Live-Work Planning and Design: Zero-Commute Housing

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Work-Live use is also ideal for small retail buildings in mixed-use centers where the back half of a building can be converted into an apartment with the street frontage remaining a retail or commercial use. Another ideal W-L building type is retail spaces with chronic vacancy. Work-Live allows short to mid-term use of a street level tenant space that can easily be converted back to retail when consumer demand is higher. Work-Live enables a property owner to realize short-term revenue without eliminating the potential of future retail.

Work-Live is an allowable use within the City of Tacoma with no additional approvals required. The city created a predictable approval process that does not rely upon staff discretion.

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Work-Live improvements must include all required life-safety aspects of both the original commercial use and R-2 residential. Building permit application must identify the business space with a distinct and definable separation from the living space, which does not need to be a firewall separation subject to requirements — see below.

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Internal staff discussions after the conclusion of the committee recommendation resulted in stricter sprinkler upgrade requirements than originally intended. The fire department was concerned about residential uses co-located with retail shelving storage. High density storage can result in very intense fires that would overwhelm Type R or Type D systems. For buildings lawfully in existence prior to December 5, Tacoma has a large stock of poorly performing buildings.

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Tacoma initiated discussions with property owners to identify the reasons their properties were underperforming and why they had not further developed their properties to overcome the issues. The two most common responses were low lease rates and the high cost of changing the existing undervalued use to a higher demand residential. It is too early to determine if the Work-Live ordinance will eliminate barriers to adaptive reuse.

Multiple projects are in development as of March The ordinance development process included collaborative meetings between a private consultant and city staff. Staff members included the building permit reviewers, planning permit reviewers, and fire department permit reviewers. The primary challenge to overcome was maintaining fire safety of residential occupants and emergency responders.

Commercial buildings have a lower level of emergency response than a residential building. Fire personnel are required to sweep residential buildings for occupants during a fire event. Once a residential use is possible within a building the responders must verify the building is empty.


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Fire Department personnel were primarily concerned with providing sprinkler systems to any building that contained residential use. The committee agreed to a graduated and phased approach to sprinklers to minimize first cost without placing occupants and emergency personnel at risk.

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Type R and D systems were approved for projects with four or less units that have separated commercial and residential areas. Full Type 13 systems are required for unseparated uses and projects with greater than four units. Unsprinklered buildings that would be partially occupied with W-L units would be required to fully sprinkler the units without immediately providing sprinklers for the remaining non-Work-Live spaces.

Future substantial improvements for non-Work-Live units are required to be upgraded on a space by space basis. No additional processes are required for the code to be maintained. The two most likely reasons the code would be eliminated are if a flaw is identified that causes unintended life-safety danger with the Tacoma code or if there are further life-safety issues on a national scale with the Work-Live movement.

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The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland has fire officials concerned and they are watching the investigation closely. The State of Washington was the approving agency for the Tacoma amendments. Please report cases in which the information is inaccurate through the Contact Us link below.


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Live-work planning and design zero-commute housing Dolan, Thomas, Subjects A limited number of items are shown. Click to view More Multipurpose buildings. City planning. Sociology, Urban.

Content Types A limited number of items are shown. Click to view More Electronic books. Physical Details 1 online resource p. Summary "Although the live-work concept is now accepted among progressive urban design and planning professionals, the specifics that define the term, and its application, remain sketchy. This encyclopedic work is sure to change that, providing the critical information that is needed by architects, planners and citizens.

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