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Multi-family Zoning: Achieving Intended Densities

In 2018, the City Council asked staff to “leave no stone unturned” in seeking solutions to the City’s housing crisis. Through a series of focused discussions, staff identified several approaches that could result in increased housing choice and variety for people of all ages, abilities and incomes. Key to these discussions was Council’s direction to find ways to allow smaller, less expensive homes. Staff’s analysis of these options indicated that many areas zoned Residential Multi (RM) have been significantly underdeveloped with densities much less than what’s intended in the Comprehensive Plan. In some cases, these areas have been developed predominately​ with lower density single-family homes. Changes to the land use code to facilitate the uses envisioned for RM zones have the potential to not only result in more homes of all shapes and sizes, but to also advance many goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan, including those related to small-scale, context-sensitive housing, climate change and land use. As such, on August 26, 2019, staff presented its preliminary analysis to the City Council Planning and Community Development Committee and was directed to further identify the necessary changes to facilitate intended development patterns in RM zones.


Attend one of the open houses below to learn more about the initial stages of the RM project and provide feedback to​ City planning staff. Both open houses will include the same format and information, so choose the one that is the most convenient for you to attend.

  • Monday, March 16, 2020 - POSTPONED!
    6:00-7:30pm at the Downtown Library Lecture Room (210 Central Avenue - Lecture Room)

  • Thursday, March 19, 2020 - POSTPONED!
    6:00-7:30pm at Whatcom Community College (333 Calluna Ct. - Foundation Building, Room 105​)


POLICY LU-2: The Multi-Family Residential designation is intended for areas that are able to support higher concentrations of people, while encouraging a desirable living environment within and adjacent to these districts. This zoning also provides a compatible mixture of residential housing types, typical accessory uses, public and semi-public uses, office uses and limited neighborhood commercial uses in appropriate areas.

(2016 Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Chapter)


  • Implement the Comprehensive Plan's intent for RM zones.
  • Address the City's housing, climate change, environmental and land use goals
  • Expand housing choice and variety for Bellingham's diverse residents (e.g. smaller households and seniors)
  • Provide an opportunity for more people to live in walkable/bikeable/transit-friendly neighborhoods with access to jobs, services and amenities.
  • Promote the benefits of multi-family housing.


This project is focused on changes to the land use code and neighborhood plans that will allow all RM zones to achieve the densities and types of homes intended for these areas, while also increasing opportunities for additional homes. More detailed analysis is needed to identify the steps required to fulfill the project purpose; however, the following four components have been identified to date:

  1. A simplified ranged zoning system for all RM zones. This system would assign the adopted Comprehensive Plan density ranges of high, medium or low to each RM zone and allow development at any density within the assigned range.
  2. Projects in RM zones that meet location-efficient criteria would be eligible for a density bonus. Specifically, a property would be able to develop within the density range of the next highest density category (e.g. a “medium” density property would jump to the “high” density category).
  3. All Infill Housing Toolkit forms (small and smaller house, cottage, duplex, triplex, shared court, garden court, and townhouse) would be allowed in all RM zones. Small and smaller houses, cottages and duplexes are the only forms currently allowed in RM duplex zones.
  4. Certain (or all) RM zones would potentially include minimum densities.


This project will include additional analysis, public involvement and public hearings and work sessions with the Planning Commission and City Council.




Planning Commission meetings:

Project Briefing on January 9, 2020


City Council meetings:

Project Briefing on August 26, 2019


Please contact the Planning and Community Development Department at 360-778-8300 or RMproject@cob.org with questions and/or to receive periodic project updates via email.