Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Going…Going…Almost Gone: Demolition of Blight on the Isthmus

Above: Building demolition today in downtown Olympia across from Bayview Market opened up the view to the Capitol Building.
By Janine Unsoeld
At long last, building demolition at 505 Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia across from Bayview Market has begun, facilitated by Seattle-Tacoma based contractor Dickson Company.

According to the City of Olympia, this work is expected to take no more than 10 days and no site improvements are planned or funded.  
In recent years, Olympia acquired two properties on the isthmus at 505 and 529 Fourth Avenue West. Demolition of the second building, the former Thurston County Health Department, will occur in early summer.

This project is a funding partnership of the City of Olympia, Thurston County, and the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation.
But What About The Mistake on the Lake?
The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation sent out a news release in late March detailing progress at and near the site, including the vacant nine story building, the Mistake on the Lake, also known as the Capitol Center Building, which is not currently scheduled for demolition: 

The City of Olympia asked the state Legislature for help in removing the long vacant Capitol Center building from the Isthmus. The proposed capital budget released this week by the House Capitol Budget Chair recommends an appropriation of $900,000 that may be used to help with acquisition and demolition of the building…. Representatives Sam Hunt, Chris Reykdal, and Senator Karen Fraser are working together in support of getting state support for funds in the capital budget,” said Jerry Reilly, Foundation chair.

“Although the exact costs of acquiring and removing the Capitol Center building cannot be precisely known until a purchase agreement can be reached with the current owner, best estimates are that the cost, including demolition, could be as high as $12 million….
“The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation has already pledged to raise $400,000 in private donations for development of the Capitol Olympic Vista Park. Both the city of Olympia and Thurston County have been outstanding partners in the progress made so far….

 “There are still a variety of opinions as to how to re-develop all of the land on the isthmus….The position of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation is that the best use is as a publicly owned civic space, with structures, if any, no higher than 35 feet. But, above all, it is most essential to get ownership (site control) of all of the land as soon as possible. The owners of the Capitol Center building want to re-develop it as a hotel. If this happens, we may live with this building for another fifty years and miss the opportunity to perfect the unparalleled view from the Capitol campus to Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains beyond as envisioned by Capitol designers Wilder and White and the Olmsted brothers a century ago. Our immediate goal is to get the site “down and green” or “down and clean” and then have an open community process to decide what comes next.” 
The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation was established in 2008 as a 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation. Contributions to the Foundation are tax deductible charitable gifts under the federal Internal Revenue Code. Undesignated or general donations will be used for land acquisition, park development, and/or related expenses, such as operations or publicity. Donations for Land and Park Acquisition will be used to acquire some or all of the land and also for park development.

For more information, contact Jerry Reilly, Chair, Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, at vistapark@capitolvistapark.org or mail donations to Capitol Vista Park, PO Box 1964, Olympia, WA 98507.
For more information about the demolition from the City of Olympia, contact Brett Bures, Project Manager, at (360) 753-8290.

Above: Looking northwest from Simmons Street, on-site building demolition workers knocked off today about 4:00 p.m. 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

“Vested” Oak Tree Preserve Land Use Application Proves Thurston County Is For Sale

Above: An Oregon White Oak is strangled with surveyor’s tape, but continues to grow. The Thurston County oaks are on property owned by Bellevue developer Jeffrey Hamilton of Oak Tree Preserve LLC.

By Janine Unsoeld
On its cover, the March 2015 issue of Seattle magazine proclaims to have the scoop on the best, affordable neighborhoods in Seattle. To whet your appetite, they identify six areas, each with a mix of housing options starting in the $400,000s. Still a little too high?
Well, Thurston County is for sale and Bellevue developer, Jeffrey Hamilton, owner of Oak Tree Preserve LLC, knows it.
Since 2012, Hamilton has sought to subdivide 258.5 acres of wooded land in Lacey’s urban growth area of Thurston County into 1,037 small lot, single family residential units.
Hamilton's effort provides job security for not only the Thurston County planning department staff, but several others, including Hatton Godat Pantier, a local engineering, surveying and construction project management firm. Jeff Pantier testified at the county hearing on March 24 that he’s been involved with the project since 2003. Co-principal Steve Hatton said he has been involved for 10 years.
The firm’s website lists nine of their projects, some controversial, ranging from Olympia’s first “low impact” west side development, Cooper Crest, to environmental clean-up operations at the Port of Olympia.

Thurston County senior planner Robert Smith says that although the county does not keep a list ranking the sizes of subdivisions, the Oak Tree Preserve application features the largest that he’s aware of, “at least in modern times.”

Neighbors Oppose Oak Tree Preserve Project
Plat hearing testimony was heard on March 24 regarding a wide range of environmental, transportation, and school capacity issues. A decision on the plat hearing is expected by Thurston County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice on April 24.
According to the county application, the development is expected to generate nearly 10,000 vehicle trips per day. Approval of this subdivision is conditioned upon payment of City of Lacey traffic mitigation fees of $1,128.68 per lot, equaling about $1.2 million.
According to a North Thurston Public Schools in a letter to the county dated July 30, 2014, the proposed development will generate 790 new students. The cost of purchasing land and temporary classrooms and constructing new school facilities is estimated to be $3,728 per new single-family, equaling about $3.8 million.
There is no price tag that can be placed on the potential loss of a spectacular wooded space, Thurston County’s largest stand of Oregon White Oak, about 76 acres, and the habitat for a wide range of animals and plants.
Above: With the proposed Oak Tree Preserve LLC development, those “minutes,” to shopping and I-5 in commute time, now ranging from 10 to 40 minutes from nearby subdivisions depending on the day and time of day, are almost guaranteed to lengthen, despite the developer’s mitigation plans. This photo was taken on Saturday, March 28, about 2:00 p.m. approaching the Hawks Prairie area interchange of Martin Way and Marvin Road in Lacey.
After last week’s public preliminary plat hearing in front of Thurston County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice, neighbors quickly mobilized to inform nearby neighbors just outside the 300 foot notification area about the proposed project, and learn about the land use process.
They’ve started an online petition at http://tinyurl.com/thurston-oak that will be submitted as public comment to the hearing examiner by the deadline of 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 3.  
Due to the organizing efforts of those who live around the beloved wooded area, the petition has already gathered nearly 300 names and comments. While some just state their opposition to the project, others explain their reasons for wanting to preserve the natural habitat, with one person describing the beauty of its spring wildflowers of delphinium, shooting stars, prairie star and camas.
Others provide evidence that the project does not support the policies and goals of the Sustainable Thurston plan. The plan, adopted by the Thurston Regional Planning Council in December 2013, included the three year effort of 180 residents representing 104 jurisdictions, agencies, organizations, and community groups. It guides new housing development in urban areas among other topics that affect short- and long-term quality of life in the Thurston County region.
Neighbors are asking basic questions like:
“The Department of Fish and Wildlife considers White Oak as Priority Habitat. From their website it says, '24.25.005 C. Protect the functions and values of priority habitats such as, but not limited to, prairies, Oregon white oak, and riparian areas along streams and marine waters.' They could stop this on their own mandates. Why don't they?”  
There are two endangered species that live in those woods: Streaked Horned Larks and Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly. I have seen them over the 27 years I have wandered through there. I saw a pair of Checkerspots just the other day. Where do I go with that?”
About water quality, the entire area drains into the Nisqually watershed, down into McAllister Springs and then the Sound. Which agency is concerned with this?”
“Vesting” and the Proposed Oak Tree Preserve LLC Development
More than your run of the mill not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) knee-jerk reaction to yet another development, this land use application begs questions and demands answers.
It appears to be a glaring example of two flaws in Thurston County growth management history that developers are taking full advantage of: first, the county’s lateness in developing and implementing impact fees that encouraged development in unincorporated county areas and second, the City of Lacey was allowed to define and adopt an overly expansive urban growth area.  
The project is considered “vested” by the county under previous owners in 2009, as Freestone Ridge, under the City of Lacey’s Comprehensive Plan and the Thurston County Land Use Plan for the Lacey Urban Growth Area, adopted in 1994 with a 2003 update.
Project developers claim to not have to conform to the latest version of the county’s critical area ordinance since it was not in effect when the original proposal was submitted. 
For example, the stormwater measures for the proposal are based on the 1994 Thurston County Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual, although the science and knowledge of stormwater and stormwater control and management has since increased. 
The property changed hands in 2013 and in May 2014, Thurston County received a revised application listing the new owner and met with county staff. Staff provided comments and thus the application was considered to be a revision of the original application.
To be clear, the proposed Oak Tree Preserve LLC homes are not going to be the half-acre lot size homes featured in nearby McAllister Park, an upscale neighborhood with large custom homes featuring several bedrooms, bathrooms and multi-car garages, range in the mid-to-high $500,000 range. The Park touts its territorial views and location minutes from I-5, shopping, Pierce County, Joint Base Lewis McChord, and “miles of sidewalks, street lighting and adjacent city parks.”
Adams v. Thurston County: A Land Use History Lesson
For the Oak Tree Preserve application, the county is not asking for an EIS and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) appeals brought by the McAllister Park Homeowners Association were settled with the developer.
So why is Thurston County not defending the environment? A little growth management history lesson may explain.
It’s relevant, because unlike the current situation, Thurston County was on the other side, and in court from 1987 to 1993 defending the geologic, environmental sensitivity of the area, including McAllister Springs, and argued strenuously that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared and that the developer, Virgil Adams, adhere to the State Environmental Policy Act laws.
In the 1980s, Virgil Adams owned property adjacent to the current Oak Tree Preserve property. He intended to develop it into two subdivisions in Thurston County: McAllister Park and Lacey Estates.
In June, 1987, Adams filed a preliminary plat application with the Thurston County Planning Department for a residential development of 600 lots called McAllister Park. In November, 1987, Adams's predecessors filed a preliminary plat application for Lacey Estates.
The planning department issued a determination of significance requiring preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for McAllister Park. Adams had not yet submitted the EIS. At the applicants' request, the county had not yet issued its threshold determination of environmental significance or nonsignificance for Lacey Estates. 
The county, relying on Thurston County Code (TCC) 18.12.030, contended that the date of vesting should be the date the final environmental impact statement is filed.
Adams and another developer, Lyle Anderson, sued, and won in May 1991 against the county in Superior Court under Judge Richard Strophy. Patrick D. Sutherland was the attorney for the developers, and Thomas R. Bjorgen, represented the county.
The county appealed, saying that the developers' development rights were vested upon the submission of the applications. They lost.
In September 1988, the Thurston County Board of Health, composed of the county commissioners, Les Eldridge, Karen Fraser, and George Barner, adopted a resolution creating a geologically sensitive area in the vicinity of the McAllister Springs aquifer and imposed a two year suspension (moratorium) of building site approvals within the area. Both of Adams's proposed plats were within the area. By August, 1990, the Board of Health had determined that Adams's property did not lie over the sensitive aquifer.
In July, 1990, the county commissioners rezoned the area in which the Adams property was situated, changing the density requirements from two to four dwelling units per acre to one dwelling unit per five acres. The rezone was pursuant to the Thurston County Comprehensive Plan and the Urban Growth Management Agreement.  Thurston County and the Cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater entered into the agreement in June, 1988.
Adams brought a “declaratory judgment action,” seeking a ruling that his development rights were vested in 1987 when he filed his preliminary plat application and that the zoning standards in effect on that date controlled the density of McAllister Park and Lacey Estates. The trial court granted summary judgment to Adams.
Then, in a related case, Adams filed an application for preliminary plat approval of a proposed subdivision to be known as Silver Hawk Country Club Estates (Silver Hawk) in April, 1990.
A rezone in July, 1990, limited development to one unit per five acres, and included the Silver Hawk property. Lyle Anderson also sought a declaratory judgment that his development rights vested on the date of his application.

Anderson and Thurston County agreed that, pending appeal, the Adams decision governed Anderson's action. The parties entered into a stipulated summary judgment, ordering that Anderson's development rights vested in April, 1990.
In the end, in June 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled against the Thurston County saying:
“The only real purpose served by the County's interpretation of the ordinance is to allow it to change its zoning laws to defeat or modify a particular subdivision by delaying vesting until after environmental review. The County argues that later vesting is a preferable policy. The Washington Legislature and Supreme Court disagree.”
In fact, the Court said, “Thurston County argues extensively in its brief…contending that ‘substantial and permanent injury may be done to the public interest by those racing to apply for a permit to avoid a pending zoning change….’ This argument is more appropriately addressed to the Legislature. We must decide this matter based on state law and its interpretation by the court and not on our personal notions of wise land use policy.”
Fast Forward to 2015
Fast forward to 2015 and these cases may explain Thurston County’s reticence to demand an environmental impact statement and the sudden settlement of the SEPA appeals by the McAllister Park Homeowners Association.
Upon request by Little Hollywood, Robert Smith, Senior Planner, Thurston County Resource Stewardship Department, clarified the current land use application process and its relevance to the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development.
“Once a land use application is granted preliminary approval, there is a timeframe within which the applicant must meet all conditions or the approval /application will expire. 
“For subdivisions, that approval period is five years, with the possibility of time extensions.  The State legislature granted a temporary allowance for a seven year preliminary approval period for subdivisions and a 10 year period for older subdivision applications.  However, those provisions for seven and 10 year approval periods have lapsed.  
“So, for this project, if it is granted preliminary approval, the initial approval period will be for five years.  And, based on county code, the applicant can request up to five, one-year time extensions, for a total approval period of 10 years.
“There is no set timeframe that the initial application must be reviewed, as long as the applicant keeps the review active and responds to any requests for additional information within a set timeframe.  This application remained active from the application date in 2009,” Smith wrote in an email on Monday.
Smith said that while most application reviews do not take this long, it is not unusual for some to do so. 
“For this application there was never a point where the county required information that was not submitted in a timely manner.  The application was submitted in 2009 and there was ongoing review with the original applicant through 2011.  The project was sold to the current applicant in 2012.  The new applicant was in contact with the county and Fish and Wildlife during 2012 and 2013, responding to concerns about oak preservation, preparing a habitat plan, and meeting with staff to discuss proposals.  Based on the work from 2012 and 2013 the applicant submitted a revised application package in May 2014.”
State law RCW 58.17.033 requires vesting in all cases when the application is filed. As our understanding of the importance of restricting human impacts on natural resources and the environment grow, then the new laws that are adopted should set the stage for all future land use projects.
But as pointed out in Adams v. Thurston County, and the proposed Oak Tree Preserve project indicates, the entire SEPA process between the filing of a land use application and vesting will not change until state law is changed.
For two previous articles about the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.
For more information on the status of Thurston County permit applications, go to: http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/devactivity/devactivity-home.html The link also provides access to other pages that list new applications submitted for review.
For more information about Sustainable Thurston, go to the Thurston Regional Planning Council website at www.trpc.org/262/About-Sustainable-Thurston

Witness to Stormy Weather:
Thurston County's largest intact stand of Oregon White Oaks

Monday, March 30, 2015

Thurston County's Oregon White Oak Preserve: Take A Walk on the Wild Side

Above: Lacey residents Ruth Smith and Felicia Carroll witnessed this owl on November 11, 2013, about 300 feet into the woods from 27th Avenue SE. “We spotted the owl near the end of our walk. Ruth went home to get her camera and went back to take the picture!” said Carroll. Photo Courtesy of Ruth Smith.

By Janine Unsoeld
Oak Tree Preserve LLC of Bellevue proposes to subdivide 258.5 acres of land in unincorporated Lacey into 1,037 single-family residential lots.

For many, the potential loss of Thurston County’s largest remaining stand of Oregon White Oak, just over 76 acres, and 177 total acres of wooded area, home to a wide range of animals and plants, would be a devastating environmental legacy.

Notification about the development's March 24 public hearing was sent out on March 9. Hundreds of homeowners in subdivisions who live along the site’s perimeter on Marvin Road, 19th Avenue SE, 27th Avenue SE, and Priority Street SE were not notified because they live outside of the required notification area of 300 feet, which is roughly the length of a football field.
Prior to the public even being informed of renewed activity by the applicant, an environmental Mitigated Determination of Non Significance was issued by the county in December, 2014.

On March 4, county hearing examiner Sharon Rice threw out the nearby McAllister Park Homeowners Association State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) appeal on stormwater and oak habitat issues saying it “lacked standing.”
On March 23, the Association dropped another SEPA appeal saying that stopping the Oak Tree Preserve development appeared virtually impossible to fight considering the cost to the association and the risks involved. In exchange, Association president Mark Quinn got assurances from the developer that traffic calming measures would be put in place in McAllister Park.
Above: The proposed Oak Tree Preserve LLC development in Lacey is noticed (yellow sign) at the end of 27th Avenue SE. Due to the rolling topography, neighbors have a hard time visualizing how thousands of drivers will use the current streets and intersections.
Oregon White Oak Habitat
According to the application, 177.2 acres of trees, out of the 258.5 acres, will be cut. The proposed “mitigation” calls for the planting of one tree for every 4,000 square feet of lot.

The largest Oregon White Oak stand is 64.6 acres but also extends onto adjoining properties. Forty-five percent of the Oregon White Oak, considered by the applicant to be “degraded,” will be destroyed.
Theresa Nation, habitat biologist for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, gave strong testimony about the Oregon White Oak grove at the preliminary plat hearing on March 24. Her written testimony comprises seven pages.

In the county’s response, its attorney rebuked Nation for her strong words, saying that “very seldom are we this far apart…” and criticized her for judging the project and the Habitat Management Plan (HMP) under the new county Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). She was cross examined at length by the applicant.
In part, Nation stated:

“…Significant and avoidable impacts to Oregon white oak habitat have not been addressed. We respectfully recommend that the Office of the Hearing Examiner reject the habitat management plan….”

“Oregon white oak is the only oak species native to Washington. Some individuals of this slow-growing species may live for up to 500 years. Trees typically do not begin producing acorns until they are about 20 years old. Mature oak woodlands are virtually impossible to replace once they are gone. Oak woodlands provide a distinct ecosystem that contributes to wildlife diversity statewide. They are used by more than 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The woodlands provide feeding, breeding, resting and sheltering habitat. Many invertebrates...are found exclusively in association with this oak species. Oak habitat in Washington may play a critical role in the conservation of neotropical migrant birds that migrate through or nest in Oregon white oaks.

“The Oak Tree Preserve project as proposed would result in the permanent destruction of 35.6 acres of oak woodlands. This includes the total loss of two distinct habitat areas. The 64.6-acre stand would be reduced by more than a third (24.0 acres). It would become a divided 38.3-acre preserve area and a disconnected 2-acre park. The outright loss of more than 35 acres of Oregon white oak woodland is by far the primary impact to this critical area. It is an impact of enormous proportions not only for the site, but for all oak woodland habitat in Thurston County. The HMP fails to address the gross impacts of the loss.

“The preserve area would be further degraded by the construction of the main collector road directly through it. Road-related impacts include but may not be limited to direct wildlife mortality and an increase in adverse edge effects. Over time, some oaks along the roadway are likely to be declared hazard trees and subsequently removed. This is a particularly problematic occurrence in oaks because snags and dead portions of live oaks provide important habitat for invertebrates and birds.”

The HMP offers a conceptual plan for compensatory mitigation activities. We find that the plan falls egregiously short of the mitigation needs for this project. The primary focus of the plan is to apply enhancement actions to the retained woodlands. Enhancement activities, even if successful, will not compensate for the permanent loss of almost 36 acres of habitat. The entire coverage of the woodlands carries a high value even in its somewhat degraded state. Indeed, attempting mitigation for the proposed level of impact would be extraordinarily complicated, time-consuming and expensive, with an uncertain outcome at best. WDFW experts familiar with this case are in agreement that it is likely impossible....”

Above: These spectacular Oregon White Oak trees on Oak Tree Preserve LLC's land in Thurston County are in danger of being destroyed. 
Take A Walk on the Wild Side
Ruth Smith, a retired nurse, and Felicia Carroll, a state worker, live near the proposed development and attended the plat hearing last week but, caught unprepared and uncertain of what to say, did not provide oral testimony. They are long time friends and with many other neighbors, walk the acreage, which contains many well-worn trails, and appreciate its beauty on a near daily basis. 
Through the years, they have witnessed owls, coyote, pileated woodpecker, bear, deer, fox, snakes, newts and more. They’ve identified a wide range of flora and fauna, learning their names and have learned when to expect the first blossoms and critters.

During a walk through the woodlands on Saturday, they stepped over a wandering newt, excitedly pointed out new buds, and lamented the tenacity of Scot’s Broom, a noxious weed. They also expressed disappointment that the Oak Tree Preserve LLC habitat wildlife biologist, Curtis Wambach, only came to the property three times to make his formal observations, devoting just one day each on prairie plants, the Western Gray Squirrel, and the Mazama Gopher.

As he testified at the March 24 plat hearing, Wambach said he only observed facilitative species on the property, meaning species that would occur on the site, developed or not.  
One day last spring, Carroll says she encountered the biologist on the trail who warned her that he had seen a big cat, perhaps a cougar or mountain lion, up ahead laying on a tree branch, looking down at him.
Carroll, who attended the hearing, said she was waiting to hear Wambach mention this sighting in his report to the hearing examiner, but he did not.
Above: Ruth Smith, left, and Felicia Carroll look at a shrub of Red-flowering Currant, or Ribes sanguineum, one of South Puget Sound's most prized native species and a magnet for the returning Rufous Hummingbird and other pollinators, which were in abundance on the Oak Tree Preserve property on Saturday. Neighbors of the area appreciate the acres of natural habitat.

After our walk through the woodlands, neighbor William Koopman, who also attended the hearing, said:

“It is critically unfortunate that the largest housing development to be built in Thurston County is slated to consume one its last and largest forests....The loss of this habitat is irrevocable. Once it is gone, it will be gone forever. Surely, these trees are worth saving.”
Carroll agreed, and said she heard a number of people at the hearing mention that the goal is to achieve a balance. 
“Given the amount of development in our general area in recent years and the amount of forest we have already lost due to development, in my eyes, we would best achieve balance by leaving what's left of the forest as is. I am hoping for a Hail Mary pass - I would love it if we could develop a coalition of private citizens, various levels of government, and a few nonprofit groups to band together to offer to buy the property from the owner.  The woods are well loved by a number of people in the various developments nearby. Maybe offer a tax credit or find some other ways of making it palatable for the owner.  I'm hoping for a miracle.  Losing that forest and all of its inhabitants would be like losing a dear friend,” Carroll said.

Mobilized to act by what they heard at the hearing, and given the extended deadline for written public comment, Smith and Carroll and several other neighbors have started a petition at http://tinyurl.com/thurston-oak which will be submitted to the hearing examiner as public comment. The image used to illustrate the petition is a White Fawn Lily, Erythronium oregonum, located on Oak Tree Preserve LLC property.

Public comment for the proposed development was extended until 4:00 p.m., Friday, April 3.  Written comment may be sent to Cami Petersen, Land Use Clerk, Resource Stewardship Department, Thurston County Office of the Hearing Examiner, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building One, Second Floor, Olympia, WA 98502. Refer to Case: #2009103087.
For more information about the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development and hearing materials from March 24, go to http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/hearing/hearings/oak-tree-preserve/otp.html or contact Cami Petersen at peterscs@co.thurston.wa.us or (360) 754-2933.
A previous article about the Oak Tree Preserve development is dated March 24, 2015 is at Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.

Above: Close-up of Red-flowering Current

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Massive Proposed Development in Lacey Draws Public Comment; Public Comment Extended to April 3

Above: Theresa Nation, representing the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife presents testimony today regarding the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development at a hearing held yesterday and today at the Thurston County Fairgrounds in Lacey. Numerous homeowners from the area attended and also provided comment. Written public comment has been extended to April 3.

By Janine Unsoeld
Oak Tree Preserve LLC of Bellevue proposes to subdivide 258.5 acres of land in Lacey into 1,037 single-family residential lots. Multiple tracts will also be developed for storm water drainage, preservation of some oak tree habitat, parks, open space, alleys, and landscaping.
The area is addressed as 3346 Marvin Road SE, which is generally on the east side of Marvin Road SE bordered by the Burlington Northern Railroad on the south and the McAllister Park subdivision on the north. It is within the Lacey urban growth boundary.
Through a process of four phases, City of Lacey domestic water and sanitary sewer utilities will be extended into the subdivision to serve all lots. A Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for the project was issued on December 2, 2014. The MDNS establishes mitigating conditions for school impacts, soil contamination, traffic impacts, and timber harvest.
The project is proposed to be developed in Thurston County's largest oak stand of 64 acres.
The Washington State Department of  Fish and Wildlife comments called for preserving 100 percent of the oak habitat. Only 55 percent of the oak habitat is being preserved under the proposed plans.

Project History

The project, under previous owners, was vested in 2009. The property changed hands in 2012. In May, 2014, Thurston County received a revised application listing the new owner and met with county staff.  Staff provided comments and thus the application was considered to be a revision of the original application. Written notice of the public hearing was sent to property owners within 300 feet of the site and others on March 9. Notice was also published in The Olympian newspaper on March 13.
The McAllister Park Homeowner Association had two appeals. On March 23, within 24 minutes of the beginning of the hearing held at the Thurston County Fairgrounds, Mark Quinn, president of the McAllister Homeowner Association, and the Association's attorney announced to Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice that the group had settled the SEPA appeals, surprising Rice.
Quinn and the attorney then left the building, leaving the rest of the time to the developer to explain the development.
One appeal challenged the county's decision to issue an MDNS. The appeal asserted that impacts to traffic conditions on area roads, Oregon white oak tree habitat, and storm water drainage were not adequately addressed. The Association stated that the proposed subdivision is likely to create significant adverse environmental impacts and asked that the issuance of the MDNS be overturned and that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared. A motion by the applicant to dismiss the oak habitat and stormwater issues was granted by the Hearing Examiner on March 4.
The second appeal by the applicant challenges MDNS mitigating condition numbers 2 and 3. These conditions pertain to testing and possible cleanup of soil contamination including contamination related to the former Asarco smelter in Tacoma. The applicant believes these conditions are unlawful to the extent they impose requirements on the applicant that exceed state law.
The proposed development will impact children and families attending Evergreen Forest Elementary School, Nisqually Middle School, and River Ridge High School.
In a letter sent to McAllister Park Homeowner Association (HOA) members prior to the March 23 hearing, Quinn discouraged homeowners within his association from speaking at the public hearing, notifying them that the group had reached an agreement with the Oak Tree Preserve LLC owners.
“Late yesterday afternoon, the McAllister Park HOA signed a preliminary settlement agreement with Oak Tree Preserve, LLC, the applicant proposing to build 1,027 homes just south of McAllister Park.  The agreement provides essentially everything we asked for in terms of traffic calming in McAllister Park, including several features in OTP (Oak Tree Preserve) and a couple of other revisions to the plat not related to traffic like increasing the size of the buffer between the subdivisions and putting better controls on construction traffic….
“I believe the agreement is the best that we could have hoped for without stopping OTP altogether or closing the road, things that appeared to us virtually impossible considering the cost to the HOA and the risks involved.  Although few of us like the idea of a huge development just to the south, our main objective from the beginning was to insure adequate traffic calming in McAllister Park.   I believe we have achieved that.  After the dust settles, we plan to continue pursuing solutions to the larger Marvin Road traffic problem with neighboring HOA's.  
“We are not able to distribute the preliminary agreement (attorney's orders) but a more formal agreement should be available in a couple days.
“The agreement requires that we drop our SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) appeal of traffic issues and voice no objection to approval of the preliminary subdivision. Based on our acceptance of the settlement, we ask all MPHOA members to refrain from participating in the Plat Hearing on March 24th.  The agreement further stipulates that the MPHOA will not appeal OTP land use approvals.  
“These restrictions do not apply to homeowners in adjacent subdivisions, who are still welcome to attend the public hearing and voice their concerns about the Plat and traffic….One thing that we asked for and the developer agreed to, not related to traffic, was to increase the buffer to 25 ft. between OTP and homes in McAllister Park and Evergreen States.   
For McAllister Park Residents we will be able to have a full discussion of the settlement and ramifications at our annual meeting in early May,” wrote Quinn.   
The hearing continued on Tuesday with public testimony beginning at 1:00 p.m. Theresa Nation, representing the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, spoke first, followed by residents from several nearby homeowners associations, including Evergreen Estates, The Seasons, Eagle Crest, Laurel Oaks, and Lake Forest.
About 20 speakers focused their comments on the traffic impacts of the massive proposed development that one person described as “out of sync with other developments in the area,” while others addressed the lack of proper public notification and environmental impact issues.  
Liz Kohlenberg, Olympia, commented that many of the materials needed to comment on the subdivision were not on the county’s website, such as the previous Critical Areas Ordinance. A couple of speakers asked how the county was planning to serve all these people, noting the current lack of law enforcement to handle current property crimes.
Elizabeth Rodrick, a wildlife biologist representing the Black Hills chapter of the Audubon Society, stated that in Washington State, 35% of pre-settlement oak habitat remains, and 16% of what remains is on private land.
“Local government plays an essential role in protecting oak habitat....several bird species are associated with large oak sites, and the roads for this development increase fragmentation and should be re-routed,” she said.
Rice closed public comment shortly after 3:00 p.m. Rice, the developer and staff, and county staff responded to public comment.
Rice said she will reach a decision on April 24. Acknowledging that county staff will need time to put additional materials on the county website, Rice gave staff through March 27 to post the needed documents, and extended public comment through 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 3.  
Written comment may be sent to Cami Petersen, Land Use Clerk, Resource Stewardship Department, Thurston County Office of the Hearing Examiner, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building One, Second Floor, Olympia, WA 98502. Refer to Case: #2009103087.

For more information, contact go to http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/hearing/hearings/oak-tree-preserve/otp.html or contact Cami Petersen at peterscs@co.thurston.wa.us or (360) 754-3355 ext. 6348 or TDD Phone: (360) 754-2933.

Full Disclosure: Janine Unsoeld is a board member of the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH) and presented written and oral testimony on behalf of the SPEECH board of directors opposing the Oak Preserve Development proposal. Presenting a variety of points, SPEECH believes that the Mitigated Declaration of Non-Significance should be retracted and a full Environmental Impact Statement prepared.

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Day of Spring 2015

Above: Jamal Briscoe, Olympia, shows off his two-fisted bubble blowing technique.
By Janine Unsoeld
As predicted, the first day of Spring brought almost everything, especially wind, rain and smiles. Undaunted by the weather, some were silly enough (of course!) to continue a 22 year tradition by greeting Mother Nature on her terms. Welcoming the day at noon on Percival Landing, passersby were encouraged to take a wand and create bubbles. Of course, the weather cleared just as folks packed up their wands.
Above: Dave Loyie, of Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada, was the first to stop by “The Kiss” statue in Olympia this morning. Representing the Aboriginal Alliance of Alberta, Loyie will be speaking at a conference called, “The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community and the Environment,” at The Evergreen State College this weekend. For more information about the conference, go to www.railroadconference.org.
Above: A good time was had by all!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Zombies Take Over Olympia

Everyone knows that the legislative session can get a bit grueling, but the zombies seen today on the state Capitol Campus in Olympia were not legislators.
Zombies took over while children from Columbia Adventist Academy in Battleground and Gateway Christian Schools in Bremerton and Poulsbo arrived along with other school groups to tour the Capitol Building.
The actors, complete with realistic blood and gore, were working with members of Keep Film in Washington.
Production crew members were in Olympia to educate legislators about the industry, its positive impact on the local economy and encourage passage of Senate Bill 6027, which would phase in an increase for Washington's film program.
According to Heather Weiner of Keep Film in Washington, every one dollar invested in keeping film and television jobs in Washington generates more than $10, an economic boost and jobs for our communities.
Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 488 were also on hand. The group represents more than 600 carpenters, electricians, set decorators, grips, hair and makeup artists, and other skilled workers in the Pacific Northwest.
Abby Dylan, Washington State Chair of the national board of SAG-AFTRA, a film organization which represents about 1,200 actors in the region, was also on hand this morning providing interviews to regional television stations.
"Last year Washington turned away more than $55 million of economic activity and jobs people who rely on the film industry to support their families - they cannot afford to lose more good film jobs and economic benefits to our competitors."
The film they were producing this morning on the Capitol Steps, a promotion for the bill, was scheduled to be completed in a couple of hours, said Dylan.
Legislators and their staff occasionally came out of the Capitol Building to observe the scene and take pictures, including Senator Karen Fraser of Olympia.
For more information go to: www.KeepFilmInWa.org
Below: Seattle actor David S. Hogan looks pretty realistic as a zombie.