Many demographic and market conditions are trending towards land use policies that need to align more with missing middle typologies for future growth. Those include:
- New single-family housing has an average valuation of more than double two-family or multi-family unit costs.
- New single-family units are 45% to 160% larger than other unit types.
- 18% of Topeka residents are aged 65+ and growing. 60+ years is the only age cohort in Shawnee County that grew in the last decade and is projected to be the highest growing cohort nationally by far over the next several decades.
- The 25-34 year old cohort in Shawnee County did not grow in the last decade vs. 12% growth nationally. Beyond 2020 the younger aged natural growth will decline and in/out migration will be only way to grow younger cohorts.
- 73% of Topeka’s zoning is residential. Of that, 88% only allows single-family detached housing.
The City’s 2020 Housing Study determined Topeka’s supply of missing middle unit types is not meeting current and future demand with a need for over 8,000 units of smaller non-single family housing options in the next 20 years. The Study recommends support for a diverse range of infill housing typologies and price points. These neighborhood scale multi-family products also provide much more cost effective options for developer and tenant.
Meanwhile, the LUGMP 2040 identifies at least four pillars vital to future growth that comport with providing “missing” housing types – compact development, add value where we are, return on investment, and transportation/housing choices. These future growth policies would suggest high alignment with missing middle objectives and affordability.
These findings and policy recommendations support the need to remove or reform any barriers for missing middle infill opportunities within existing neighborhoods. Based on Planning staff’s review of the City’s zoning regulations and comprehensive plan policies, the following barriers were identified as the highest priorities for reform and Planning Commission consideration.
- Second Dwelling Units in “R” Single Family Districts
“R” District properties are restricted to one (1) detached dwelling unit while making up 88% of the city’s residential zoning. Allowing accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) or duplexes by right or conditionally in R Districts could have a profound impact on achieving missing middle and affordability goals. A thorough examination of notification process, approval level, design standards, occupancy, density, parking, etc. is recommended. Initial guiding principles for ADU and duplex code amendments include:
- Equity – regulations should be accessible to all “R” neighborhoods and applied in a uniform manner
- Character – design standards should reflect character of surrounding neighborhood (“hidden density”) and not encourage changes that feel out of place
- Restrictiveness – requirements should not be less restrictive than other non-single family uses allowed in R Districts (Short Term Rentals, Home Occupations, Home Care, etc.)
- Parking Requirements in Residential Districts
Topeka’s zoning code requires two (2) spaces per dwelling unit over 950 sq. ft. up to 20 units making many missing middle opportunities site or cost prohibitive. Variances to the 2:1 ratio require zoning changes approved by the Governing Body (e.g., PUD). It has been found in past cases that these minimums may be excessive to the actual need depending on location including transit corridors and mixed use areas. Parking is also a significant hidden cost that gets passed onto a tenant making the unit less affordable. In order to open up more buildings and sites for more affordable missing middle options, minimum parking ratios and on-site requirements should be explored for reform. Anticipated changes would require a zoning code text amendment.
- Dimensional Standards in Residential Districts
While many dimensional standard barriers have been addressed over the years with regard to administrative relief for infill situations (front setbacks, lot sizes, lots or record, lot coverage, lot line adjustments, etc.), a few still remain. In particular, M-1A minimum lot sizes and multi-family density caps should be calibrated for optimal missing middle performance. Anticipated changes would require a zoning code text amendment.
Other related issues considered for reform but found to be either outside the Planning Commission’s role/authority or larger than this scope entails include the following:
- Land Use Policies. Following successful completion of initial phase of reforms, larger scale land use policy and map reforms to support higher density residential re-zonings within transit corridors and mixed use areas (e.g., transit-oriented development) should be assessed for the LUGMP. Support can still be encouraged on a case-by-case basis in the interim.
- Building Codes. Several reforms have been adopted locally for missing middle such as opting out of sprinkler requirements for new three/four family dwellings in the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC is applied to any new multiple-family dwelling with 3 or more units. The Board of Building and Fire Appeals is currently reviewing adoption of the 2021 IBC and can consider recommending other reforms as they arise. The International Residential Code (IRC) 2021 is also scheduled for review in 2023. The IRC is applied to single and two-family dwellings.
- Economic Incentives. The main economic incentives for this scope are baked into the priority zoning code reform issues – reduced parking, supplemental income from ADUs, greater density, etc. Other non-zoning incentives that could lower entry costs such as variances for building sprinklers, MEP or full architectural plans, etc. are in place for some missing middle and can be further explored by Development Services administratively. NRP tax rebates are already targeted towards infill housing within the core neighborhoods. New ideas for fee reductions (permits, utility connections) would need to be considered by the Governing Body.
It is recognized that the above issues, particularly ADUs, have the potential to impact a large majority of the community. Therefore, the process to draft code amendments and bring back specific recommendations to the Planning Commission should meaningfully engage stakeholders and the broader public to the greatest extent possible. To that end, it is recommended that the process involve the following:
- ADU Survey
- A brief online survey focused on ADUs would be developed to gauge public support/concerns and bring awareness to the process.
- A project webpage will be established to host all information during the process for the public
- Work Group
- Meet as needed to review and comment on draft code amendments proposals before they are shared with public or Planning Commission.
- Recommended start would be after survey results.
- 1-2 members from the following groups: Planning Commission, neighborhoods, design professionals, and builders. Maximum of 8. Planning staff will lead. Development Services staff will assist.
- Focus Groups
- During the formative stages of the process (and possibly later), staff and work group members should engage a few established groups to share concepts, “trial balloon” a few ideas, and gain better insight into public support/concerns.
- Potential focus groups include: neighborhoods, realtors, homebuilders, GTP Housing Task Force, etc.
- Public Hearings
- Planning Commission should conduct at least two public hearings at their normal meeting times to hear from the public. One should be to invite early feedback prior to receiving any official recommendations. The second should be after receiving official recommendations of staff/work group.