County aims for denser, more affordable ‘missing middle’ homes

The County Council eased zoning restrictions to encourage townhomes and denser development.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council eased zoning restrictions Wednesday, allowing denser residential developments and slightly taller townhomes.

The ordinance, sponsored by County Councilmember Nate Nehring, is meant to encourage more “missing middle” housing.

“Housing affordability is a huge and growing issue in Snohomish County,” Nehring said. “I talk to people every day that have good paying jobs and can’t afford to live here.”

The “missing middle” refers to housing structures like townhomes and duplexes, which are denser than single-family homes but less dense than a mid-rise apartment building. They’re typically more affordable for first-time homebuyers.

The council approved the ordinance Wednesday with a 4-0 vote. Councilmember Stephanie Wright, whose district covers Edmonds, Lynnwood and Woodway, was excused.

“I think this is a very progressive action,” County Council President Megan Dunn said at the hearing. “I’m glad we got input on the heights for surrounding cities, so that we’re not negatively impacting if cities were to later annex areas. I feel like it’s very compatible and also takes steps to make sure we’re not changing the character of the neighborhood.”

The ordinance only affects unincorporated Snohomish County. It increases the maximum density in certain zones, ultimately allowing developers to build more townhomes, triplexes and duplexes. It also aims to preserve existing housing to avoid displacing people.

“It almost grandfathers in the existing structures,” Nehring said. “The overall goal is to increase the housing supply and diversity.”

In one Urban Low Density Residential zone, it extends the maximum building height from 30 to 35 feet. Nehring said the height is similar to what cities allow in Snohomish County.

Increasing the amount of “missing middle” housing means more people can afford to buy their first home, Nehring said. The county has seen an increase in high-rise apartments near transit corridors, but they’re mostly rentals.

“One of the things we’re seeing is the supply of single family homes is incredibly small,” Nehring said. “Homeownership is one of the best, if not the best way, for economic and social mobility. It’s critical that we encourage opportunities for people to get into homeownership.”

The ordinance is part of a larger effort to address housing affordability in Snohomish County, where prices have skyrocketed since 2000. The median sale price for a single-family home was $682,000 in 2021. It has risen 116.6% since 2000.

HB 1590, which took effect in 2020, allowed counties to adopt a 0.1% sales tax for affordable housing construction. The council adopted the sales tax in December.

“I think it’s important that we’re looking at both ends,” Dunn said. “We’re increasing density and housing options, while we’re also allowing for a local source of income for other types of housing.”

The council also eased restrictions on accessory dwelling units in March, which are sometimes called “mother-in-law apartments” or “granny flats.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead in motorcycle crash on Highway 522 in Maltby

Authorities didn’t have any immediate details about the crash that fully blocked the highway Friday afternoon.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett mom charged with first-degree murder in death of son, 4

On Friday, prosecutors charged Janet Garcia, 27, three weeks after Ariel Garcia went missing from an Everett apartment.

Dr. Mary Templeton (Photo provided by Lake Stevens School District)
Lake Stevens selects new school superintendent

Mary Templeton, who holds the top job in the Washougal School District, will take over from Ken Collins this summer.

A closed road at the Heather Lake Trail parking lot along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Mountain Loop Highway partially reopens Friday

Closed since December, part of the route to some of the region’s best hikes remains closed due to construction.

Emma Dilemma, a makeup artist and bikini barista for the last year and a half, serves a drink to a customer while dressed as Lily Munster Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at XO Espresso on 41st Street in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
After long legal battle, Everett rewrites bikini barista dress code

Employees now have to follow the same lewd conduct laws as everyone else, after a judge ruled the old dress code unconstitutional.

The oldest known meteor shower, Lyrid, will be falling across the skies in mid- to late April 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Clouds to dampen Lyrid meteor shower views in Western Washington

Forecasters expect a storm will obstruct peak viewing Sunday. Locals’ best chance at viewing could be on the coast. Or east.

AquaSox's Travis Kuhn and Emerald's Ryan Jensen an hour after the game between the two teams on Sunday continue standing in salute to the National Anthem at Funko Field on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New AquaSox stadium downtown could cost up to $120M

That’s $40 million more than an earlier estimate. Alternatively, remodeling Funko Field could cost nearly $70 million.

Downtown Everett, looking east-southeast. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20191022
5 key takeaways from hearing on Everett property tax increase

Next week, City Council members will narrow down the levy rates they may put to voters on the August ballot.

Everett police officers on the scene of a single-vehicle collision on Evergreen Way and Olivia Park Road Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Photo provided by Everett Police Department)
Everett man gets 3 years for driving high on fentanyl, killing passenger

In July, Hunter Gidney crashed into a traffic pole on Evergreen Way. A passenger, Drew Hallam, died at the scene.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.