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Reviewed 08/2013

Mixed Use Development in Plain English


What is Mixed Use Development?

In general, mixed use development is a development that combines two or more different types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, employment, and entertainment uses, in close proximity. In some communities, mixed use may be defined as different uses contained within the same physical structure. As an example, a building may include retail uses on the ground floor and residential or office uses on the upper floors. Defined more broadly, mixed use development may encompass two or more uses on the same lot, whether housed in a single building or in separate buildings.

Some jurisdictions have designated mixed use zoning districts where mixed use is permitted on sites throughout the district. In all cases, the land uses should be close enough to allow convenient access between the different land uses. For instance, residents may walk to a grocery store or to their job.

Mixed use development comes in varied forms ranging from a large master planned community to a retail shop in a building with office above. Many traditional downtowns, developed before World War II, exhibit mixed use characteristics. Mixed use development works in urban, suburban and rural settings.

Mixed Use as Applied in Washington

In Washington, mixed use development is a useful tool for implementing Growth Management Act (GMA) direction for encouraging compact development in urban growth areas, innovative land use management, efficient multimodal transportation systems and utility provision, and other GMA goals.

When people live or work close to the essentials that they need on a day-to-day basis, they can reduce the time and travel required. Walking and cycling become practical means of travel, rather than having to drive to services in separate zones. A complementary mix of uses is of key importance - the uses must support each other. For instance, a restaurant or day care center could serve needs of industry employees. There must also be direct, safe, and convenient connections between the uses (sidewalks, bike paths, or transit between mixed use projects or nodes) to accomplish reduced traffic congestion. Combining uses that attract activity at different times of day allows efficient use of streets and utilities. Since their use is spread out throughout the day rather than occurring primarily at peak rush hours, the total need for road capacity can be reduced, saving taxpayer dollars. Similarly, uses such as offices, and movie theaters, churches, or restaurants can share parking spaces when peak hours do not overlap.

Compatibility between different uses is addressed through standards that limit noise or other undesirable features, transitions between uses such as landscape screening, gradual transitions in height or density, and careful site and building design, rather than by separating uses into single use zones.


Need more information?

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