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2021 Awardee – City of Lacey Pre-Approved Accessory Dwelling Unit Plans

Small homes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are part of the future for Lacey, which has experienced a population explosion in the last 10 years. The city, which is the largest in Thurston County, is taking a strategic approach to building ADUs by providing pre-approved plans.

The addition of ADUs on existing properties alongside older-style homes throughout neighborhoods will support an aging population and people on fixed incomes.

“We know we’re in an affordable housing crisis. We have been for a long time,” said Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder. “I’ve seen Lacey go from this tiny little town of 14,000. Now we’re pushing 58,000 and the largest city in Thurston County.”

The pre-approved plans, which are developed by an architect, are reducing barriers and making it easier and less expensive for Lacey property owners to build an ADU on their property. The free plans are available for anyone to use, including other jurisdictions seeking to streamline ADU development.

According to Rick Walk, director of community development, the pre-approved plans eliminate the need for a structural and design review. Building and energy code review is minimal, as the plans have those requirements designed into them with a few selectable options.

Design can account for up to 10% of a project’s costs. With the pre-approved plans, homeowners and builders are quickly seeing tangible savings in time and money. Without design costs, they can save money for later or dedicate it to construction. Plus, the permit timeline is significantly decreased because the focus is on site plan review instead.

Once the site plan is approved, contractors can break ground in as little as three weeks as requirements to build are finalized. The quick turnaround creates opportunities for infill development in existing neighborhoods and provides a variety of housing types near transit, schools, and services. That is one of several Growth Management Act requirements and local objectives accomplished.

Adding ADUs to older neighborhoods provides for gentle densification, maintenance of neighborhood character and access to nearby services. And they’re attractive to a variety of potential residents.

“A large section of our population is on fixed incomes and looking for that place to downsize,” Walk said. “There aren’t too many opportunities in the marketplace for them to transition from their existing larger homes, to become the investors into something that they can age in place with.”

The city worked with local lending institutions to share information about the pre-approved designs, which allowed time to determine how they can best provide financing for interested residents.

“I thought that, for the future, this is going to be great for me to age in place, but for now it also provides me with some rental income,” says Lacey resident Betty Duncan.

The pre-approved ADUs provide infill development, help existing community members augment their income with rental income and provide affordable housing. All of this provides exactly what Ryder calls “A win/win for the community.”