Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Citizens Speak Against Trillium Development at Hearing

Above: Concerned community members packed the city council chambers last night for a public hearing by the city's hearing examiner, Tom Bjorgen, regarding DR Horton's proposed development called Trillium.

By Janine Gates

Chambers Lake Basin area community members packed the Olympia city council chambers last night to testify against the Trillium development proposed by DR Horton.

A master planned development, Trillium would consist of 500 single family and multi-family dwelling units bordered by Morse-Merryman Road Southeast, 40th Avenue, and Highline Drive. The preliminary plat would subdivide the 80 acres into 313 residential lots. DR Horton is seeking approval of the project as a whole, but proposes to construct the project in two phases.

Area residents brought up a wide range of reasons to deny the application based on issues related to increased traffic, a lack of nearby school capacity, persistent storm water and flooding issues, the current abundance of wildlife and the cumulative effect of other developments being proposed in the rural area.

City of Olympia planning and development staff have recommended an approval of the application. Hearing Examiner Tom Bjorgen heard the case and testimony from 6:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.

At 11:00 p.m., Bjorgen said he would continue the hearing to Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m., in the council chambers to allow those who did not have an opportunity to testify to do so at that time. Twenty one of the 41 people who signed up were able to testify.

Due to statements by Bjorgen at the outset of the meeting that public testimony would not be taken until both sides have presented their case, which could have taken hours, many community members left the hearing, thinking they could come back on the 28th to testify.

Both sides, however, limited their opening remarks so public testimony could be taken earlier, which started at 8:00 p.m. Bjorgen admitted the confusion and said he will allow additional testimony to be taken on the 28th by those originally in attendance last night.

“This is not an opportunity to bring in a wave of new testimony,” cautioned Bjorgen, in extending the public comment period.

The Chambers Lake Basin area in southeast Olympia is located on the periphery of Olympia city limits, but within the Olympia urban growth area. It is rural in nature with no nearby conveniences such as public transit, city water or sewer, sidewalks, or shopping centers.

In 2006, the Olympia City Council responded to drainage and flooding concerns by declaring a moratorium on development in the Chambers Lake Basin area. The moratorium was lifted in 2008 after the city was convinced developers would properly mitigate storm water issues. Developers have so far failed to comply with requirements.

The Trillium proposal is one of several major development proposals near the Thurston County boundary. Each development, including Chambers Lake Residential, Newman Park, and Bentridge are owned by different development corporations.

DR Horton representatives gave a Powerpoint presentation of the project and highlighted commercial spaces, a village green space, open spaces, tree preservation efforts, wetland protection, storm water facilities, and pedestrian trails. Community members expressed concern about each of these features.

DR Horton is also responsible for the developments in Thurston County such as Horizon Pointe, The Pointe, Bay Hill, Amhurst, and Woodbury Crossing, also known as College Station.

The master plan for Trillium was originally submitted in 2005 and has changed significantly throughout the years. At one point Bjorgen asked the applicant for a rough estimate of when the project is proposed to be completed. “It’s up to my client,” said the attorney for DR Horton.

Many residents fear the land will be stripped of vegetation, graded, with roads put in place, only to languish for years, as other DR Horton projects have done.

The County and the Connector Road

Above: Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela speaks with community members John Cusick, left, Gus Guethlein, partially obscured, and Jim Zahn, at last night's meeting.

In a surprise success for community members, the city announced in its opening remarks that it has withdrawn its request for a road connection from Highline Drive to the Trillium development. The road connection has been turned into a bicycle and pedestrian path. Up until the night before the hearing, the city was still insisting that the connection remain a road.

Many in the audience credited Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela with brokering the solution. Valenzuela was in attendance during the entire meeting.

“Karen Valenzuela rocks,” said Wilderness neighborhood resident Stew Henderson. Henderson related his experiences with flooding at his home on Edgeworth Drive.

In an interview later, Valenzuela recounted the process in which she and county staff met with city staff to create a solution on the connection issue.

“I am a little disappointed with how the solution came about,” said Valenzuela. "The county owns the piece of land where the connector road would have been placed and we vacated the land." The land ownership will now be placed with the Wilderness neighborhood or the homeowner’s association, says Valenzuela.

“The road did not meet five out of nine criteria for connector streets, and yet the city planning manager (Todd Stamm) continued to recommend a road….They were not honoring the letter and spirit of our plan. In the end, we (the county) decided to vacate the area. That’s ok, but I’d rather not work like that. It should have been easier for the county and the city to come to an agreement. One of the county staff recommendations was to remove that provision from the master plan. Situations like this truly are a joint conversation that requires joint planning," said Valenzuela.

Valenzuela said she will attend the continued hearing on June 28th.

Jane Stavish, who lives on Frontier Road, one of the access roads proposed for Trillium, also thanked Valenzuela. “I was very much fearing for my safety. We have strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, bicyclists and there are no sidewalks.”

Stormwater and Flooding Issues

Several residents who have lived in the area for decades say the flooding has gotten worse with each new development. The Wilderness development, comprised of 280 homes, is 30 years old. Each household is on a septic system.

Natalie Lindaas has lived in the Wilderness neighborhood for 33 years. “We’re a very rural area. I’ve been flooded in several times - last winter, it was 18 inches deep. We just have to wait for the water to go down to get out.” The overflow, she says, is from Chambers Ditch, a 150 year old ditch that was never intended to provide the storm water capacity it is now expected to hold.

Many residents expressed concern about effluent being released, which goes straight from the ditch to the Deschutes River and, ultimately, the Puget Sound.

School Capacity Issues

Several residents and students addressed the lack of nearby school capacity. Emily Winter, an Olympia High School student, said she has two younger siblings who will be attending Washington Middle School and Olympia High School. “I’m wondering what they are going to do,” she said, because of current overcrowding situations.

Jane Stavish said that as it is now, her children have had to sit on the floor for lunch at Olympia High School, because there is no room to sit. She said the school has considered a third lunch period, but says it can’t be done due to scheduling conflicts.

Recent high school graduate Jonny Wakefield confirmed Stavish’s comments, pointing out that a school district representative was not in attendance at the meeting. “To move forward with Trillium seems reckless...I'm not a fan of suburban sprawl. DR Horton will turn virgin woods into ticky tacky houses. If you look at their resume, you'll see the results," he said.

Grace Arnis, a seventh grader who lives on Frontier Road and attends Washington Middle School said, “Recently, a lot of my friends and I haven’t been able to buy lunch because there’s not enough food. I’m at the third lunch period. A lot more kids will not be able to buy food if Trillium is allowed to go in. I’m also concerned about going to high school and having to sit on the floor to eat lunch.”

Bjoren asked city associate planner Brett Bures to contact the Olympia School District to have a representative attend the hearing on the 28th so he could ask school capacity related questions.

Other Chambers Lake Basin Area Proposed Developments:

Newman Park

Hearing Examiner Bjorgen was praised by several community members in their testimony for his recent determination regarding the Newman Park development. Newman Park, owned by Brian Allen through Newman Park, L.L.C., is a proposed subdivision containing 83 dwelling units on 18 acres. Bjorgen said that the application does not make appropriate provisions for storm water drainage issues or address transportation issues as it relates to the safety of Wiggins Road.

Jim Zahn, owner of Spooner Farms on Yelm Highway, thanked Bjorgen for sending the application back for more work. He said Chambers Ditch runs through his 22 acre property, and gave Bjorgen a packet of 36 pictures showing the flooding in past years.

Chambers Lake Residential

Chambers Lake Residential, proposed by Triway Enterprises, is a 40 acre parcel proposed to be subdivided into 221 dwelling units. In April, Triway requested a delay for its hearing until July 28, 2010. City staff has recommended a denial of this application based on the applicant’s inadequate storm water design standards to deal with the area’s high groundwater. Other reasons are detailed in the city’s staff report.


Bentridge, owned by the Boston Harbor Land Company, based in Sammamish, is a proposed 72 acre master planned subdivision bordering Boulevard Road and LBA Park. It is proposed to have 501 residential units on 348 lots and a village center with a 12,500 square foot commercial building.

Although Bjorgen recommended denial of the application based on a lack of nearby school capacity issues, it was approved by the Olympia City Council in November.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has identified two flood zones on this property.

Boston Harbor Land Company's website describes Bentridge: "Within walking distance of McKenny Elementary, Washington Middle, and Olympia High Schools and very near 65-acre L.B.A. park, Bentridge "feels" rural but is close to an exhaustive range of goods and services."

Smith Lake

A Smith Lake proposal called Poets Cove by a developer based in Bellevue has recently been withdrawn. The city wrote the applicant a ten page letter in November detailing several concerns that needed to be addressed before approval and the applicant had six months to submit solutions.

There are several other proposed developments in the Chambers Lake Basin area.

For more information about the Trillium project, contact Brett Bures, City of Olympia Associate Planner, at (360) 753-8568 or bbures@ci.olympia.wa.us or for the SEPA Appeal, Cari Hornbein, city Senior Planner at 753-8048 or chornbei@ci.olympia.wa.us, or Todd Stamm, Planning Manager, Community Development and Planning at (360) 753-8314 or tstamm@ci.olympia.wa.us.

For more information about the concerns of Chamber Lake Basin residents, go to www.chamberlakecitizens.org or the Association of Citizens Concerned about Chambers Lake Basin (ACCCLB) at www.ACCCLB.org.

Above: Emily Winter, left, and her mother, Jennifer Winter, look at a homemade, interactive map made by Gus and Lou Guethlein to keep up with all the developments proposed in the Chambers Lake Basin area.