Home-building activity brisk in Tumwater, Thurston County

One of the busiest communities in the county for issuing new single-family building permits is not Olympia or Lacey, which for years showed strong annual growth in that category, but Tumwater, which is about half the size of both cities.

Tumwater issued a record number of permits in 2020 and appears to be on pace to exceed that total this year.

The county also had a busy 2020 and it, too, appears to be on pace to meet or exceed last year’s single-family building permit activity.

But will these new homes alter the home-buying picture in the county?

To date, the county’s residential real estate market has been characterized by low inventory, steady demand and a median price that rises every month. Buyers end up paying top dollar, being outbid, looking elsewhere for a place to live, or giving up on buying at all right now.

The median price of a Thurston County home in April was $430,000, up nearly 20 percent from April 2020, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data. Ken Anderson, president and owner of Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty in Olympia, says the county has been in a sellers’ market for nearly seven years.

“The region has been significantly under-building for more than a decade,” Anderson said. “While Tumwater, and some other areas, have some nice building activity occurring, it is still not enough to keep up with net inbound migration. We are mostly treading water as the homes being built today simply make up for plats recently completed.”

For example, Tumwater and the county have issued about 390 single-family building permits this year, but in April, more than 450 single-family homes were sold. And that was higher by 46 percent from the same month last year, the Northwest MLS data show.

Growth in Tumwater

One reason Tumwater has issued more single-family permits than ever before is because, Anderson says, the city has a large existing plat that continues to be built out. It’s called The Preserve at Tumwater Place, southeast of the Olympia Regional Airport, and it will eventually contain about 600 homes, Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet said.

One of the county’s largest housing developments in years also is being pitched for Tumwater: a proposal called Tickner Farms, which would bring as many as 1,700 residential units, including single-family homes, to Littlerock Road near Black Hills High School.

Kmet said the city and developer are still in preliminary discussions, and nothing concrete has emerged.

“We’re still looking at conceptual designs and how we would handle traffic,” Kmet said.

In addition to The Preserve and the Tickner Farms proposal, there are a number of other smaller plats in various stages of build out, Tumwater data show.

Kmet said the city has taken the appropriate steps with water, infrastructure and transportation to address growth, although that isn’t always understood by a typical resident who simply sees more homes being built, trees being felled, and traffic increasing.

“Change is a challenge,” Kmet said, and it has been exacerbated by COVID-19 where interactions with city officials have been limited to online meetings.

Coming out of the pandemic, he hopes the city can restore community events and other public meetings to give people a sense of connection, Kmet said.

Olympia, Lacey and Thurston County

Olympia and Lacey are communities in transition. The conversation of late has been more about density and multifamily development, particularly in downtown Olympia, and less about new single-family homes.

Still, Olympia has already exceeded its permit totals for 2020 and more single-family residences are on the way, city data show.

They include: 30 single-family lots at the Kaiserwood subdivision on Kaiser Road; 37 lots at Pattison Street Place, and Green Cove, a 181-lot subdivision on Cooper Point Road, according to city data.

Lacey, too, is seeing its share of apartment proposals, compared to a time before the Great Recession when it was common for the city to issue 1,000 single-family building permits in a year.

Coming out of the recession, new housing construction slowed and annual single-family building permit totals in Lacey fell to about 300 a year, then 200. About 200 permits is still the target for the year, Finance Director Troy Woo said.

Thurston County has so far issued 192 single-family building permits this year, which would appear to be on pace with last year’s totals. However, with so many variables at play — the post-pandemic period, the high cost of lumber and the restricted availability of construction labor — it’s difficult to make a year-over-year comparison, said Brett Bures, building and development manager for the county.

But the county has received a significant housing proposal: Developer Steve Chamberlain has proposed Manor House, a planned residential development with 620 homes, the majority of which would be single-family homes, he told The Olympian.

The proposal — in Lacey’s urban growth area, bordered by Mullen Road, Kagy Road and 58th Avenue Southeast — is still under county review, Bures said.

2021 year-to-date single-family home building permit data

Tumwater: 195.

Thurston County: 192.

Olympia: 48.

Lacey: 31.

2020 single-family home permit data

Thurston County: 371.

Tumwater: 260.

Lacey: 134.

Olympia: 46.

Profile Image of Rolf Boone

Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.