GMA Hearing Board last July overturned Olympia’s “missing middle” upzone plan

The decision was a victory of neighborhood groups in Olympia effectively striking down that city’s upzone plan – does it portend the fate of Seattle’s massive MHA upzone plan?

Posted on November 4, 2019 by John V. Fox


Map of affected Olympia neighborhoods: source city of Olympia

Olympia’s “missing middle” ordinance allows more multifamily housing—duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and courtyard apartments—to be built in low-density neighborhoods.   This plan was described by city officials as the “missing middle” in order to suggest that by upzoning lower density neighborhoods and adding a supply of these lower density housing types into single family and lower density areas, it would free up more affordable housing options on the spectrum between single-family homes and large apartment buildings.

But last January, a group called Olympians for Smart Development & Livable Neighborhoods represented by Bricklin and Newman filed a petition for review with the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board. These are the same attorney’s representing Seattle neighborhood groups under the banner of SCALE in its current appeal of recent MHA upzones to the GMA board.

In its July 10th opinion, the GMA Board found the city of Olympia failed to comply with the Growth Management Act by not anticipating impacts on the environment, public facilities and services. The Board was also persuaded by the arguments that the “missing middle” changes fail to implement Olympia’s comprehensive plan, namely the call to preserve “neighborhood character.”

Here’s what attorney Bricklin had to say about the decision:  

“The State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) told the City that the Missing Middle Ordinance is invalid.  Through implementation of this ordinance, the City was impermissibly increasing densities and destroying neighborhood character. The city did it wrong.”

The Board invalidated the entire Missing Middle Ordinance #7160 because they felt that leaving it intact would substantially interfere with Oympia’s ability to comply with major parts of the GMA (Growth Management Act) and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).  Let’s be very clear: The GMHB did not invalidate parts of the ordinance…they invalidated the entire ordinance.

Members of our group share below their interpretations of what this decision means for Olympians: 


  • The Board found that densities allowed under Missing Middle exceeded, in some cases greatly, those allowed by the City’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan, and did not, as represented by City Staff to the City Council and the public, merely to allow for allow additional housing types.
  • The Board also ruled that the City had failed to analyze adequately the impacts of Missing Middle, especially in relation to sewers, storm water, parking, and budgets.
  • Going forward: Any applications for development proposals that would be allowed by Missing Middle and which are filed after July 10, the date of the Board’s ruling, will be governed by the redone or replacement ordinance. (In other words, no more new MM housing permits until the ordinance is revised!)

THE CITY HAS UNTIL DECEMBER 18th TO COMPLY WITH THE GMHB RULINGS The text of the decision can be found here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s