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Comments submitted by John Keogh at the Olympia Planning Commission meeting on a Staff Proposal to change zoning rules, March 19, 2018

A Missing Middle neighborhood is Olympia’s Eastside.  Most of our blocks don’t have curbs, only a few streets have sidewalks, mail is not delivered to our front porches, we have a shortage of park space.  The neighborhood has plenty of apartments, duplexes, ADUs, townhouses, cottages—reminders of various zoning experiments the city has done over the years.  Instead of having large, unaffordable historic homes we have more modest single-family housing—74% with less than 1500 square feet—and our median home price in 2017 was $228,000.  Our developed density of 6.53 units per acre exceeds that of the South Capitol neighborhood. 

We know all of this because our neighborhood actually did the necessary parcel by parcel research on potential property effects that the city has not done. This research indicates that the Missing Middle proposals are likely to have much greater effect on neighborhoods than the city has estimated so far. In our neighborhood, the city’s proposals will overwhelm us—potentially raising the density by 50-100% and jacking up housing prices from $160-$200/sq ft to $250-$300/sq ft. That’s because the Missing Middle proposals have a major flaw, allowing and incentivizing non-resident investors to compete for what has been affordable single-family housing and redevelop it into smaller rental units and AirBnBs.  We already have seen evidence of this in recent realtor ad.

The city’s proposals will allow outside investors to use ADUs to avoid the current parking requirements for duplexes and encourage them to fill our neighborhood’s streets with the parked cars generated by their new rental units—making walking, mail delivery and garbage collection even more difficult. We will shift from a neighborhood evenly balanced between renters and homeowners to one dominated by rental units owned by outside investors.  If you want to buy an affordable single-family home the message is clearly “go to Lacey…or Shelton”.

My recommendations:

The city should slow down approval of the Missing Middle proposals so that refinements can be made in them—and to avoid the economic mistake of incentivizing outside investors to redevelop and reduce Olympia’s stock of affordable single-family homes. The city needs a comprehensive study for the whole city that parallels what we did by volunteer effort for our neighborhood, so we can have a more informed discussion.  Finally, the city should not immediately apply the MM proposals to neighborhoods already engaged in sub-area planning—otherwise these neighborhoods will just be planning for damage control.



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