Cottage homes address growth management goals in Federal Way

A rendering illustrates how the Mirror Lake Highland cottage housing development will look. Bill McCaffrey of The Wjm Studio Inc. created the rendering.  - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
A rendering illustrates how the Mirror Lake Highland cottage housing development will look. Bill McCaffrey of The Wjm Studio Inc. created the rendering.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Federal Way is looking for an architect to design its third cottage home demonstration project.

The demonstration projects were approved by the Federal Way City Council in 2006 as a way for the city to meet density requirements. An architect and developer had previously been selected for the third cottage housing site, but the deal fell through due to the economy, said Matt Herrera, the city's associate planner. While the first two projects move forward, the third one will start over.

Different kind of home

Cottage homes are single-family residences that are smaller than the typical home. They are characterized by their open floor plan, centrally located spaces, creative design and a size of 1,100 to 1,300 square feet. Cottage houses are also known for surrounding a central common space. Some projects even share amenities, located in a common room.

"The idea is to kind of provide a sense of community," Herrera said.

Laws governing the housing stipulate it must be unique. The houses commonly feature a craftsman-style look, pitched roofs and a covered porch, Herrera said.

"There are all kinds of performance standards," he said. "You have to provide a better end product. You can't have tract housing."

The styles stick out, but residents in cottage homes must be comfortable in close quarters.

Growth management

A plus for the city: Cottage housing will help Federal Way meet growth management requirements. The Growth Management Act, introduced by King County, mandates that each of the county's cities must be prepared to accommodate more growth in the upcoming years. The county warns that people are attracted to the Puget Sound area, and there must be affordable and appropriate housing to accommodate newcomers.

In Federal Way, cottage housing allows up to double the number of units typically approved for a single property classified as RS 5.0 (single family residential zone allowing one unit per 5,000 square-feet); RS 7.2 (single family residential zone allowing one unit per 7,200 square feet); or multi-family residential, Herrera said. For example, eight units can usually be built on a 1-acre RS 5.0 property, but 16 cottage homes can be constructed on the same piece of land, Herrera said.

"If you live in one of these developments, you're going to have to know you're neighbors," he said.

Mixed feelings

In places such as Seattle, residents have become alarmed over cottage housing. The housing emits varying feelings from Federal Way's city council members. Deputy mayor Eric Faison said he is not against the housing, but thinks Federal Way ought to first focus on placing high-density housing downtown and in business districts.

"I'm not utterly opposed to cottage housing," he said. "I just think we have better places to start. Let's first start with areas that, to me, are more capable of supporting that level of density."

There is no guarantee the housing will be affordable, he said. Council member Dini Duclos thinks otherwise. Before Duclos was elected to the city council, she served on the Planning Commission — a team of citizens that made recommendations to the council's Land Use sub-committee on the cottage housing.

Density was a concern at first. But the cottage homes are attractive and will not detract from the city's neighborhoods, Duclos said.

"They fit right in with our community," she said.

Cottage housing is a better fit than apartments for many families with children, Duclos said.

"It's really designed to help families, especially families with children, to have a home they can afford," she said.

Public will help decide

The location for the third demonstration project will depend on what is submitted by architects and developers, Herrera said. The project was previously planned for the Steel Lake area before the developer backed out.

The first and second cottage housing projects are moving along. The 16-unit Mirror Lake Highland, 604 S.W. 312th St., is past its permitting stage and the developer is awaiting financing, Herrera said. The project will utilize a Low Impact Development as a way to treat stormwater. A detention pond will not be necessary, Herrera said. Instead, rain gardens and pervious pavement will capture the water and infiltrate it on-site.

Cottages at Redondo, an eight-home one community building project located on 18th Avenue South, just south of South 288th Street, is still under review.

The city will accept applications for its third set of cottage housing through Nov. 30. Applicants are required to attend a pre-application process prior to submitting their proposals. After the application closing date, the applicants will hold a community meeting to discuss their design and collect community input. They will then have the opportunity to revise their designs.

The city will accept the projects based on the designs and public input. Selected applicants will then be invited to submit formal applications, which could include a preliminary plat design. One architect will be chosen.

Once all demonstration projects are completed, the city council will gauge how accepting residents are of the atypical homes before deciding to allow more cottage housing in Federal Way.

Learn more

For more information about the city's cottage housing projects: Visit To submit a proposal for the third demonstration cottage housing project, contact associate planner Matt Herrera at (253) 835-2638 or

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