Thursday, December 17, 2009

Design Review Board "Tables" Triway's Larida Passage Plan

Above: Design Review Board members Goularte, Laclergue, Findley, and Daniels at last week's meeting on December 10 in the Olympia city council chambers.

By Janine Gates

By a vote of 5 - 2, the city Design Review Board tonight decided to table the context plan for Triway Enterprises’ proposed Larida Passage project. Board chair Thomas Carver and board member Spencer Daniels voted no. Two board members, Katie Cox and Robert Findley, were not present. The meeting lasted about two and a half hours.

Asked to comment on the evening's decision, a tired city senior planner Cari Hornbein said, “I am unclear as to what we do with this decision,” as she was putting away the evening’s technical equipment at 9:30 p.m.

Board member Jane Laclergue read a prepared statement and made the motion to table the context plan and ask Triway Enterprises to come back with a new one. Triway staff members Jeanette Hawkins and Gail Merth made comments to the board throughout the evening that they would be unable or unwilling to make any changes to the building’s massive size, which was a major source of discussion tonight.

Jeanette Hawkins, Larida Passage project manager, was perfectly clear about what tonight's vote meant. Asked for her opinion, Hawkins said, “She (Laclergue) was trying to stop the project…it was confusing, but our project is moving forward."

Hawkins and Gail Merth, BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises, were given ample time to address the board’s concerns and questions and provide new materials to the board such as view scenes from various angles.

Above: New materials presented to board members at tonight's Design Review board meeting includes Larida Passage views from Triway's perspective. These view scenes, also included views looking south from Rotary Point on West Bay Drive and from the 400 block of Sherman towards Heritage Park.

Carver hoped to deal with the context plan, the preliminary building design and the landscape design as three separate components of the project. Although Carver outlined at the beginning of the meeting what the board was going to do, “wrap it up with three motions and recommendations,” the board expressed confusion on their role and responsibilities and reviewed code language from the beginning of the meeting to the end.

The context design discussion started with board member David Goularte setting the tone for the evening's deliberations: “…I feel like I’ve been baited and switched. At first I was thinking, ‘Here’s an interesting design for the isthmus’…but now they don’t match…what am I supposed to comment on?

Board member Spencer Daniels agreed. “I keep seeing the schematics and the pictures and I’m concerned about what governs what…

Jane Laclergue, who has served on the Design Review Board for 15 years, said she has reviewed about 100 cases, and read a prepared statement saying that she feels "the board is being put in a position of huge conflict between the city’s code for design review and the land use code for this project.” She said she could not vote for a project “that is only in context with a building which so many people want removed.”

Laclergue read Design Review OMC 18.76.010, which states that the board’s purpose is “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community; to preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historic significance.” The code also says that the board is to “consider applicants’ needs and goals and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

Laclergue also read Design Review OMC 18.110.060 which discusses view preservation. “All development must reserve a reasonable portion of such territorial and immediate views for significant numbers of people from public rights-of-way.”

Laclergue said that the words, “significant numbers of people,” meant, to her, those at the Capitol Campus and those arriving by boat, “not those finding their way to a viewing tower obscured on two sides by Building B. When I saw the picture of what Building B (the 90 foot building) would do to the view of the Capitol Dome from Budd Bay, I knew there would need to be changes to the building’s shape before I could vote for it.”

The subject of view angles was discussed at length. Daniels said, "Whatever we do has to be justified within the code - to deny this project, we have to find specific language in the code to do that. Regarding view preservation, staff looked over this matter and we were told they were considered...."

Carver said he agreed with Daniels. "...I've had the worst time of where to go with this. I could not find a reason to deny (the applicant) based on view...."

Boardmember Thomas Muller said, "...It's a great building, it has everything the city needs design-wise but although it meets the specifications...this project would so negatively impact views and does not fit in this space. Move it downtown. It has everything we need, just not here."

Daniels countered, "Then why did we approve Union Heights, which is taller than anything around it?"

Laclergue said, "(Because) there will be other buildings around it. This one won't."

Several members commented that they drove around the city to study various view points. Board member Goularte said "This is a very unique fact, I was driving around up to the Eastside, seeing the impact of Larida Passage, so I'm having a really, really, really hard time with this...."

Triway Enterprises' staff were invited to address board concerns. Hawkins stood up and asked if they read the email she had sent board members. Seemingly irked that several board members did not appear to know what email she was referring to, Hawkins took a deep breath and gave a lengthy, pointed presentation about views, saying, "The views of Larida Passage are complicated, I'm not going to deny that...In our view study, we do not impact any residential views, but we do impact views from the Temple of Justice...we do not impair the Olympics at all...."

Muller said, "I purposely drove to Heritage Park and Marathon Park...I absolutely wouldn't see them (the Olympics) affects the views from everywhere...."

Above: Stunning Olympics as seen from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in Spring.

Cari Hornbein, city senior planner, said she printed out the scenic vistas map and reviewed the checklist for view preservation from public rights of way. "...It all gets mixed seems like there's so many moving pieces...I appreciate the predicament you're in...."

Board member Dwight Hollar asked Hornbein if there are any public rights-of way views from the Capitol from a historical perspective that will kick in if they approve the plan. "I hate to say this, but no...that is not in our purview...." said Hornbein.

During a meeting recess, Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, said, "This is huge. This is the first time an official agency has sides with the people instead of with the developer. What also became apparent is that the city has no ability or interest in protecting views from the Capitol."

Resuming the meeting after they voted to table the context plan and have the applicant come back with a new context plan, some board members could not see how they could move forward with voting on the preliminary building design and landscape design.

For a full hour, Carver pursued the point of moving forward with the remaining issues. Finally, Carver made a motion to approve the preliminary building design, with the modification of the roof lines on both buildings and provide the board with more details of the mechanical equipment screening on the rooftop. The motion passed 4 - 3 with Muller, Hollar and Laclergue voting no.

Then, Carver asked for a motion to approve the landscape plan. The motion passed 5 - 2 with Muller and Laclergue voting no. Confusion ensued on when the context plan for Larida Passage would come back to the board. It remained unclear.

After the meeting, some audience members questioned, amongst themselves, the evening's process.

"Why did the applicant get a chance for rebuttal tonight? There's obviously been new material submitted by the applicant - new material that the Design Review Board has had to digest, and there's no chance for more public comment...." said community member Susan Ahlschwede.

According to Hornbein, the next steps for the Larida Passage project is for the site plan review committee, made up of city staff, to review the project for development regulations, engineering standards, Shoreline Master Plan regulations, and the Urban Waterfront plan for views, and prepare written comments on all those pieces to give to the applicant to respond.

"Typically, there’s one round of revisions, then we review the plans, create a staff report, do a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, and it goes to the hearings examiner who will make a decision. This will all take several months.”