Monday, December 7, 2009

Larida Passage Lives As a Land Use Application - Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input at Thursday Meeting

Above: Landscape architect Alan McWain, right, shows Thad Curtz a three dimensional view of Larida Passage on a computer program at tonight's open house at the Olympia Center.

Despite developer Tri Vo's reported financial woes, his project in downtown Olympia called Larida Passage lives on paper as a real land use application to the City of Olympia.

City staff held an open house with Vo's development firm, Triway Enterprises, tonight at the Olympia Center to give the public an opportunity to view the land use and design illustrations and plans, submitted by Triway to the city in late October.

The massive, controversial mixed-use project is located on the narrow "isthmus" area between 4th and 5th Avenues. It is proposed to be two buildings: a 50,000 square foot building containing a mix of retail and office uses and a 273,000 square foot building containing retail space, 141 residential units and private parking for 433 vehicles. The buildings are proposed to be 35 feet and 90 feet. There is no 65 foot building as originally discussed in Triway's conceptual plans.

Landscape architect Alan McWain was brought onto the project with BCRA, the architectural firm hired by Triway, he says, to bring a "human scale" to the project. The project, for example, contains a water feature, a green wall, and green roofs. Asked to describe 'green walls,' McWain said that there will be planted fabric attached to a concrete board which will be irrigated through drip lines down the entire 90 foot building. "I believe it will be one of the largest green walls in North America...certainly it will be the largest in Washington."

Asked to describe the water feature, McWain said, "It will an eighth of an inch thick and very still. It will reflect the clouds and be's supposed to represent the Puget Sound ecosystem where the water trickles down. You'll be able to see it from the Fourth Avenue bridge." The water feature will be chlorinated and contained inside the private courtyard area of the residential building.

McWain lives in Seattle but grew up in Olympia near Olympia High School. He left Olympia to go to college. Asked if he is excited about the project, McWain said, "Yeah, I am actually. I think it's a great project. It meets all the requirements and pushes the limit to bring green design to downtown Olympia....I'm trying to bring the environment back to an urban setting and create a human scale."

Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input

While Triway Enterprises is optimistic the project will go forward, there are a few hurdles to clear. The Design Review Board, a city advisory committee composed of nine members, will meet on Thursday, December 10 in the City Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. SE, at 6:30 to formally hear the applicant's proposal.

The public is invited to come to give comments to the board regarding the project, says Thomas Carver, chair of the Design Review Board. Carver attended tonight's open house. "We will hear a presentation by the applicant, a presentation by city staff, and take public comments. Then we will deliberate and give a recommendation to the site plan review committee." The site plan review committee is composed of staff from the city's Community Planning and Development department.

"If it gets too late to deliberate and make a recommendation because we receive a lot of public comment, we will continue the meeting to December 17," explained Carver.

Asked how long it could take to deliberate, Carver said it depends. "We just got our committee packets (containing the application) last Friday. This is a very involved project, but it is a single project. We could make a recommendation at the end of Thursday's meeting or carry it over to December 17."

Above: Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver is serious about his role on the city's citizen advisory committee. Serving on the board since 2002, Carver says he cannot talk about the actual design of the project until Thursday. "We don't want to be lobbied by anyone - we want to be as independent as possible."

The Design Review Board, created in the early 1990's, reviews projects for pedestrian friendliness, site and building design and aesthetics. Asked if aesthetics were a rather subjective judgement, Carver admitted, "It is, but there is the letter of the code, and the intent of the code. We look for projects to meet the intent of the code because it is very possible for you to build a concrete box and paint it different colors, but it still looks like a concrete box."

The board meets to review projects proposed to be over 5,000 square feet, anything downtown, and anything along major corridors and arterials," said Carver. Recent projects reviewed by the board includes the Washington State Employees Credit Union building, the Washington Public Utilities building, and Union Heights, all on Union.

"We're different from other city citizen advisory boards," says Carver. "We are scheduled to meet twice a month, but due to the slow down in the economy, we've only had a third of our usual meetings because we review projects. If there are no projects to review, we don't meet."

Asked if he, as an architect, has any vested interest in the Larida Passage project, Carver laughed and said no, that if he did, he would recuse himself from the review.

Asked if he gets calls from people freaked out about some project going up, he said, "No, it's usually the other way around. A few of us were freaked out about a car wash being built on Black Lake Boulevard in front of Evergreen Christian Center, but we found out it is under 5,000 square feet."

For more information about the Larida Passage project, contact Cari Hornbein, Senior Planner, Community Planning and Development at 753-8048 or

For more information about the history of the Larida Passage project, go to stories on Little Hollywood from earlier this year.

Above: The annual Toy Run in downtown Olympia along the isthmus area and Deschutes Parkway. With a proposed 433 additional vehicles driving in and out and around the isthmus area, traffic congestion will be increased.


  1. Nice report Janine, thanks for your hard work on this.

    That rezone really did increase the value of those parcels.

  2. They've certainly got their buzzwords down this time: "green", "human-scale", "ecology", "environment" –– much the way "affordable" used to be tossed around for housing developments that weren't.