Thursday, December 10, 2009

Design Review Board Hears Larida Passage Application - Board Continues Meeting To December 17th

Above: Sunrise over Mount Rainier from the Fourth Avenue Bridge in Olympia yesterday morning. When asked by Design Review Board member Daniels about specific view corridors, city senior planner Cari Hornbein said that the view corridors of Budd Inlet, Capitol Lake, the Olympics, and the Capitol Dome were studied. She did not mention that any view of Mt. Rainier was studied. This is the precisely the view that would be obstructed by Triway Enterprises' proposed Larida Passage development on the isthmus as you come down Harrison Hill and cross the Fourth Avenue bridge. Click on picture to enlarge.

By Janine Gates

After receiving two and a half hours of information and testimony, the city's citizen advisory committee charged with reviewing the design of Triway Enterprises’ Larida Passage project decided to continue tonight’s meeting to Thursday, December 17th.

City senior planner Cari Hornbein gave an overview of the project with staff recommendations, the applicant gave its presentation, represented by project manager Jeannette Hawkins and three others, and an overflow gathering of concerned citizens gave testimony until 9:00 p.m. Seventeen members of the public gave testimony against the project design. Two approved of the project: former city councilmembers Holly Gadbaw and Joan Machlis.

“Normally, we get zero members of the public….” started Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver, looking out at the crowd. The nine member board had two absent members.

The Design Review Board was established by City ordinance (OMC Chapter 18.76) to apply design review requirements and guidelines in the review of public and private projects throughout the City and the Olympia urban growth area.

Most board members were actively engaged in the discussion. When landscape architect Alan McWain described the living “green wall” which is proposed to be featured down the full length of the 90 foot building, he mentioned that he had designed one in Tacoma. Board member Robert Findlay asked, to chuckles heard throughout the audience, “Have you seen what it looks like (now) in 6 degree weather?” McWain admitted he has not seen it.

Board member Spencer Daniels asked for confirmation that the only public viewing site is from a viewing platform on the 35 foot office building and said that the 35 foot building looked separate from the other and very plain. He expressed concern about the tunnel-like view corridor between the two buildings. The space between the two buildings is 40 feet.

Two other board members noted the discrepancy in scale between the two buildings. Gail Merth, a BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises for the project, said, “Well, we would love to do 90 feet on both buildings…we are maximizing what we are allowed to do at this point….in my mind, the building are siblings, but not twins….”

Above: Gail Merth, BCRA Architect hired by Triway Enterprises, explains the Larida Passage project to the city's Design Review Board tonight.

As part of their presentation, Triway Enterprises showed a three dimensional aerial view “movie," of Larida Passage’s conceptual design of the buildings. The computer simulation, which did not show any context to Olympia, the isthmus, Capitol Lake, Budd Inlet, the Olympics, or Mt. Rainier, seemed to go over like a lead balloon for board members and the audience.

Finally, after Merth's presentation, board member Robert Findley said, “This is a very massive, bulky structure. I’m concerned about the impacts of that…This may sound na├»ve, but what were your considerations regarding height?

Board member Katie Egland Cox commented that it would have been helpful to see some elevations to show the building in context with its surroundings.

Board vice-president Jane LaClerque commented on the lack of setbacks. “It’s the same square, rectangular block shape like the building to the east that everyone despises….”

Merth jumped up to point out a setback on a visual display, saying, “There’s a little one here….” Unconvinced, LaClerque added, “Well, you don’t see it in the scale of the building….I’m disappointed that the building looks so much like the other building.”

“Eek, I’d have to disagree with that,” said Merth, at which point, Carver called for a recess.

Above: Design Review Board members during a recess of their meeting in council chambers tonight. Chair Thomas Carver is in the center.

The Public Has A Chance To Comment

Nineteen members of the public had three minutes each to provide their comments to the board.

Diane Wiatr, a member of the city’s Heritage Commission and a former member of the Design Review Board, said, “I’m one of three people in the city who was not opposed to this project…(but now) I see recycled mixed-use of Kirkland, Bellevue and Seattle (in this design). It looks like the kitchen sink has been thrown into this design….”

Former city councilmember Holly Gadbaw, representing the group Oly2012, supported the project and the design. “The most exciting part is the structured parking…the design standards are finally starting to produce the kind of buildings we want….”

Steve Segall said, “What you have here is a rush job…this is out of place, out of character, graceless…and at odds with the landscape. The building design is almost Stalin-esque….”

Local artist Janice Arnold said, “I am saddened and a little speechless…the size, lack of setbacks, scale, and height are all incongruous with the setting. Olympia deserves better. We deserve a building that we wouldn’t want to demolish in 30 years.”

Allen Miller, local land use attorney, spoke on behalf of himself, six former Governors, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro and others. He and his clients asked the board to deny the project due to its conflicts with the historical design principals of State Capitol Campus architects Wilder and White and the Olmsted Brothers.

Miller also told the board that the project is unlawful under Sato v. Olympia, a decision of the Shorelines Hearings Board which held that a seventy foot building in the isthmus area violated the Shoreline Management Act by irreversibly damaging the public views of the Puget Sound and the Olympics from the Capitol Campus.

The municipal code (OMC 18.76.010) that establishes the Design Review Board states, in part, that the Board is established “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community;…preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historical significance;…and consider applicants’ needs and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

“This project violates the public trust of preserving the view corridors from and to the State Capitol Campus from the Temple of Justice and the Law Enforcement Memorial out to Budd Inlet and Olympics,” said Miller.

The Olympia City Council voted to rezone the isthmus area to 90 feet last December. The rezone of the property is now under appeal with the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

Alan Hardcastle, a member of the Heritage Commission, opposed the project design, questioning the possible negative economic impact to city tourism because of the compromised views from and to Budd Inlet. “This design is out of proportion…downtown is not a series of mini-malls. This building does not add to the historical character of downtown….”

Jerry Reilly, former chair of the Olympia Planning Commission and current chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, also opposed the project. “While many features of the design have merit, its fundamental problem is that the building is in the wrong location….Under the very terms of your code responsibilities, we believe that you should find that this design is not approvable.”

Joan Machlis, former city councilmember, approved of the project design. “I believe the development has creatively handled a variety of requirements such as the public viewing area and a partially covered trail. The landscaping meets tree requirements…this is the kind of urban…design we will see in the future….”

Bonnie Jacobs, representing Friends of the Waterfront, commented on the lack of context shown to the board and the public by the applicant's three dimensional computer program. “Obviously, the architects are proud of the buildings, but the movie is a perspective that I will likely never see. It’s massive - sidewalk to sidewalk - right by the Mistake on the Lake….We will indeed be walling off the waterfront. What particularly affronts me is the “viewing platform.” To say that a little platform that we might be able to get to during certain hours is almost laughable if it didn’t anger me so much.”

Former Mayor Bob Jacobs said that he felt that the design is "OK," but the project would be better suited down by the Farmer’s Market, the transit center or city hall. “It’s massive, out of scale with the surrounding area - it’s twice the size of the General Administration Building. Historical views will be blocked, and the exterior lighting looks good until you realize it will upstage the Capitol Building.”

Gail Merth, in response to a question from a board member, concluded the evening by saying, “Design is a very subjective thing…it’s impossible to make everyone happy….”

By 9:00p.m., board chair Carver called the question to move toward a recommendation or continue the meeting on December 17th. Board members Cox and Daniels said they wanted to continue the meeting and make a recommendation.

Board member David Goularte said he got a lot of information tonight and wanted more time. LaClerque agreed. “We were given more handouts tonight from staff that I’d like to look over.” A quorum won out, and board chair Carver adjourned the meeting, which will be continued December 17th.

Above: View from Budd Inlet of the Capitol Building obstructed by the Mistake by the Lake building. The proposed Larida Passage project would be built to the right of this existing, vacant building.