Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's Your True NorthPoint?

Monday night's port commission meeting was newly-elected Jeff Davis' first as a commissioner. Davis, right, replaces retiring commissioner Paul Telford and was elected secretary. Current president Bill McGregor, middle, could not get a second to continue in his role as president. After Commissioner George Barner expressed interest in the position, Davis seconded the motion to elect Barner president. The motion passed.

by Janine Gates

Offering creative energy and independent research, several community members presented fresh comments and visions regarding the redevelopment of the NorthPoint area to Port of Olympia commissioners at the port's first meeting of the year last night.

A petition signed by community members which asks for a halt to the current, exclusive redevelopment plan proposed by MJR Development was also presented to commissioners by community member Sue Ingman. (See article in 2009 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com for more information about MJR Development).

Above: Sue Ingham testifies and presents petitions to the port commission last night, urging a halt to the redevelopment plan proposed by MJR Development.

Monica Hoover testified that she and others have met with several port and Ecology staff, and it would appear to her that port staff are unaware of some of the Washington State Ecology's expectations and requirements for the NorthPoint clean-up. She is also concerned about inconsistencies between what Ecology says and what port staff say about the site.

Above: The view of Budd Inlet today from Northpoint's Cascade Pole site, looking north. Priest Point Park is in the distance on the right.

Agnieska Kisza, a local architect, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the commission and audience members about her vision for the NorthPoint area.

"Native Americans once considered this land sacred because of its beauty. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Let's provide world quality design, starting with creating a master plan," Kisza explained. She said the main elements of the master plan have to include an uninterrupted boulevard along the water and an unobstructed water and mountain view.

Her presentation includes pictures of what she labeled current master planning mistakes, such as HearthFire restaurant's extensive Dumpster collection. She noted their location and appearance, which fully obstructs public views across Budd Inlet, looking west.

Above: The view corridors in Olympia are getting narrower and narrower. These Dumpsters by HearthFire Restaurant obstruct public waterfront views.

Kisza suggested that the port could organize an international architectural competition or other process to create a quality NorthPoint redevelopment design.

"The port of Olympia will be remembered for this project. This is an opportunity for us to act for the greater good rather than for the benefit of a few. Please show leadership and courage. Stop this development, as proposed, because it is lacking vision...," Kisza concluded.

Superimposed over MJR Development's vision for Northpoint - a proposed hotel and restaurant - architect Mariusz Kowalewski gave a detailed presentation to illustrate his own design ideas, which included a large park and glass pagoda.

Above: A vision design presented by local architect Mariusz Kowalewski.

Krag Unsoeld, who has also met with port staff, testified that the project has been rushed and that any development of tall buildings such as what is being proposed will "immediately devalue the land behind it," because it will steal the waterfront views.

Unsoeld also questioned the numbers used in a recent article in The Olympian that describes the port's finances, saying the numbers did not tell the whole story. Calling it a "puff piece," Unsoeld asked, "What does this mean? It means we don't know what is going on and we don't know how our taxpayer money is being used and how much is being lost."

The commissioners responded to the citizen presentations. Barner said he would like a work session to examine everything that has been presented. "It's fascinating to hear and to understand (that the public has) obviously strong feelings about the direction the port is going in. I tend to think we've acted abruptly into the development phase. I've expressed concern about this...." Last year, Barner voted against moving ahead with the sole remaining proposal submitted by MJR Development.

"We now have an opportunity to pull our bacon out of the fire with a process to involve the community and find consensus with the community. Let's put things on hold...." Barner pleaded to the other commissioners.

Davis, in his first policy comments as commissioner, responded that he appreciated everyone coming, saying, "We need more of this....I'm open to suggestions as far as the direction here," but alluded to his being "the new kid on the block," and did not offer assistance or further comment to Barner's suggestion to stop or slow down the redevelopment process.

"His comments were kind of wimpy," said one community member later, about Davis' lackluster remarks on the issue.

During a conversation in December 2009 with members of the Carnegie group, however, Davis offered very clear opinions about the NorthPoint redevelopment process, stating that he did not feel that the process was fully vetted.

"Public land is sacred and shouldn't be sold for private development. This (area) is the jewel of the South Sound....In January, I personally have to find a way to halt or stall this process...there's a lot of public backing. Let's open it up again," Davis said in that conversation.

McGregor offered an overview of the public process thus far and gave Monica Hoover a prepared letter in response to her previous request for more information.

"This is a two piece project...we have a cleanup project site. My understanding is that there is funding in Ecology's account to do this until 2011. If we don't use it, it reverts back to the state. There's a lot of investment in there, and insurance money, claims the port has filed and won...." McGregor continued to describe the "slurry wall" and asphalt methods to contain and "cap" contaminants at Northpoint.

Unsoeld was allowed to interject as a point of clarification that asphalt is not the only method of capping contamination, that grass is also a possibility. Later, Hoover agreed with Unsoeld. "The board is choosing asphalt, and Ecology does not mandate it," Hoover said, speaking of the Port's efforts to clean up the area known as Cascade Pole.

McGregor assured audience members that there is no development agreement yet, and the process is far from over. "We are giving them (MJR Development) time to develop it. They will bring it back to the public. We are going to have more meetings. We may (decide to) walk away after a year or so if it's not what we want after a public process. This may take one year, or two years."

Mark Lahaie, MJR Development partner, sat in the audience and heard the citizen concerns and suggestions. Barner suggested that community members meet with Lahaie to discuss their concerns with him personally.

"I'm hopeful we can find some common ground here...we have some tremendous resources and citizens who have experience...we still have a window of opportunity to make changes," said Barner.

The next Port of Olympia meeting is Monday, January 25, at 5:30 p.m. held at the LOTT Board Room, 111 Market St. NE. For more information, contact the Port at 528-8000 or go to www.portolympia.com.

To contact Mark Lahaie at MJR Development, call (425) 822-4466 or email him at mark@mjrdevelopment.com.

Above: Krag Unsoeld, left, Agnieska Kisza, Mariusz Kowaleswski and Monica Hoover talk in the hallway after the port meeting last night.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report, Janine.

    The whole idea of development (and especially luxury development) downtown, in what is the predicted flood zone, makes me cringe.

    To me, it makes the most sense, prior to investing in any major developments in the downtown flood plain, to first ensure meeting two important objectives: 1) that measures and mechanisms are in place to protect the low-lying flood prone areas of downtown from rising sea waters, and 2) that Olympia and the surrounding region invests in the necessary changes so that the region is no longer continuing to contribute to global warming, to climate change / climate disruption, and to rising sea levels. It seems to me that it needs to be among the very topmost priorities of the region to urgently address the issue of continued production of greenhouse gas pollution.

    The Olympia that I imagine is carbon neutral, truly holistically sustainable, and living in harmony with the natural world. And I think it makes sense, given the gravity and momentum of the environmental degradation we're facing, to push for achieving this vision of true sustainability within seven years.

    For me, consideration of development in the flood plain, or consideration of any major development (especially luxury hotels,) is out of the question until we figure out what it will take, and how, to become sustainable.