HIP Tool: No Maximum Densities

Eliminating maximum densities is a zoning approach for multifamily and mixed-use districts where jurisdictions omit a maximum dwelling unit per acre requirement and instead focus on the height, bulk, and design of buildings in a zoning district. Floor area ratios (FAR) are a regulatory alternative to maximum unit densities for establishing parameters around development intensity while permitting some flexibility in building height, bulk and design.


Building form is emphasized when maximum density requirements are eliminated in particular districts. The number of dwellings on a given residentially zoned site are instead based on:

  • Building envelope–height, floor area ratio, and setbacks
  • Ability to meet parking standards
  • Local market conditions

This tool is effective in areas where high density is particularly desired, like downtown districts and transit oriented development.

This tool benefits housing development by allowing site developers to make efficient use of land and maximize height and floor area ratio to help achieve the community’s desired urban form. Given the impact of parking requirements on the effectiveness of this tool, communities should consider reducing parking requirements where applicable in neighborhoods with no maximum densities.

In the central Puget Sound region, several cities have removed density requirements in downtown areas. The City of Bellevue reported 2,800 units built in last five years with this housing tool in place (2009 PSRC Local Government Housing Survey).

Citizens may be concerned about the lack of certainty about how many dwellings may be developed in areas near their neighborhood. Providing for design standards, such as transitional height, setback, and landscaping standards where districts abut, may assist in alleviating citizen concerns. Preparing some example case studies of development and design standards may also help.

Planners should coordinate with public works departments to ensure that functional plans for water, sewer, and other utilities are in sync with the level of projected growth and demand for services.

Tool Profile

Focus Areas

  • Urban Centers
  • Transit Oriented Development
  • Expensive Housing Markets

Project Types

  • Multifamily
  • Ownership
  • Rental
  • Market Rate

Affordability Level

  • 80 to 120% AMI
  • Less than 80% AMI

Housing Goal

  • Diversity