Norfolk's 'Missing Middle Pattern Book' Aims to Streamline Permitting for Multi-Family Housing

Acknowledging the region's dire need for more diverse housing stock, city leaders hope the pre-approved designs, along with necessary zoning reforms, will encourage more construction of 'missing middle housing.'

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August 5, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Skyline of Norfolk, Virginia

PghPhxNfk / Norfolk, Virginia

"Last month Norfolk’s city council approved a Missing Middle Pattern Book full of free designs and schematics for dozens of so-called 'middle housing': duplexes, quadplexes and the city’s iconic 'Norfolk six-packs.'" According to Wyatt Gordon, "[t]he move marks the latest attempt by a Virginia locality to encourage more middle housing, the array of options that lie between single-family detached homes and large apartment buildings."

"The concept of a missing middle in our housing market grew out of the reality that for the last 80 years America has built little housing of a scale between single-family structures and multi-story apartments," housing which tends to be more affordable due to lower land and construction costs. Dan Parolek, principal of Opticos Design and author of Missing Middle Housing, says that "[p]eople often visualize adding more units means that the building will get bigger and bigger, but some of the examples identified in the pattern book demonstrate that you can have a house-scale building with multiple units in it. The concept has been so useful and popular because it gives planners and architects the tools to talk with homeowners about more housing without scary words like density."

Encouraging more missing middle housing takes more than just raising the number of allowable units per lot. "Minimum-lot sizes, mandatory setbacks and off street parking requirements are just a few of the restrictive regulations that have tilted the scales towards single-family, detached housing over the last eight decades. Undoing the layers of laws holding back missing middle housing may prove no easy task." But the pattern book presents an opportunity to streamline the process and expedite permitting through pre-approvals. As housing pressures continue to mount, "cities need to think creatively about how to deliver more housing for residents. Missing middle housing can deliver more attainable housing units at more affordable price points," says Parolek.

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