Growth Management and Regional Planning
Washington State Growth Management Act
Adopted in 1990, the Growth Management Act (GMA) requires municipalities to plan for accommodating growth and grants counties, in consultation with cities, the authority to assign growth allocations for population and employment. In general, GMA goals support focused growth in designated urban centers with adequate infrastructure, while preserving the rural area around the urban centers. The GMA identifies specific requirements for comprehensive plans, focused primarily on the required land use, housing, transportation, utilities and capital facilities elements.
VISION 2040 is the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) vision and strategy for accommodating the five million people and three million jobs that are expected to be present in the Puget Sound region by 2040, while promoting the “well-being of people and communities, economic vitality, and a healthy environment.” The Tacoma Comprehensive Plan was developed to advance the overall direction established by VISION 2040, as described below.
VISION 2040 designates Tacoma as one of five Metropolitan Cities in the region. As a Metropolitan City, Tacoma is to serve as a focal point for accommodating forecast growth and helping to relieve development pressure on rural and natural resource lands. At the same time, the One Tacoma Comprehensive Plan seeks to ensure that the vision for Tacoma’s character, services and quality of life are maintained and enhanced as the city grows. Accordingly, the Plan supports allocation of resources where the greatest amount of growth is forecast.
The One Tacoma Comprehensive Plan advances a sustainable approach to growth and future development. The plan incorporates a systems approach to planning and decision-making that addresses protection of the natural environment and commits to maintaining and restoring ecosystems, through steps to conserve key habitats, clean up polluted waterways, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan includes provisions that ensure that a healthy environment remains available for future generations of Tacomans
Pierce County Countywide Planning Policies
In accordance with the Washington GMA, the Pierce County Regional Council maintains the Pierce County Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs) to coordinate planning on a countywide basis. Last updated in 2012, the CPPs provide guidance to cities on a wide range of topics, including affordable housing, community and urban design, economic development, health and well-being, historic and cultural preservation, natural resources and transportation facilities. The Tacoma Comprehensive Plan has been prepared consistent with the guidance of the Pierce County CPPs.
In 2014, Tacoma participated in a collaborative county-wide effort led by Pierce County to prepare an updated Buildable Lands Report. This report documents development trends and the capacity of the County’s Urban Growth Areas. For Tacoma, the 2014 Buildable Lands Report shows that there is available capacity to meet the City’s 2040 growth targets
A Vision for One Tacoma
Prepared in 2014, Tacoma 2025 is a strategic plan and vision for the future of Tacoma. Tacoma 2025 was developed to guide the City in decision-making and resource allocation, as well as performance tracking and reporting.
It focuses on seven focus areas: Health & Safety, Human & Social Needs, Economic Vibrancy & Employment, Education & Learning, Arts & Cultural Vitality, Natural & Built Environment, and Government Performance.
Tacoma's identity now and in the future is significantly shaped by the design and physical structure of the city and its neighborhoods. How people live and get around is partly determined by the location of services and other destinations and the arrangement and design of buildings, streets and public spaces. Together these design characteristics help to determine whether:
- A community is walkable
- Children have safe places to play
- People have places to gather
- Businesses are easy to access
Learn more about the City's Urban Form and Residential Pattern Areas:
Where We Will Accommodate Growth
According to VISION 2040, the City of Tacoma is expected to plan for an additional 127,000 residents and 97,000 more jobs by 2040. One of the central challenges that the One Tacoma Plan addresses is how to accommodate this growth in a way that promotes a healthy, equitable and sustainable city.
The City's designated centers are the primary focal points for accommodating growth and development. The One Tacoma Plan calls for 80% of the City's growth to occur within and in close proximity to the these designated centers, with the majority of population and employment growth occurring in the the City's Downtown Regional Growth Center. Current zoning provides sufficient development capacity to achieve the City's regional growth allocations.
Design and Development
Past development, in combination with the natural landscape, has shaped how Tacoma is experienced. Future development, and the treatment of the built and natural heritage of Tacoma, has the potential to create a better, healthier, more efficient, and more pleasant City.
The policies in this Chapter encourage development that respects context, preserves historic and cultural resources, engages innovation and creativity, promotes vibrant, accessible urban places for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and integrates nature into the urban environment.
Topics addressed in this chapter include design considerations for parking and signage, for established residential areas, within centers and along corridors, off-site impacts and transition areas, public safety, as well as the following:
Access to Healthy Food.
Access to healthy food is important for many reasons. A nourishing diet is critical to maintaining good health and avoiding chronic disease later in life: This leads to better long term health outcomes and lower healthcare costs. Food behaviors are shaped at an early age. Children who are exposed to healthy foods are more likely to develop healthful food behaviors than those who are not. These policies promote a range of approaches for improving access to healthy food through buying and growing.
Art and cultural activities are essential to making meaningful places and can help transform shared spaces into vibrant and nurturing communities. Physical spaces that are well designed, including the thinking of artists and creatives early in the process, result in aesthetically pleasing and context relevant spaces where people want to convene and linger. Remembering and celebrating the role that people play in place-making is essential. These policies support including public art in development and support creative place-making strategies.
Designing with Nature and Resource Efficiency
Incorporating natural features and functions into development yields tangible social, environmental and economic benefits. It improves human and watershed health. How this integration looks and functions depends on local conditions and characteristics. Regardless, designing with nature provides or enhances ecosystem services such as stormwater management, cooling of air and water, reduction of landslide and flooding risks, protection or improvement of fish and wildlife habitat, and the ability of Tacomans to enjoy nature in their daily lives.
Scenic and Cultural Resources
Tacoma's signature views of Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, Commencement Bay and the Tacoma Narrows and other bridges, gulches, streams, and forested slopes is important to the City's identity. They strengthen connections to the regional landscape.
Historic and cultural landmarks also help to create a sense of place, contribute to neighborhood character, and recognize past history and events. More than half of Tacoma's buildings are over 50 years old, creating a vast pool of potentially significant properties.
Environment and Watershed Health
Situated in the Puget Sound Lowlands, at the mouth of the Puyallup River Valley and the tidal waters of Commencement Bay, Tacoma's natural resources provide an array of ecologically, economically, and aesthetically valuable ecosystem services. Our rivers, streams, aquifers and floodplains convey and store water and provide critical habitat for native fish and aquatic species. Our natural areas and vegetation clean and cool Tacoma's air and water, soak up rainwater and provide wildlife habitat. The deep waters of Commencement Bay support international trade, commerce and sea life. Many of these resources also trap carbon and reduce urban heat island effects. These natural resources are key contributors to Tacoma's identity, economy, reputation and sense of place.
The City's land use plans and investments have been, and will continue to be, instrumental in helping to guide and understand effective approaches to preserving natural resources. The goals and policies in this chapter protect these investments and help the City to protect the public health and environment. With thoughtful guidance, our community can work together to face new challenges, and achieve and sustain healthy watersheds and a healthful environment for all Tacomans even as the city grows.
The City's environmental assets include fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, streams, aquifer recharge areas, and open spaces that provide other ecosystem services such as stormwater management that help to reduce flooding. The policies of this chapter help to ensure that the potential adverse impacts of development are well understood and avoided where practicable. Preventing and minimizing environmental degradation will be more successful and cost effective than addressing problems as they increase in severity. The Plan recognizes the multiple benefits associated with maintaining, and enhancing, these environmental assets: recreational, aesthetic, economic, and cultural.
Managing growth within potentially hazardous areas prevents environmental and life safety problems as well as preserves open space. For example, steep slopes that are potentially hazardous also provide scenic corridors and greenbelts when retained in a natural state. The management approaches established in this chapter may reduce needless public and private expenditures related to landslides, erosion, floods or other disruptions as well as reduce the risks associated with development in these hazard areas.
While a place to live is a basic human need, not all Tacomans have safe and healthy housing. Ensuring a fair and equitable housing market is essential to providing the opportunities and security people need to live healthy and successful lives. Economic, social, and physical barriers limit many Tacomans' access to adequate housing. Income, physical disabilities, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and discrimination based on race and sexual orientation can also limit choices. The goals and policies of this chapter will help Tacoma meet its need for quality, affordable homes for a growing, socioeconomically-diverse population and to help ensure equitable access to housing.
The City's Future Land Use Map ensures that there is capacity for a more-than-adequate supply of housing to meet the needs of future residents. The challenge is to provide housing with a diverse range of unit types and prices in locations that help meet the needs of all, including low-income populations, communities of color, and people of all ages and abilities
Through its policies and programs, the City is supportive of increasing the supply of housing that is affordable to all its citizens. While the City recognizes the ongoing need by government and nonprofit corporations to provide housing and community support services, especially for households who pay more than 30% of their income for housing, it also recognizes the need to enlist the engine of private market rate developments to include a measure of affordable units. Reducing household cost-burdens requires a multi-pronged strategy:
- Expanding and diversifying the housing supply;
- Expanding household prosperity through the location of new housing units in opportunity rich areas and by promoting resource efficient housing;
- Investing in subsidized and permanently affordable housing;
- Implementing economic development strategies that improve employability, job growth, and connect people to living wage jobs in close proximity to their residence.
Housing by the Numbers
Demographics and Housing Indicators (2010)
As one of five designated Metropolitan Cities in the Puget Sound Regional Council's VISION 2040, Tacoma is planning for 97,000 new jobs by 2040. To work towards this target the City will strategically attract and grow businesses, diversify the City's employment base, and focus growth in areas best suited to accommodate the increased economic activity. Current zoning provides sufficient developable land to accommodate the City's employment growth targets.
Planned Employment Areas
The ability to strengthen and diversify Tacoma's employment centers is directly related to land use policy and infrastructure investments. As these employment centers continue to evolve, having policy that supports the infrastructure and land use needs of existing and future businesses will be an integral piece of Tacoma's overall economic landscape. In addition, concentrating employment supports development of mixed use centers where people can live, work, shop and play. This goal and its supporting policies are organized into four categories: Regional Growth Centers, Commercial Districts, Major Campus Institutions, and Manufacturing/Industrial Centers. Policies are tailored to fit the unique characteristics of employment centers and the varying role that each plays.
Economy by the Numbers
The following graphs and charts provide a snapshot of Tacoma's economic make-up in relation to county and region.
Tacoma boasts a strong set of foundational economic assets including world class healthcare facilities, a globally competitive port, diverse and expanding higher education, a vibrant arts and cultural scene, and a robust public transit system. These assets, along with Tacoma's diverse business districts, business friendly environment, and continued public investments in quality of life factors (such as park and recreation facilities, multimodal transportation systems, and education) make Tacoma an excellent place to live, work, invest, and grow your business.
Parks and Recreation
Good parks and recreation services foster economic benefits and promote tourism. Environmentally, they provide green infrastructure and help manage climate change. Socially, they revitalize communities, create safer neighborhoods, help children learn and grow, improve public and environmental health, and support smart growth. Culturally, open space and program services can nurture a sense of place in the community, and provide opportunities to engage people of diverse backgrounds.
The City and Metro Parks Tacoma together manage more than 3,000 acres of developed parks and natural areas, as well as local and regional trails, the urban tree canopy, and community gardens. Programs are offered for all ages at community centers, swimming pools, and other recreational facilities. Parks and natural areas give life and beauty to the city and are essential assets that connect people to place, self and others.
Planned Park and Recreation System
The Parks and Recreation Map shows the planned system, including passive open space, active recreation areas, natural trails, signature trails, community centers, community gardens, schools, and boating access areas. These planned facilities are intended to provide park and recreational access to all Tacoma residents within walking distance of home and to provide for the diverse needs and interests of the Tacoma community.
Serving Diverse Needs in the Community
Park and recreation service is not just about access and proximity, but also serving the diverse needs and interests of our community. The City of Tacoma, Metro Parks Tacoma and even the Foss Waterway Development Authority and Port of Tacoma each contribute and coordinate towards serving these interests. Tacoma's residents can enjoy playgrounds, spray parks, dog parks, nature trails, and kayaking as well as visit the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.
Public Facilities and Services
High-quality and dependable basic public services, like clean water and reliable sewer and stormwater management services, are essential to Tacoma's success. Cost-effective and dependable services improve quality of life, affordability, and make Tacoma an attractive place to do business. Well-built and well-maintained facilities also help the City recover from damaging natural events and emergencies.
Given the likelihood of environmental, economic, and technological change in the next twenty years, the agencies that deliver, build, and manage services and facilities must reinvent systems and facilities to satisfy multiple uses, withstand environmental stress, and adapt to changing circumstances. The goals and policies in this chapter support the equitable, efficient, and adaptive management approaches that are needed to provide high quality facilities and services to all Tacomans, including future generations.
The City's public facility systems provide water, sewer, transportation, parks and civic services. Public facilities include the varied and extensive network of streets and pipes, as well as parks and natural areas that not only manage stormwater and flooding, but also help provide places for recreation. Public services include things like public transportation, schools, police, fire and emergency response. In addition, services such as broadband technology, electricity and natural gas, and comprehensive waste, recycling and composting services are essential for households and businesses. It takes the collective and coordinated effort of multiple agencies and regulated utilities to maintain and operate the complex systems used to manage and provide these necessities to Tacomans.
Port and port-related industrial activities play a vital role in the Tacoma and Pacific Northwest economy, contributing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenues and state and local taxes to the region. Preservation of available industrial waterfront land for port and port-related container and industrial activity is vital to the City's economy. This element provides policy guidance to help ensure that local land use decisions are made in consideration of the long-term and widespread economic contribution of the Port of Tacoma. Further, the chapter describes how the City of Tacoma and Port of Tacoma can work collaboratively to ensure the long-term viability of the Port, while providing for effective buffers and transition to non-industrial uses and protecting Commencement Bay, a unique shoreline environment containing river deltas, tidal creeks, freshwater and salt marshes.
Engagement, Administration + Implementation
Decisions are better - more equitable, resilient, and accountable - when all interested parties are involved in considering the issues and weighing in on decisions. Collaborative and inclusive community participation is essential to supporting Tacoma's core values of opportunity, equity, partnerships and accountability, as well as creating and sustaining a prosperous, healthy and equitable Tacoma.
Land Use Regulations and Permitting
One of the primary ways in which the goals and policies of the One Tacoma Plan are implemented is through the Land Use Regulatory Code. Land use regulations are laws that establish what can or can’t be built in a given location. The key regulatory mechanism that implements the Comprehensive Plan is Tacoma’s Land Use Regulatory Code. This code contains the development regulations that govern the manner by which land is used, developed, or redeveloped in the City. This code is found in Title 13 of the Tacoma Municipal Code and includes regulations for platting, zoning, shorelines and critical areas.
City programs must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. In fact, most City programs are tools for implementing the Plan. Examples include City programs for community services, economic development, health and human services and environmental stewardship.
Functional plans are detailed plans for facilities and services in the City. Tacoma’s Comprehensive Plan provides overarching guidance for the City’s many other plans, including the Economic Development Strategic Framework, Human Services Strategic Plan, Environmental Action Plan, Artfull Tacoma Plan, Urban Forest Manual, Surface Water Manual, Public Works Design Manual, and Tacoma Public Utilities system plans. These plans must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. As such, implementation of functional plans supports implementation of the Comprehensive Plan. Some functional plans, such as the Shoreline Master Program and Capital Facilities Program are also formal elements of the Comprehensive Plan and subject to the rules and procedures governing that Plan.
Downtown Tacoma is the focal point of the City: It is the center of government, culture, commerce, and other day and night activities that attract visitors from throughout the City and region. Downtown is Tacoma transportation hub, connecting the large employment, resident and visitor base to local and regional multi-modal transportation systems. Take a stroll through Downtown and you'll experience the past, present and future of Tacoma on each street.
Downtown Subareas and Character Areas
The Downtown zoning districts are the most intensive that the city allows, with height allowances ranging from 90 feet in the Downtown Residential District to 400 feet in the Downtown Commercial core. The Downtown Regional Center subarea plans have been developed in accordance with the Growing Transit Communities Compact and zoning capacity is sufficient to accommodate planned growth of 76,200 residents and 67,000 new jobs by 2040.
The Downtown Regional Growth Center is comprised of diverse neighborhoods and districts. The following maps depict the subarea plan boundaries and the character areas within downtown. New development should be sensitive to the context of these neighborhoods and districts and build on the strengths and character of these areas.