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Tacoma Embarks on Transformative Zoning and Development Reforms


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Embracing Change for a Livable City

In a bold move to address its urban development challenges, Tacoma is undergoing a significant transformation, focusing on zoning reforms and development standards to create more inclusive, livable neighborhoods. The initiative, termed “Home in Tacoma,” aims to dismantle barriers that have long contributed to a landscape lacking in diverse housing options, known as “missing middle housing.” This term refers to housing types between single-family homes and high-rise apartments, such as duplexes, courtyard apartments, and rowhouses, which were once prevalent in the U.S.

Zoning Reforms: A Path to Diversity and Inclusion

Tacoma's zoning reforms are not just about increasing the variety of housing options but are a comprehensive approach to tackling the exclusionary, expensive, and unsafe urban forms shaped by traditional zoning practices. These practices have historically led to segregated neighborhoods, restricting the types of housing that can be built and where it can be located. By revising its zoning codes, Tacoma is setting the stage for more integrated, vibrant communities that embrace a mix of residential types.

Zoning and Development Standards in Tacoma

Category Details
Zoning Reform Focus Home in Tacoma aims to address “missing middle housing” by reforming zoning laws to allow for a wider variety of housing types, such as duplexes, courtyard apartments, and rowhouses.
Zoning Districts Overview Tacoma's zoning is broken into categories like Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Downtown, Shoreline, and Mixed-Use Center Districts, further divided into specific zones (e.g., R-1, R-2, C-1).
Residential Setbacks Setbacks vary by district, with R-1 requiring a 25 ft front yard setback and R-2 requiring a 20 ft front yard setback. Side and rear yard setbacks also vary, aiming to ensure adequate open space and privacy.
Open Yard Space Requirement Properties must maintain open yard space equal to at least 10% of the parcel area, not including driveways or parking areas, with specific minimum dimension requirements.
Height Restrictions Height limits are established to maintain neighborhood character and views. For example, the main dwelling height limit in R-1 and R-2 districts is 35 feet, with accessory buildings limited to 15 feet.
Porch and Deck Projections Regulations allow for certain projections beyond setback lines for uncovered decks and covered porches, facilitating outdoor living spaces while considering privacy and aesthetic concerns.
Special Considerations for Corner Lots Corner lots face unique setback requirements to accommodate their dual frontage, ensuring that the development is harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood structure.
Front Yard Averaging Allows for the averaging of front yard setbacks based on neighboring properties, promoting consistency and flexibility in development patterns.
Environmental and Sustainability Goals Zoning reform aligns with Tacoma's environmental objectives, including considerations for natural resources, tree preservation, and promoting walkability and reduced car dependency.
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This table serves as a concise summary of Tacoma's zoning reform efforts, residential development standards, and how these initiatives strive to create more inclusive, livable, and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods.

Development Standards: Shaping Future Growth

The city is also revisiting its development standards, particularly around residential setbacks and the use of open spaces. New guidelines are being established for R-1 and R-2 zoning districts, which cover the majority of Tacoma's residential areas. These guidelines specify minimum lot sizes, widths, and setbacks from property lines, ensuring that future developments contribute to the city's vision of open, accessible, and diverse neighborhoods.

Encouraging Sustainable Living Spaces


An emphasis on sustainable living is evident in Tacoma's approach to open yard spaces and building heights. The city mandates that properties maintain open yard spaces free from driveways or parking areas, promoting green, usable outdoor areas for residents. Height limits for main and accessory buildings are set to preserve neighborhood character while allowing for necessary density increases.

Innovations in Porch and Deck Design

Recognizing the importance of outdoor living spaces, Tacoma's new standards include provisions for porch and deck projections. These rules allow for decks and porches to extend beyond traditional setback lines under certain conditions, facilitating better use of outdoor areas and enhancing the connection between indoor and outdoor living spaces.

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Addressing Corner Lot Challenges

Tacoma's reforms also tackle the unique challenges of corner lots, which face more complex setback requirements due to their dual frontages. The city's guidelines ensure that corner lots can be developed in a way that respects the street scene and neighboring properties, fostering a cohesive community aesthetic.

Front Yard Averaging for Cohesive Streetscapes

To further promote harmonious streetscapes, Tacoma introduces front yard averaging. This method allows developers to average the front yard setbacks of neighboring properties, creating a consistent look and feel across neighborhoods and enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of the city's residential areas.

A Forward-Looking Tacoma

Tacoma's zoning and development reforms represent a significant step towards creating a more inclusive, livable, and sustainable city. By addressing the flaws of traditional zoning and embracing a more flexible, community-focused approach, Tacoma is paving the way for a future where everyone has access to affordable, quality housing in neighborhoods that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the city itself.

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