Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Potential NorthPoint Developer Has Not Seen City Sea-Level Rise Maps, Data

by Janine Gates

Above: Former Olympia City Councilmember TJ Johnson speaks with MJR Development partner Mike McClure at an open house at the Olympia Center Wednesday night.

The second of three public open houses was held Wednesday night for a development firm to present its proposal for redevelopment of the NorthPoint area on the Port of Olympia’s shoreline in downtown Olympia. The third and final open house is Thursday, October 29, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Tumwater Comfort Inn.

The Kirkland-based developer, MJR Development, gave a slide show depicting two alternatives for the property that includes a one story restaurant and a three story hotel and/or office-mixed use option.

The public has until November 4 to comment on the proposals. Port staff will compile comments and present the information to port commissioners on November 9. The commission may make a decision on the proposal at its meeting November 23 or in early December.

The open house did not include an opportunity to collectively offer input in a way so everyone could hear the public’s questions or concerns. After the formal presentation, people looked at maps and development concepts and spoke one-on-one with developers and port staff.

The presentation revealed an ongoing, alarming disconnect between public desires and profit-driven out-of-town developers unfamiliar or unconcerned with city issues. Absent a comprehensive vision for the city of Olympia and the port of Olympia, several environmental shoreline management concerns went unanswered in private conversations throughout the evening.

Speaking after the presentation with MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie, who lives on the westside of Olympia, Lahaie was asked how his proposal addresses future city sea-level rise issues. Lahaie responded, “We don’t have a plan for sea level rise - this is very conceptual….” When asked if he has seen the City of Olympia’s sea level rise data and maps, he admitted he has not seen them and asserted, "We haven’t even been chosen yet. The commission needs to decide if they want to go forth."

When asked if he knew that Andy Haub of the City of Olympia was going to give a presentation to the Olympia City Council at its meeting November 10 about updated sea level information, Lahaie said he did not know that either.

According to the City of Olympia, sea level is rising in Olympia by about one foot per century due to post-ice age warming of the oceans, and will increase with global warming. Much of downtown Olympia is at risk, lying only one to three feet above the current highest high tides.

Andy Haub, said via voice mail earlier this week, that his upcoming presentation to the councilmembers on November 10 "will be consistent with past reports and will include more detail and a better analysis of land elevations."

Former Olympia city councilmember TJ Johnson asked MJR Development partner Mike McClure, who lives in Woodinville, about sea-level rise issues. When Johnson asked McClure how he can reconcile his organization’s mission of social responsibility with putting buildings in this location that is going to be impacted by sea-level rise, McClure responded, “I’m not going to get into a debate about global warming…global warming is still a debatable issue.”

McClure said, “We’ve had our eyes on Olympia as a development firm for a long time. We’re bullish on the future.” MJR offered a proposal for the proposed development on East Bay but it did not win. The winning proposal went instead to Taragon.

“These people are out to lunch,” said TJ Johnson later.

Out of 500 Port-issued invitations, only two firms, MJR and another development company, True North, responded to the Port’s request for proposals, which was issued September 10. The deadline for proposals was October 12.

When asked if this was a typical turnaround time for a request for proposals, Mike Reid, Port Property Development Manager, said, “that’s pretty quick.” Reid staffed a table that contained a stack about 10 inches deep of True North’s 18 page application. True North’s application was not accepted, Reid said, because it did not meet the Port’s requests on questions related to community benefits and market analysis.

The community benefit and market analysis questions were answered, but apparently not to the commission’s satisfaction. Both answers clearly state that due to the lack of time given to respond to the proposal, “there must be a discussion with the Port of Olympia before a true scope of project can be developed” and that they will do a “complete market analysis…once the scope of the project is defined.”

When asked why the turnaround time for the proposal request was so quick, Commissioner Bill McGregor said, “Usually it’s a bit longer, but our commission wanted to move forward…we’ve had public comment (regarding this area) in 2004, 2005, 2008, and at a work session August 26. There was a roomful of people so we took public comment.”

When asked why MJR's proposal does not address future sea-level rise issues, McGregor said, “They will have to engineer a solution. The Hands-On Children’s Museum is raising its floor two feet, so maybe that’s something that’s happening here - I don’t know.”

Port commissioner George Barner, who voted against the whole idea of development on NorthPoint at this time, an area that offers beautiful views of Budd Inlet, and the Olympic Mountains, said, “This is ridiculous! We need to slow it down and have a community dialog about what we want this place to look like. So here we are with one proposal! That's not a broad analysis. When I look at these sketches, what jumps out at me is asphalt! How gentrified can NorthPoint become? Look at the parking lots for the restaurant and hotel - they should be integrated into the building. NorthPoint could be a true recreation destination, for relaxation.”

Indeed, both proposal alternatives contain large amounts of impervious surfaces - one parking lot alone is nearly 40,000 square feet, to accommodate parking for the proposed restaurant, mixed-use office building, and/or hotel.

Above: MJR map detailing NorthPoint development Option #1

In describing development alternative #2, Lahaie romanticized his vision for a potential 100 room “boutique hotel," and offered a slide of the Inn at Port Ludlow as a model. “This is East Coast architecture, which I think is interesting....The hotel could offer locals an opportunity to enjoy jazz nights, cooking classes, and discounted weekend getaways, away from the kids.” Development alternative #1 features an office/mixed use option that "would attract engineers, architects, doctors, dentists and attorneys."

The proposed restaurant would be a one story, 5,500 square foot family friendly diner that could offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. This type of restaurant option at NorthPoint would be likely since the area already has the more expensive fine dining experience offered by the HearthFire Grill.

A special events outdoor area could accommodate weddings, community gatherings, outdoor dining events, musical performances, “and be a pocket park when not in use,” said Lahaie.

Above: The view of the Olympics from East Bay Drive, near NorthPoint, at sunset.

For more information, go to or contact Heber Kennedy at 528-8070.

Above: Port Commissioner George Barner takes a few business cards of MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie.


  1. Thanks for this speedy synopsis of what went on last night. I sure don't like the idea of even 3 story buildings on the port. MJR seems out-of-touch with what Olympians would favor.

  2. I was unable to attend the meeting and sent written comments, below. Sharron

    Date: Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 9:13 AM
    Subject: Northpoint Development

    Dear Commissioners:

    I'm unable to attend the meetings regarding the Northpoint Development, so I'm providing the following written comments:

    First, I believe there should be a much longer and more involved process as ideas for the area are considered.

    Second, as explained on the Washington Public Ports Association website, public ports were formed at the urging of the population, with the rallying cry, codified in the state constitution, that the waterways "belonged to the people." This isn't 1960's left-wing rhetoric, but the genuine concern of the folks in the late 1800's and early 1900's who saw the best waterfront lands and access being bought up by private enterprises and private individuals. As the website says, "...citizens lobbied for the right to control access to the waterfront...." It's easy to lose sight of this, as all the talk of commerce development, economic engines, etc., gradually replaced the idea of citizens controlling access to their waterways. In my opinion, some port commissions have forgotten the populist ideas that created port districts.

    It's my hope that you won't forget these ideas as you deliberate. Our local waterfront shouldn't be a haven for out-of-towners staying in nice hotels. Our local waterfront shouldn't be a place where only wealthy people can live. Our waterfront shouldn't be completely cluttered with buildings that block views and access for the people who live here and those who visit.

    Thank you for your consideration of this matter.


    Sharron Coontz

  3. Janine’s description of last night’s Northpoint open house (see below) is right on the money.

    It was the most naked dog and pony show I’ve seen in 20 years of attending public meetings. The format was deliberately designed to limit meaningful community dialogue. The only question that seemed to be on the table was whether the buildings should look like the ones the developer has built in Port Ludlow or Woodinville, or whether they should look like they belong on Cape Cod.

    The only interaction between the public and the developers came as we huddled around their conceptual drawings with a pack of Port staff lurking like vultures in the background.

    As Janine noted the developers had NOT seen the maps of potential sea level rise in downtown. But not to worry. When I asked them about the issue I was told that that they were not going to get into a debate about global warming, the existence of which was still a “debatable issue”

    The Commissioners response was equally troubling. When asked about sea level rise Telford joked and said that’s why they are making the building three stories, and that it will become a business opportunity for water taxis. When I asked McGregor if continued development on the Port Peninsula was in the public interest in the absence of a meaningful plan (and budget) to address sea level rise, he said it was an interesting question and I should write it down on the blue card so it was in the record. Earlier in the evening McGregor had referred to the hard work that went into developing the Port’s Comprehensive SCHEME (not plan), perhaps a subconscious acknowledgement of how things really work.

    The gap between citizens and the officials who make decisions about the community’s future has become a deep, impenetrable chasm. At least in the past there was a veneer of caring about what the community thought. No more. These folks have gone from frustrating to dangerous. They seem hell bent on pursuing their agenda of remaking this community into yet another unsustainable blight on the American landscape. And they are winning.

    TJ Johnson

  4. I strongly suggest when writing any formal comments of any sort that writers address them to formal work email addresses so there is no excuse for electeds to say that they did not get them. If they are not addressed to the formal addresses, letters potentially do not need to be forwarded into the public record.

    Formal email addresses for the Port Commissioners are:

    I also suggest adding an outsider, such as Kathleen White, Port Communications Manager, at

    I'm sorry I should have added this information to my story.

    Janine Gates

  5. Waterfront monopolies in
    Washington were first
    broken in 1889 when the
    new state constitution provided that
    the beds of navigable waters be-
    longed to the people, and the Legis-
    lature could designate what places
    would be harbor areas. It also
    provided a system for leasing water-
    front tidelands and uplands in those
    In 1911 the Legislature
    enacted laws that allowed citizens
    to establish port districts and elect
    commissioners to administer the
    districts and oversee their develop-
    ment and operation. After this, the
    ports belonged to the public, and the
    people who used them were freed
    from the problems created by private
    Washington's public port
    districts were originally authorized
    to provide maritime shipping facili-
    ties and rail/water transfer facilities.
    Since then, many additional authori-
    ties have been granted to: build and
    operate airports (1941); establish
    industrial development districts
    (1955); develop trade centers (1967),
    and; develop economic development
    programs and promote tourism
    While many port laws have
    changed since 1911, the most impor-
    tant provisions still remain. Because
    they are public, but must operate in a
    proprietary way much like private
    business, public ports are a special
    form of local government. Ports are
    still governed by state and federal
    This info came from the Washington public ports asso.
    The arguement that ports were created for the public to do with as they please is inaccurate. There are restrictions on what Ports can and can't do with the land. Parks are not allowed to be built unless the are complimentary to a water born activity. I am dismayed at TJs comments about port staff lurking like vultures. Comments like this do nothing to further the debate over what to do at North Point. It sounds petty. I am sure that the port staff would have chosen to be anywhere but at an event after normal working hours.
    Norht point should include a revenue producing building or two and have public amenities incorporated into the plan. As for parking lots, those are requirements set forth by the city of olympia. If you have buildings you have to have asphalt parking.

  6. Thank You Janine, Great article! Very informative.

    I agree with earlier comments about the troublesome attitude of our governmental bodies in their approaches to development and climate change.

  7. This (almost) speaks for itself in terms of the complete disconnect between the Port and all other planning in the region. The Port continues to assume that it is an independent government with land use powers. It is not. While the City has, in the past, displayed near total deference to the Port, both law and logic demand that the Port plans be consistent with and, if necessary, subservient to the City plans, including the Shoreline Management Plan.

    We must be vigilant in the Comprehensive Plan process to assure that this is the case.

    Jerry Parker