Forming Downtown's Future

We are looking at Covington’s Downtown in order to implement a form-based code that will update, refine, and consolidate Downtown’s development and design standards. We need your input to make this update a success.

  Downtown Timeline      
  Downtown Zoning & Land Uses  
  New Development  
  Form-Based Codes  
  Initial Findings  
  About SEPA  
  Sign Up for Email Updates  

Downtown Open House Survey                 (Open until Oct. 1)


Project Overview
projectareamapLeveraging a grant received from the Washington State Department of Commerce, Covington is evaluating changes to our regulations that control the design and use of Downtown buildings, streets, and public spaces. This project will lead to a new “form-based” code that will more effectively implement the community’s vision, respond to changes in the regional economy, and provide a catalyst for high-quality construction in the heart of Covington. Click the map to the right to view the study area.


In 2010 Covington formally updated its vision for downtown and adopted design and development standards. Since then, concerns have been raised over both the quantity and quality of new development. Covington’s aspiration for Downtown is a vibrant human-scaled environment with walkable streets and trails, high-quality mixed-use, office, and commercial development, and attractive streetscapes.

Desired Outcomes
  • An updated understanding of the economic trends in Downtown Covington
  • A new form-based code that supports the Downtown’s vision as a compact and pedestrian-friendly business district
  • A new code section that exempts certain types of Downtown construction from environmental review, as allowed by state law
  • Recommendations for infrastructure improvement and expansion that is needed to support the growth of Downtown

    Form-Based Code /fôrm-bàsed kòd/ noun

A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.


What we need from you!

We need your input as a Covington community member to let us know how you use, navigate, and feel  about our Downtown. Instead of a typical public open house, the project team has developed this webpage to share information about our Downtown efforts. Stay tuned and check back as we continue to evaluate and adjust our public engagement approach.

     COVID-19: Public Engagement Approach     
  With the current restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are unable to conduct in-person meetings. That doesn’t mean we’ve hit the pause button… instead we are looking at new ways to engage on ways to improve Downtown during this time of “physical distancing.” On Sept. 17, we held the city's first virtual open house as an alternative to an in-person meeting.


Project Schedule
Through the spring we will be collecting and analyzing background information about Downtown, and starting the environmental review process. We’ll be drafting initial code concepts early this summer with plans to present those to the community mid-summer. First and second drafts of the code will be developed over the remainder of the year. Open houses are planned with the release of each draft. Under the terms of the state grant, the project must be completed by March 2021.

Project Funding
The City is leveraging State grant funding ($100,000) to accomplish this work.

Downtown Timeline
Covington Downtown History_20-0414

Early years
  • Prior to European settlement, the Stkamish, Smulkamis, and Skopamish people inhabited the Covington area. Eventually these tribes, together with other tribes along the White and Green Rivers, were resettled on the Muckleshoot Reservation, named for the prairie on which the reservation was established.
  • Originally, Covington was a stop on a railroad line connecting Kanasket to Auburn.
  • Covington was originally known for lumber mills on Jenkins and Soos Creeks and successful berry farms and dairies.
  • Following World War II, the community grew from a rural farming community into a suburb.
  • King County first designated Covington as an Urban Activity Center in its 1985 Comprehensive Plan due to its location near freeway access and sewer availability.   
  • Covington incorporated in 1997. Incorporation of Covington was approved by voters in November of 1996 and became effective August 31, 1997.

Downtown planning begins
Covington inherited a Downtown shaped primarily by regional growth and market forces along State Routes 18 and 516. The result was a pattern of low density, auto-oriented, strip commercial development with few public amenities.

  • 1998 - Vision Plan for Covington - Citizen input directed the City to improve the aesthetic and functional character of the Downtown.
  • 2001 - Covington’s First Comprehensive Plan - The Vision Statement, adopted by City Council, says:

    The City of Covington is a place where community businesses and civic leaders are partners in building a city that is family-oriented, safe and pedestrian-friendly. A community that proudly invests in enhancing our small-town character and natural environment and provides diverse recreational opportunities as well as remaining financially responsible.
    We believe that the following elements are necessary to achieve this Vision: Covington will have a Downtown that is well-designed and pedestrian-friendly with a permanent combination of commercial and residential areas.
  • 2001 - Covington Business District (CBD) Plan - The CBD Plan analyzed the state of Downtown and provided a strategy for building a more livable, pedestrian-friendly Downtown. A Downtown Element was included in Covington’s first adopted Comprehensive Plan. The main challenge at that time, which continues today, is accommodating the demand for regional “big-box” retail while creating a walkable Downtown core.
  • 2005 – Zoning map & code update - The City refocused its efforts on future growth by guiding the bulk of development into the Downtown, creating new zoning designations to focus the most intense development into this core area. It also established development and street standards that would provide a more traditional grid system. This resulted in amendments to the Downtown Plan and the zoning regulations.

Recent efforts
  • 2010 – Adoption of the Downtown Element of the Comprehensive Plan, zoning map and code, and new design standards – Begun in 2008, these efforts included the City Council’s endorsement of the updated Downtown Plan and concluded with the adoption of development and design standards that remain in place today. This effort refined the vision to develop a focused Town Center area that will eventually contain a new City Hall, a new public plaza and public gathering space, new mixed-use buildings (combining commercial and residential), and centrally-located parking facilities. One or two new pedestrian-oriented streets are intended to become the "Main Street" and heart of Downtown.
  • 2016 – Updated Comprehensive Plan that integrated the Downtown Element’s goals and policies into the Land Use Element - The effort reaffirmed the vision towards a sustainable and vibrant future with mixed-use commercial and residential mid-rise development patterns, gathering spaces, and connected multi-modal streets in the town center.

Downtown Zoning and Land Uses


Land in Downtown is currently comprised of four zones as follows:

Town Center(TC): An area envisioned as the heart and core of downtown, characterized by an intensive mix of uses, a vibrant and active streetscape, the most pedestrian-scaled land use and circulation system downtown, and includes an important public gathering space.

Mixed Commercial(MC): These “gateways” to downtown Covington along 272nd on the west and east encompass the largest area within the Downtown. This zone accommodates a diverse mix of uses, emphasizing retail and employment, with increased walkability and access for all modes of travel. Large format retail, auto-oriented uses and public uses may be part of the mix, provided they’re compatible with the area’s pedestrian-oriented scale and character.

Mixed Housing & Office(MHO): This zone is primarily existing single-family residences with zoning that will allow infill housing and office development designed to be compatible with surrounding residential uses. Cottage housing types or single family detached housing may also be part of this zoning district.

General Commercial(GC): This area is envisioned to include the broadest range of uses of any in the downtown, including commercial, light manufacturing, office, transportation and utility uses, as well as residential uses buffered from more intensive uses to provide transition space and coordination of different kinds of development.

New Development

Recent developments include:
  • Wendy’s - A 3,227sf restaurant with drive-through facilities.
  • Polaris at Covington – Two 6-story apartment buildings with a total of 200 affordable units.
  • Affinity at Covington – A 156-unit multifamily 5-story apartment building with 156 age-restricted units.
  • Novo Apartments - A 170- unit multifamily garden style apartment complex (up to 3-stories).
  • Ulta/Marshalls/Party City - Two multi-tenant commercial buildings with a total of 69,991sf.
  • Chick-fil-A - A 4,304 sq. ft. restaurant with drive-through facilities.
  • Stack Storage - A 112,623 sq. ft. self-storage facility with five buildings.
  • Cubes - A 90,100 sq. ft. 3-story self-storage facility.
Covington Recent Development_20-0410

Planned developments include:
  • 168th PL Retail Building - A 3,920 sq. ft. commercial building (ADD LINK TO PLANS?)
  • Covington Assisted Living & Memory Care - A 4-story assisted living building with 79,325sf and 89 units and four 1-story memory care facility buildings (17,141sf total)
  • Station By Vintage - A 5-story, 254,802sf mixed-use building with 189 residential units and ground floor commercial space.
  • Goraya Mixed-Use – A 4-story building with 44 residential units and 4,000 square feet ground        floor commercial space.
  • Office and Storage Facility – A 7-acre storage facility with 29,200 square feet of office space and 127 RV/boat storage spaces.

For more details, see the Interactive Development Map.

Covington Planned Development_20-0409

Form-Based Codes

Form-based codes (FBC) address the relationship between buildings and the public realm. The public realm is those areas that belong to everyone and are accessible to all –they are the ‘spaces between buildings’ and the streets, parks, trails, green spaces, and other outdoor gathering places that are freely available for everyone to access and use. FBC regulate areas that are not typically part of zoning, such as the design of streets, sidewalks, landscape, and other public spaces. FBCs recognize that all of these pieces are all interrelated. FBCs pull the regulations together in one place where their relationships are presented in both diagrams and words to clearly illustrate the design and development objectives for a given area.

While initially started in Florida in the early 1980’s, numerous Washington communities have crafted their own “hybrid” versions of FBC that still regulate permitted uses, but place a greater emphasis on the massing, design and orientation of buildings to the existing or planned streets within a specific district, area, or entire city.

FBC’s are drafted as regulations to implement a community’s plan for a designated area such as Downtown Covington. They try to achieve a community vision based on time-tested forms of urbanism. Covington’s goal for a Form Based Code for Downtown Covington are:

  • Create vibrant neighborhoods where people can, live, work, shop, and play rather than housing developments, strip malls, and office parks
  • Promote a wider mix of housing options in a walkable, human-scaled area that residents and businesses want to locate.
  • Ensure that development fits the surrounding land uses and the public realm
  • Facilitate a healthy community that is interconnected and encourage active transportation (walking, biking, etc.)
  • Maximize the use of existing infrastructure

Examples from cities and towns across the country are available from the Form-Based Code Institute:

Doc_Image25   Doc_Image26

 FBC Explainer_City Colors

Initial Findings

The consultant team is auditing the current regulations that govern new construction and streets in Downtown Covington. The two primary items are Chapter 18.31 of the Covington Municipal Code and the Downtown Design Guidelines and Standards. The audit is ongoing, and initial findings include:

  • The code and guidelines include multiple provisions for open-ended flexibility that have the potential to degrade development’s ability to implement Downtown’s vision.
  • There is a significant amount of duplication internally and with other chapters of the Municipal Code.
  • Many design topics that affect construction quality are either not addressed or are not discussed in enough detail, such as outdoor lighting, landscaping design, resident recreation areas, and pedestrian trails. Some areas need updates based on modern construction practices, like window design and wall materials.
  • The Design Guidelines and Standards have some good photographs and graphics to show examples, but could be improved and clarified. Including bad examples (what NOT to do) can also be very useful.
  • Some standards are very rigorous and may not be realistic, or come at significant cost to builders with little benefit to the public. Adding more clarity and alternative design options could help achieve balance between private and public interests.
  • Many decisions are delegated to the Community Development Director, but clear criteria for approving unique designs are lacking.


Spring 2020 - Stakeholder Interviews

In spring of this year, our consultant team interviewed an assorted group of community members, to listen to their perceptions on Covington and the Downtown. These interviews were conducted by phone or video conference, most interviewees were residents of Covington- some since prior to the city’s incorporation and others more recent arrivals; some worked, ran businesses, or owned property in the downtown; several currently or in the past have been on the city council or served on one or more of the city’s volunteer commissions; they ran the gamut from a high schooler to a retiree living in the Downtown. These interviews provided the consultants and staff some preliminary take-aways to contemplate on while evaluating the city’s existing codes and standards for development in the Downtown. Future virtual online public meetings will be held to confirm the community’s vision for Downtown Covington and gather more community input as we move forward.
A summary of these interviews can be viewed here: Spring 2020 Stakeholder Interview Summary

About SEPA

What is SEPA?
The Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires cities and counties to consider environmental impacts associated with governmental decisions, including issuing permits for private projects, constructing public facilities, or adopting regulations, policies, and plans.

What is an EIS?
An environmental impact statement (EIS) is an informational document that provides the City, public, and other agencies with environmental information to be considered in the decision-making process. It also allows the public and government agencies to comment on proposals and alternatives. Alternatives for the Downtown Plan could include code amendments for different land use patterns, housing types, street connections and streetscapes, and design requirements.

What is an infill exemption?
While SEPA has good intentions, environmental review can sometimes cause delays or uncertainty for environmental projects, and costs can be passed on ultimately to homebuyers, renters, and businesses. To help facilitate housing development in urban areas not meeting the density goals of a Comprehensive Plan such as Covington’s Downtown, SEPA allows a city to prepare an EIS and adopt an ordinance establishing categorical exemptions for the Downtown. This means residential or mixed-use development that is consistent with City regulations will not undergo new environmental review; instead it will focus on providing housing that fits with the form-based code, and meets other City code standards such as transportation concurrency, critical areas requirements, etc. Minor amounts of stand-alone commercial development are also allowed.

The EIS provides upfront environmental review for multiple properties, and the resulting Infill Exemption ordinance will save time and expense for all parties.

How can I give input?
Early comment opportunities including scoping. Scoping is an opportunity to provide your comments on the scope of the EIS including alternatives, mitigation measures, probable significant adverse impacts, and licenses or other approvals that may be required. Watch this space for our scoping notice providing a 21-day comment period.

Once a Draft EIS is prepared there will be a 30-day comment period on the document, and your comments can help improve the analysis and help the City select a preferred alternative.  A Final EIS will be prepared and respond to comments on the Draft EIS and describe the preferred alternative if one is selected.

SEPA EIS Documents:



Q: How can I be involved?
A: There are several ways that individuals can be involved with the planning process:

  • You may provide comments to the City during the open public comment period
  • You can participate in this virtual open house
  • You can provide feedback to the City via surveys (to be posted later in the project)
  • You can participate and provide comments at  Planning Commission and City Council Meetings (for the foresable future these are likely to be held online as virtural meetings)

Q: Will traffic be studied in this project?

A: The consultant team includes engineering and planning firm David Evans and Associates, Inc., who are reviewing Covington’s adopted infrastructure plans for potential updates. This includes transportation. Specific current traffic issues will not be reviewed in detail, but opportunities for long-term improvement will be explored. This may include concepts such as new streets, shared parking facilities, pedestrian and bike connections along or across arterial roads, and recreational trails that all support the growth of Downtown. This project’s Environmental Impact Study, led by consultant team member BERK, will also include a summary of transportation issues related to future development. However, it is the current intent of the project to conform to the land use assumptions in the City’s Comprehensive plan and not update the City’s long-range traffic analysis.  

Q: How does this project affect existing businesses?
A: This is a long-term planning project with no short-term effect on businesses. Potential changes to the zoning code and the SEPA infill exemption ordinance could affect new land uses and developments. New zoning provisions are intended to increase the quantity and quality of Downtown development, including space for additional residential development that could increase the customer base to benefit local businesses. Any change to the existing zoning code will go through a thorough public process, allowing for public comment and involvement throughout the process.

Q: Where else have form-based codes been done in Washington?
A: Washington communities with form-based codes usually adopt a “hybrid style”. This is when traditional land use regulations are supplemented by robust design standards for sites, buildings, and streets, as opposed to replacing the entire code. Examples include:

Q: How does this project affect housing?
A: Covington projects a need for approximately 3,900 new homes in the 2015-2035 time frame. Covington is targeting the majority of future residential growth for Downtown and specifically in the Town Center zone. Adding addition residential to Downtown will help strengthen its economy and businesses, will also help to maintain the quality of single family neighborhoods and to help protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Downtown growth is intended to take the shape of multifamily (apartments or condominiums), mixed-use (apartments above shops), townhouses, and single-family cottage clusters. This project will identify appropriate locations for these housing types, update design expectations for residential development, and improve the overall “livability” of Downtown for current and future residents, workers, shoppers, and visitors.

Q: Where else have infill exemptions been done in Washington?
A: Infill exemptions have been completed in several communities. See Kent and Yakima examples below including the EIS and the code amendments.