Monday, February 23, 2009

Triway's Bellatorre Project: A River Runs Near It - Tumwater Hears Citizen Appeal

Above: The narrow strip of land between Capitol Boulevard and the Deschutes River is the proposed Bellatorre project area, as seen from Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater.

By Janine Gates

“Just out of curiosity, your Honor, do I get these back?” Erik Kjesbu innocently asked Hearings Examiner Rodney Kerslake, as Kerslake moved to enter Kjesbu’s homemade charts and pictures into the formal record.

When the answer was no, chuckles from all sides erupted as an incredulous Kjesbu again asked, “You mean I don’t get them back?” and proceeded to tell the examiner how he had gone to Kinko’s to prepare them and stayed up until 1:00 a.m. the night before, making them, and didn’t have a copy.

Above: Erik Kjesbu indicates the difference between sea-level and street level elevations at various intersections in Tumwater.

The somber scene in the Tumwater city council chambers on February 11th turned sweetly humorous as Kjesbu’s fellow appellants and random audience members loudly urged Kjesbu to give up his carefully made charts, graphs and pictures and enter them into the record.

Tumwater residents cum novice citizen activists Erik and Marcia Kjesbu, along with Cathi and David Read, joined forces to appeal the City of Tumwater’s environmental determination of non-significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for Triway Enterprises’ Bellatorre project. The city had approved the conditional use application in December 2008.

“It is the determination of the Department that the proposal can be considered minor to the extent that significant adverse environmental impacts are not anticipated,” reads the City of Tumwater’s staff report.

What Tumwater considers “minor” is Triway Enterprises’ request to approve their mixed use commercial/residential project in Tumwater Valley adjacent to the Palermo neighborhood off Capitol Way. It includes 134,900 square feet of office space, 69,900 square feet of retail space, 8,600 square feet of restaurant space and 335 residential condominium units on 41 acres wedged between Capitol Way in Tumwater near Tumwater Valley Golf Course and the Deschutes River.

The conditional use permit requests approval to construct seven out of ten new buildings over the building height limit of 50 feet and to divide the land into 11 lots so each of the existing and proposed buildings sit on separate lots.

Above: The proposed Bellatorre project area, as seen from Tumwater Valley Athletic Club property, will feature buildings up to nine stories tall, dwarfing these trees, and obscure views of Mount Rainier from hundreds of homes on Tumwater Hill.

So, while most South Sounders were paralyzed by the winter snowfall, the Kjebu’s and Read’s were working to appeal the decision. “On Christmas morning, Dave and I were working on our comments to the mitigated determination of non-significance, which was due on December 26,” said Cathi Read in her testimony. They are urging the City of Tumwater to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Bellatorre project.

“It feels like a David vs. Goliath story….” said Marcia Kjesbu later, during the hearing’s lunch break, as she described her part as an appellant against the application.

The four Tumwater residents originally met October 29th at a public meeting hosted by city staff inviting residents to meet Triway representatives and hear more about the Bellatorre project.

Erik Kjesbu credits an article in the November/December 2008 issue of the South Sound Green Pages for giving him “courage” to proceed as an appellant after he felt his concerns were not being addressed by Triway or the city. (See South Sound Green Pages,

Above: Tumwater residents meet October 29, 2008 after a public meeting about the Bellatorre project.

The Tumwater residents felt that the city’s approval of the conditional use permit request does not adequately address significant environmental impacts that the massive project, if built, would generate.

Their concerns relate to traffic, particularly coming on and off “M” Street, storm drainage and flooding, water quality impacts to the Deschutes River and nearby critical areas, and views.

On February 11, the four made their case in front of Hearings Examiner Rodney Kerslake. The hearing lasted over eight hours, breaking for lunch and dinner and resuming in the evening for the benefit of those who could not come during the daytime hearing.

The appellants, confident and well-prepared, represented themselves with organized testimony and slides to illustrate their arguments. On the other side of the room sat City of Tumwater attorney Jeff Myers, City of Tumwater Development Services Director Roger Gellenbeck, and a full array of Triway attorneys, staff, and representatives, including Tri Vo, president of Triway Enterprises. At the end of the hearing, Kerslake seemed impressed with everyone, complimenting them for being so well-mannered throughout the proceedings.

Above: Erik Kjesbu shows City of Tumwater attorney Jeff Myers pictures of the view from his home that will be lost if the proposed development is built.

Chris Carlson, City of Tumwater Planning Manager, began the hearing by giving an overview of the project, followed by three real estate agents, Dennis Adams of Adams Realty, Priscilla Terry of Prime Locations and Tom Bennett of Remax-Parkside, who spoke in support of the project.

“I’ve seen that area as a wasteland…I have clients that are looking for something like this in that area. This will be a shot in the arm for local businesses, an increased tax base, and make Tumwater a more up and coming area,” said Adams.

Erik Kjesbu’s testimony focused on his belief that the spirit and intent of the comprehensive land use plans will not be met by the proposed development. He detailed how the conditional use permit to allow buildings higher than 50 feet will adversely effect and impact the values of properties on Tumwater Hill.

The Kjesbu’s have lived on 2nd Avenue for over 20 years and have horizon-level views of sunrises and Mt. Rainier that will be obstructed by the proposed development. Kjesbu spent time explaining that there seems to be mixed information being provided by the city and Triway regarding the actual heights of the project buildings.

Above: Bellatorre's proposed Building J, which would be located in the wooded area, left, across the street from Western Meats on Capitol Boulevard. This area is closest to the Deschutes River. Triway Enterprises envisions this proposed five story building to have a Rite-Aid pharmacy on the ground level. The land in the foreground is brewery property. Photo taken from Cleveland Avenue.

Kjesbu said there is a significant difference if one is measuring at sea-level or street level street elevations. Using a pencil, Kjesbu indicated several Tumwater intersections as examples on his black and white homemade charts, color-coded with little round stickers. The city used a laser pointer to demonstrate their points on their large, glossy, full-color Triway-provided pictures and aerials. Both sides seemed equally effective and persuasive to the hearings examiner, who, for the benefit of the written record, often clarified what was being visually explained.

Kjesbu used data from Thurston County Geodata Center and Microsoft Virtual Earth to support his claims that the property values of 23 blocks of Old Tumwater Hill will be adversely affected due to view loss. In their brief, Triway’s application describes this area as a “discrete subset of the population.”

Dave and Cathi Read live in Tumwater’s Palermo Valley neighborhood off Capitol Way. Cathi Read focused her testimony on 12 arguments that were later agreed upon points that the hearing examiner.

Part of the Shoreline Master Program for Thurston County, written in quieter times in 1990, is an idyllic-sounding Deschutes River Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the Tumwater Valley.

It says, in part, “Throughout its length the banks of the river will remain in their present state or have been enhanced for fish and wildlife habitat. The trees on the bluffs overlooking the valley will remain in place. Any structures at the tops of the bluffs will be set back out of sight of the river or designed to minimize their visual impact on the valley.”

Another paragraph says, “The Palermo neighborhood will remain the only substantial housing area in the valley. However, scattered homes may be located along less steep portions of the bluffs or suitable areas at the foot of the bluffs.”

The “wasteland” described by real estate agent Dennis Adams includes the Deschutes River and abundant wildlife.

Above: This blue heron kind of likes his piece of Tumwater real estate just the way it is near the Deschutes River.

Nancy Partlow, Tumwater resident, spoke to the conditional use permit portion of the hearing.

"I would like to take issue with a previous comment by one of the proponent’s spokespersons. Supposedly the developer is "saving" 562 trees or 63% of the trees on site. But we really don't know how many trees will be saved, if any, since large portions of the "tree save" area can be further developed at a later date, and the developer would not commit to putting these trees into a conservancy designation. Nor would he commit to not developing this land in the future. Within the site plan footprint, virtually all the trees will be eliminated."

Partlow continued, "I have been struck by how little concern has been given to the Deschutes River. It's like the river is not even there. The Habitat Plan is minimal as is the tree plan for such a huge development in such close proximity to Thurston County's second largest river and Tumwater's most important ecosystem…The conditional use language sets the bar so low on conditions to be met that they are almost not there."

After nine hours of testimony, the agreed upon SEPA appeal issues were whether the City of Tumwater erred on 12 points:

1. Whether the City erred in issuing the Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to consider and/or mitigate traffic impacts at the intersection of Capitol Boulevard and M Street;

2. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal, and allowed the development to avoid Shoreline Master Program requirements because it failed to address a future roadway connecting through the proposed development from Capitol Boulevard to Tumwater Valley Drive;

4. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it relied on outdated inaccurate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain maps and did not consider more current information showing that flooding on property adjacent to the development may result from the proposal;

5. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to adequately mitigate impacts resulting from multi-day storm events that may contribute to flooding on property adjacent to the development;

6. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to adequately mitigate impacts to water quality in the Deschutes River that will result from increased runoff from the proposal;

7. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to consider and/or mitigate impacts to groundwater quality that will result from increased runoff from the proposal and impacts to the flow of groundwater from stormwater infiltration planned for the development;

8. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to consider and/or mitigate impacts to the Deschutes River Riparian Area arising from lost vegetation caused by the proposal, in particular related to guidelines from the Deschutes River Special Area Management Plan;

Above: The proposed site of the Bellatorre project from Capitol Boulevard.

9. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to adequately mitigate impacts to wetlands along the base of the slope below the project site, consistent with the City’s Conservation Plan;

10. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it failed to adequately mitigate impacts to views that existing residents have of Mount Rainier and the Deschutes Valley;

11. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because it made a procedural error in not notifying citizens who requested notification;

12. Whether the City erred in issuing the MDNS for the Bellatorre proposal because the errors shown in this appeal show that an EIS is needed to gather additional information as required under SEPA;

The hearing examiner said he would have his decision ready within 10 business days of the hearing.

Above: Hearings Examiner Rodney Kerslake meets with the appellants and the applicants on February 11, 2009.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Isthmus Bills Heard in Senate Today

by Janine Gates

Above: Olympia City councilmember Joan Machlis speaks in opposition to the bills

Above: The packed committee hearing room in the Cherberg Building today.

Olympia - "It seems like there are millions signed up in support of these bills...." began Senator Darlene Fairley, Chair of the Government Operations and Elections Committee, as she jokingly welcomed "prime troublemaker" Senator Karen Fraser to testify as prime sponsor of SB 5799 and SB5800. Both bills relate to the isthmus area of Olympia's downtown. Later, after a staff count, Fairley said that 111 signed up in support of the bills, 30 signed up against.

"I think the city made a mistake of historic I felt compelled to act...." testified Fraser in support of her bills. Senate bill 5799 relates to the state capitol campus and the isthmus area as a special height district and Senate Bill 5800 would designate the isthmus area as a shoreline of state-wide significance. Fraser said she came prepared with a substitute bill to combine the bills if that would assist the committee.

In December 2008, the Olympia City Council approved a zoning ordinance to increase building heights on the isthmus from 35 feet to a maximum of 90 feet.

Fraser showed the committee and the audience who packed into the committee room several pictures projected onto a large screen, including Wilder and White's original state capitol campus design, the City of Olympia Planning Department's "big box" illustrations of what the possible maximum buildout could look like, and the vista looking north from the campus without the nine story Capitol Center Building.

Opponents and supporters took turns testifying, and organized themselves into groups. Testimony lasted for about an hour. Olympia City Councilmember Joan Machlis was the first to speak against the bills. Machlis said that "the city carefully considered the comprehensive plan process more so than any other process in city council history" and that the city council was "uniformly consumed for many months on the issue." Machlis was just the first to be admonished by Fairley for not wrapping up her comments in a timely fashion.

David Schaffert, president of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, Connie Lorentz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, and city attorney Steve Hall, also spoke against the bills.

Enid Layes, former lobbyist and steering board member of the group Olympia 2012 that supports the new building heights on the isthmus, attacked Senator Fraser in her testimony by saying, "I regret to say this, but the prime sponsor of this bill never went on public record about this issue...." and called the legislation "unprecedented trumping of a local decision, which should be presumed valid unless appealed to the Growth Management Review Board...." Jackie Barrett Sharer, also with Oly 2012, continued the attack, telling the committee members, "you can all see the blight and neglect of our downtown...and zoning from on-high isn't helpful to us...."

Ralph Munro, former Secretary of State, Norman Johnston, retired architect, Michael Hamm of the Portico Group, and Gerald Reilly, Chair of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, all spoke in support of the bills.

Reilly, a former chair of the Olympia Planning Commission, said in his testimony, "This is a very special place and a very special situation that warrants rare legislative intervention...."

Local land use attorney Allen Miller also spoke in favor of the bills, pointing out that the state has invested $250 million dollars on Capitol Campus improvement projects to date and that there are 500 blocks of land east of downtown that could be built on to accomplish city housing needs. "We don't need to do it is the Legislature's duty to protect their investment," Miller concluded.

Above: A beautiful day at the dedication of the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in May 2006.

Kit Ford, executive director of Behind the Badge Foundation, spoke in support of the bills on behalf of the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial community. The memorial to fallen officers was chosen specifically because of the nearly unobstructed view northward out to Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountain range.

Bill supporters and opponents gathered in small groups out in the hallway of the Cherberg Building after the hearing.

Above: Senator Karen Fraser speaks with bill supporters after the hearing

Reilly was optimistic. "I expect that the bill will be approved by the committee next week. All in all, I was pleased with the hearing. Senator Fraser was magnificent!"

The cutoff date for bills getting out of their original committee and moving forward through the legislative process is February 25.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reason Offered for Cancellation of Isthmus House Bill Hearing

Today I called Norma Wallace, the legislative assistant for Representative Geoff Simpson, Chair of the Local Government and Housing Committee, and asked why the scheduled hearing was cancelled for isthmus related HB 2081 and HB 2082. Wallace said she would get back to me. She did, and offered this explanation via voicemail: "My assessment of why Representative Simpson took the bills off schedule was because there is a Senate bill that they are working and these two bills are more local than statewide. When it is going to be heard, it is going to be really, really controversial, very busy, and take up a lot of time which the committee just doesn't have the time to do this year in the fast paced way things are moving. You may want to talk to Representative Hunt about it, or our senators and see how it's going there."

Representative Hunt (D-22) is the prime sponsor of HB 2081 and HB 2082.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Washington State Democrats and Friends Have a Good Time

River Curtis-Stanley, Vice Chair of the 26th Legislative District (Kitsap County)

The Corvettes rocked out

Thurston County Progressive Network friends

U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee

Maria and Vito Chiechi

Olympia City Councilmember Jeff Kingsbury, Jim Lazar, and Olympia City Councilmember Karen Messmer serve up the crab

Governor Chris Gregoire and Jeff Smith, 41st Legislative District Chair share a laugh

Photos by Janine Gates
February 17, 2009 - Washington State Democrats held their annual precinct committee officer training and crab feed last night at Marcus Pavilion at St. Martin's University in Lacey. A good time was had by all. While it lacked the nervous tension and Obama-drama of last year's event, it was good to see old friends.

I saw Jeff Smith, former King County Democratic Central Committee guru, who remembered me as the teenage whippersnapper who was put in charge of organizing volunteers for then-Congressman Mike Lowry's annual "No Right Turn" shrimp feed and other projects.

Throughout the evening, I looked for, and eventually found River Curtis-Stanley of Port Orchard, whom I met last year at the event. She was looking radiant, despite nightly dialysis. She continues her search for a kidney donor. When I met her last year, she had been in dialysis for only a month and was not looking well. Still, she had made the tremendous effort to travel the hour and ten minute drive to Olympia for the day-long precinct committee officer training. Her smile and positive outlook was memorable.

Previously a software test engineer, Curtis-Stanley was inspired by Howard Dean to get involved in politics. She went to her first precinct caucus in 2003. She and her husband got elected. As a precinct committee officer, she organizes her neighbors, getting them together two or three times a year whether it's an election year or not and talk about the issues they have in the neighborhood. "I keep them aware that the Democratic party is the best party to resolve their issues." She then brings up their issues with party leaders.

Receiving precinct committee officer training has helped her become an effective activist in her neighborhood. On a 12 acre parcel near her home, a development of 150 houses was planned. The parcel was going to be clearcut, removing shade cover from a nearby stream and would have cut down a tree that contained an eagle's nest. Through her efforts, Curtis-Stanley succeeded in getting a moratorium on the project.

She had been a John Edwards supporter because of his health care plan and didn't like Hillary Clinton's plan to fund health care through a percentage of one's income, so she became an enthusiastic Obama supporter.

She said this is her fifth year coming to the crab feed, and looks forward to coming back next year. I'll be looking for her.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Isthmus Development Appeal Filed by Former Governors

photos by Janine Gates
Above: View of the isthmus area from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial on the State Capitol Campus in Olympia.

Olympia - A petition for review of the proposed Olympia rezone of the downtown isthmus was filed last week with the Growth Management Review Board. Three former Washington State governors, Albert Rosellini, Dan Evans, and Booth Gardner, along with former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, joined in the appeal.

On December 16, 2008, the Olympia city council voted 5 - 2 to amend the Olympia Comprehensive Plan to allow for buildings greater than 35 feet in height on the narrow strip of land separating Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet. Triway Enterprises owns the land and sought the rezone to build five to seven story buildings for 141 condominium units. Despite overwhelming community opposition, the Olympia city council voted to approve the rezone.

According to the petition filed February 13th, the rezone violates the Growth Management Act, the Shoreline Management Act, the State Environmental Policy Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.

In part, the petition reads, "The proposed heights of 65 feet and 90 feet in the Olympia Isthmus violate the law and policy of the State Capitol Campus, and the rezone fails to avoid piecemeal and uncoordinated development of the Olympia Isthmus property....negating the statewide interest in preserving and enhancing the design and plans for the State Capitol Campus, preserving and enhancing the public views from and to the State Capitol Campus, the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains."

The petitioners request that the Growth Management Board reverse the Comprehensive Plan amendment and retain the 35 foot height limit in the Olympia Isthmus.

In related news, the House cancelled this Wednesday's Local Government and Housing committee hearing on isthmus bills HB 2081 and HB 2082. The Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee will still hold its hearing on its isthmus bills, SB 5800 and SB5799, on Thursday, February 19, at 3:30 p.m. in Hearing Room 2, Cherberg Building.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project Progresses

Above: Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project's olive tree in Olympia.
Photos by Janine Gates

The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice is excited to complete phase one of its olive tree mural project in downtown Olympia and is now planning the next phase to place ceramic leaves onto the tree.

The foundation hopes to raise $20,000 to cover materials, stipends and to host two Palestinian artists from Rafah, which is in the Gaza Strip where Olympian Rachel Corrie was killed five years ago.

The Olympia mural wall space, owned and donated to the foundation by the Brotherhood Tavern and Trinacria Restaurant, is on the north wall of the Labor Temple on the corner of State and Capitol streets. The mural is scheduled to be complete by this summer. Wording to name and explain the project used to be painted on the wall, however, that had to be painted over because the size and amount of wording was found to be in violation of Olympia signage regulations. The mural is about 3,000 square feet on a 4,000 square foot brick wall.

Above: Cindy Corrie greets volunteers and olive leaf artists at Artwalk in April 2008.

About 800 of the 1000 ceramic leaves created by local ceramic artist Marion Pollman have been painted. The leaves are decorated by community members at local events such as Artswalk. The foundation is scheduled to be at Artswalk this year as well. Larger ceramic and all-weather fabric leaves will soon be made and will be decorated through a juried art process. "When completed, this will be the largest mural in the world for Palestinian resistance," said Evan Welkin, a Rachel Corrie Foundation member, who recently visited the West Bank and Israel.

Last Friday, the foundation brought psychologist and American Jewish public artist Dr. Susan Greene of San Francisco's Break the Silence Mural and Arts Program, to speak to the Olympia community about using public art to promote social change.

Dr. Greene has traveled and painted murals throughout the Middle East for 20 years. In the Middle East, murals are a common form of expression and resistance to honor fallen loved ones, martyrs, struggles, or village life.

In 2004, Dr. Greene was invited to the West Bank to paint a mural on the Separation Wall in the West Bank. The 26 foot, more than 400 mile long concrete wall is being built by the Israeli government and often encroaches well inside the internationally recognized Green Line demarking the Israeli-Palestinian border granted by the United Nations in 1948.

There, Dr. Greene met the Aamer family, whose home and land is now squeezed between the wall and a new Jewish settlement. They are isolated, physically and visually, from their village because of the wall. The Aamer family has refused to sell their home, which is frequently vandalized by the Jewish settlers. Dr. Greene's mural, painted with the children of the family, now features a light blue background with a large yellow-orange firebird soaring toward the top of the wall, flowers, and lush scenes, for the family to look at from their home's front door. Dr. Greene said that she was told, prior to the mural being painted, that the children were depressed, but after the mural was painted, the children started to play outside again. The Israeli government did not allow her to continue with the mural because it was "provocative" and kicked her out.

About the Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project, Evan Welkin, who also gave a slideshow of his trip, said, "This is a celebration, a very public connection (to the Palestinian people) and something the community can rally around."

For more information, contact the Rachel Corrie Foundation at or