Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Olympia City Council Votes for Urban Waterfront - Housing Zoning for Isthmus

Above: City of Olympia Planning Commission Chair Roger Horn, left, chats with Councilmember Steve Langer during a break after tonight's vote to rezone the isthmus to UW - H 35.

Olympia City Council Votes for Urban Waterfront - Housing Zoning for Isthmus

By Janine Gates

After a public hearing on the issue, the Olympia city council voted tonight, five to two, in favor of rezoning downtown’s isthmus area to Urban Waterfront-Housing (UW - H) and limiting the height to 35 feet.

Mayor Doug Mah and Councilmember Craig Ottavelli opposed the zoning designation, preferring Urban Waterfront (UW). In voting against the motion to approve UW - H 35, Mayor Mah said that he "had doubts in the UW - H zoning's ability to get rid of blight or change the condition on the isthmus. UW has a slightly better chance..."

In support of the motion, Councilmember Rhenda Strub reminded the council that last January she wanted UW - H via a text amendment. "There was a level of trust missing at that time - I hope we're past that...." She added that her vote for the UW - H designation "has nothing to do with a single parcel or making the property attractive for purchase for those who want it to be a park."

Councilmember Stephen Buxbaum said that an additional refinement of land use can occur in the comprehensive plan process and vision for making the isthmus a beautiful asset for downtown Olympia.

Councilmember Steve Langer thanked the planning commission for their efforts saying, "I do think that this part of Olympia is of statewide importance. It's not just a piece of land...this area is special and having view corridors will bring people downtown and achieve some of those things - economic development - that people want."

Twenty people spoke during the public hearing portion of the evening.

City staff had recommended that the council adopt the city’s Planning Commission UW-H 35 recommendation.

Planning Commission chair Roger Horn was pleased with the outcome. “The Planning Commission went through an extensive process. It indicates the kind of vigorous debate that we had in trying to bring a balanced recommendation to the council that reflects the wishes of the community,” said Horn.

In their meeting deliberations, several planning commissioners expressed concern regarding some of the permitted uses in the UW zoning type, so UW - H was recommended to prohibit objectionable uses. Some of these uses include light industry, welding and fabrication businesses, recycling facilities, on site hazardous waste control facilities, equipment rental services, and more. The commission has asked city staff for a full review of allowed uses for all zoning types as part of the comprehensive plan update process.

The commission also asked to receive and review code information regarding the additional 18 foot height allowance for mechanical portions of a structure. “Having this real-world information would help the commission and council in balancing transparency in the code, public expectations and the need of the development community,” says a planning commission report.

Planning commission members James Reddick and Paul Ingham did not agree with the commission's UW-H 35 majority recommendation, and produced a minority report. In the report, their position is to permit a zero building height and to implement a sub-area master plan for the affected isthmus properties.

“Contrary to the majority’s claim of merely “rolling back” the height to 35 feet, the majority’s rezone does not address the many important urban problems and issues that arise from the isthmus rezone to UW-H 35,” the report says.

Such issues include compliance with capitol campus architects Wilder and White’s 1912 plans for the isthmus, the screening of roof equipment from adjacent Westside neighborhoods and the state capitol campus, and the proximity to high-traffic volume arterials involving noise and pollution.

Two speakers specifically agreed with the commission's minority report.

In testimony, Westside resident Roger Polzin supported the UW - H 35 designation, citing sea-level rise and earthquake and liquefaction issues. "We have to look at short and long term issues...the city is built on fill....We should not be encouraging high intensity uses downtown."

Above: View of the isthmus, Budd Inlet and the Olympics from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial on the state Capitol Campus. The owners of the nine-story building, above, currently called "The Views on 5th Avenue," have recently submitted a land use application to the city to convert it from office use to a hotel.

Other speakers supported the UW - H 35 zoning on the grounds of the unique views to and from the state capitol campus and Budd Inlet.

"This vista is the most important in the state of Washington," said land use attorney Allen Miller, whose testimony represented several Washington state governors, former secretary of state Ralph Munro, Friends of the Waterfront, and the Black Hills Audubon Society.

The evening's zoning issue became a little muddy due to the revelation by this blog that the owners of the nine-story former Capitol Center Building recently submitted a land use application to the city to change the building's use from office to hotel. The building, now called “The Views on 5th Avenue,” is located on the isthmus.

Community member Chris Stearns testified that he is not against hotels, but is concerned about increased traffic on the Fourth and Fifth Avenue bridges. "This is not the right location for intensive development."

Scott Shapiro, an owner of the building, spoke during the public hearing, supporting the Urban Waterfront zoning designation. Hotels are not allowed under UW - H zoning.

Shapiro cited the economic benefits a hotel would have for the city in terms of construction, sales, property and lodging taxes, and jobs.

Neil Falkenburg, asset manager for The Views on 5th Avenue said in his testimony that the ownership group is choosing to invest money in the building and the community. He said there would be an estimated 15,000 hotel customers each year that would benefit downtown.

The owners submitted a tenant improvement application to the city on November 10th, which was denied in a site review planning meeting composed of the city’s community development and planning members on December 1. Glenn Wells, architect for the owners, submitted a land use application later that same day.

Wells also testified at tonight's hearing, saying, "Our downtown businesses are struggling. What's the cause? A lack of free parking? A lack of housing? Bottomline, there's not enough shoppers. We need a viable downtown core."

Wells said that peak hour traffic is the building owner's primary concern and that an analysis stated that an office building would generate 110 peak hour trips versus the 81 trips generated by a hotel. "A hotel will bring in tourist dollars...one million dollars into the downtown business core and will put tens of thousands of people a year downtown at night," said Wells.

Some people have questioned whether the owners are “vested” in the property by submitting an application on November 10th in an attempt to get possible approval before the city council met to possibly change the zoning for the isthmus property.

In real estate development, a project is considered to be “vested” if it is determined that a landowner has proceeded financially far enough down the path of development of their land that the local government should not be allowed to enforce newly enacted zoning ordinances against them.

Asked prior to the meeting whether or not the proposed hotel project is “vested” by current owners, Brett Bures, associate city planner answered, “We’re deeming the application complete and it will be reviewed under the zoning that was in place when the application was submitted."

According to Todd Stamm, city planning manager, a land use application typically goes through two, 60 day review cycles. There is a gap in between those two cycles for the city to ask questions of the applicant and to allow the applicant time to respond.

Asked if existing permits would transfer to new owners should the current owners decide to sell the property, Stamm said yes.

The new zoning designation will go to final reading at next week's city council meeting.

See article posted on December 2 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, “Hotel Project Application Submitted for ‘Mistake on the Lake’ Building - Public Hearing on Isthmus Rezone on Tuesday” and other articles on this blog for more information about the isthmus.