return,” Beale told the council on March 26.

The amendments are intended to add flexibility to city code, making it easier for homeowners to build ADUs by reducing costs. That includes cutting impact fees by 80 percent and sewer hook ups by 50 percent.

Beale estimates the city would permit eight to 12 ADUs per year if the amendments were passed.

Proposed changes also included allowing duplexes in low urban density single-family residential zones (RS-10), but the council struck down those amendments along with tiny homes on wheels.

“I think we should focus this thing down to the ADU aspect of this,” Palmer said.

At the meeting, some praised the amendments, saying they would provide more affordable housing options for aging relatives or people with disabilities.

Bellingham may expand the number and size of accessory dwelling units -- so-called mother-in-law apartments added to a house or garage -- allowed in single-family neighborhoods citywide.

Others voiced concern that ADUs could become vacation rentals and change the landscape of single-family residential areas.

“This is stealth zoning,” Councilman Jim Kastama said at the meeting.

Kastama shared his concerns in a Facebook post prior to the meeting, writing that Puyallup was set to “eliminate single-family housing.” The post was shared more than 600 times.

City staff handed out a memo at the meeting with “frequently asked questions” about the amendment, stating, “In short, no, the city is not conducting rezones of any property at this time.”

The amendments are part of the implementation of the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan to “increase housing supply, diversity and affordability through innovative development techniques,” the memo stated. The Planning Commission has been working on them for two years and held a public hearing in December.

Kastama told The Herald after the meeting that he stands by his Facebook post and that council members should step away from the ADU amendments, like they did with tiny homes, duplexes and triplexes.

“I really think it’s time that we drop this issue,” he said, adding council should focus on downtown redevelopment and vacant lots instead.

Palmer said homelessness has nothing to do with the proposed amendments and that the target audience are families that may be “cost-burdened,” which means spending more than 30 percent of their total income on housing.

A presentation by Beale, who is also a Tacoma City Council member, showed that approximately 38 percent of households within city limits are considered cost-burdened.

The city of Tacoma approved new regulations related to ADUs in March that included short term rental limits for the units.

Council will continue first reading of the amendment package, including cottage housing, at a later date.