Creating an appropriate, more inclusive zoning policy | Good Bones

Liz Revord
Posted 1/26/23

When Realtors, contractors, or homeowners lovingly say a house has “good bones,” what they mean is that its foundation is solid and its structure is sound. Without these two components, …

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Creating an appropriate, more inclusive zoning policy | Good Bones


When Realtors, contractors, or homeowners lovingly say a house has “good bones,” what they mean is that its foundation is solid and its structure is sound. Without these two components, it’s hard (if not impossible) to make the case that a house is safe or a good investment. After all, the “bones” are the skeleton that holds the home together.

A walk around Uptown highlights old Victorian mansions with their now converted carriage homes (or ADUs), single-family homes, commercial and residential mixed-use units, followed by courtyard apartments, a duplex or two, and a handful or more of smaller, denser places. This variety of housing types add to the the charm of the walkable neighborhoods settled on the bluffs, with views of the Salish Sea, and peekaboo mountains, overlooking downtown and onto all of the eclectic shops.

Though it might take more work to lay a new foundation, it is much more efficient, and effective, to build anything once a strong foundation has been laid.

The city of Port Townsend’s Planning Department, city council, and planning commissioners are currently working on ways to build a new, strong foundation for our city’s zoning capabilities. Old, now-antiquated zoning policies replaced or restricted denser building; a fad seen implemented across the nation after World War II. Denser building options can look a lot like units already seen in our community: carriage homes (granny flats, ADUs), mixed-use units (Aldrich’s, Lawrence Street), and courtyard apartments (Marine Plaza), and are coined by a term, “Middle Housing.” In fact, it is a range of building types that exist in cities and towns across the country and were a fundamental part of pre-1940s neighborhoods, before zoning regulations changed to drive the construction of single-family homes. Now, we categorize row houses, townhomes, duplexes, and more as “Missing Middle Housing” because they are no longer being built, or are missing, from our housing landscapes.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Our community is facing a housing affordability crisis. Businesses, local government, the hospital, nonprofits, and other vital service providers across Port Townsend face a hiring crisis. They extend job offers to people excited to join our community, but when those potential employees try to find housing, they can’t find units they can afford or fit their family’s needs – if they can find any available units at all. And if we don’t make drastic changes to our foundation, the same will be true for our children and grandchildren.

The city has begun to address this housing crisis with a review of its current zoning restrictions. Adding density to our community is essential if we are to remain a thriving place for people to create, live, work, and play.

But, while increasing density may eventually lead to potential price decrease, that alone will not do enough to narrow the chasm between current market rate and what many in the workforce can actually afford. We must increase the supply of housing but also include guarantees that some of the housing will address existing needs within our community; equity among the haves and the have nots.

As the director for the Housing Solutions Network, I support a grassroots coalition of people who love our community and want to see housing developed that meets the needs and demands for a larger sector of workforce housing. Our goal is to work arm-in-arm with the city staff and elected officials to develop a plan that makes housing affordable for the people who teach our children, pave our roads, fight our fires, and treat our illnesses. Without affordable housing that helps address this issue, our community will continue to face crippling worker shortages.

Housing affordability is a very complex issue that requires a range of solutions. Your voice and perspective in this matter are critical. Please join your neighbors already involved with HSN in our search for solutions that ensure that everyone in our community has access to an abundance of desirable housing they can afford.

This town has the passion and creativity we need to aid the city in solving our ever-worsening housing crisis. This town knows how to think outside the box.

This town could ensure that it embraces a wider range of people when planning for the future.

With appropriate, more inclusive zoning policy, this town, too, could have good bones.

(Liz Revord is the director of Housing Solutions Network. With the help of the network, this monthly column will help amplify the voices of the workforce, highlight housing issues, and celebrate big victories across the housing landscape. To learn more about the work HSN is doing in our community, visit