Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tumwater Brewery District Plan Heard

Open House and Public Hearing held Tuesday night

By Janine Unsoeld

The Tumwater City Council and the Tumwater Planning Commission held an open house and a public hearing Tuesday night regarding the Brewery District Plan in Tumwater. Both events were held at South Sound Manor.

The purpose of the Brewery District Plan is to guide future development to create a mixed-use district that supports a variety of businesses and residential uses. Strategies are proposed for improving the transportation system as well as the function and character of the historic center of Tumwater.

The themes presented in the Brewery District Plan offer to create a stronger sense of place, improve transportation options, safety and access, expand and preserve economic opportunity and activity, and improve the function and appearance of the built environment.

The city has held several open houses, which have all been well attended, with between 125 – 200 people in attendance at each meeting. City of Tumwater planner Tim Smith said that 6,000 people are on their Brewery District Plan mailing list, 1,500 are on the email list, and staff has met onsite to interview 50 business owners.

A focus group of 16 citizens, business, and property owners, community leaders, and elected officials have met over the past year to process the information. The Thurston Regional Planning Council and consultants have assisted in the process, which began in 2012.

The city hosted an open house at the same location prior to the public hearing. Easels with posters were set up around the room explaining land use alternatives, transportation and gateway elements, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and transit and parking strategies.

Little has changed since the last public open house held in October. The draft plan was revealed in late January.

Transportation patterns in Tumwater have changed dramatically in the last 15 – 20 years. Much of it is generated from outside the area and much of it is pass-through traffic. When people take the bus, they often use the transit station on Cleveland Avenue near Safeway.

Dennis Bloom, planning manager of Intercity Transit, mingled with community members during the open house and stayed for the hearing. Bloom lives in Tumwater, where he says he does 90 percent of his shopping. When asked, Bloom explained the transit element, illustrated by a poster on an easel.

“At the transit station, four routes come together on Cleveland - #43 to the Westside, #68 to Lacey, #12 to neighborhoods and downtown, and #13 along the Capitol Way corridor. The plan is to move the transit station to Capitol Way…in its current location, the sidewalk doesn’t currently accommodate people, it’s not wide enough. It’s the busiest area in Tumwater.” Bloom said 300 – 400 people are served per transfer at that transit center.

Before the hearing, Sally Nash, chair of the Tumwater Planning Commission, said that the District Plan materials have been educational. A resident of Tumwater for 19 years, Nash is the retired manager of the Timberland Library in Tumwater.

“I’m very proud to be a Tumwater resident. The Plan is wonderful and exciting for the area, and quite futuristic. I don’t see it happening immediately. We’ve had tremendous input from the public….we have an involved citizenry.”

Tumwater residents Nick and Jaime Vann said they have come to several open houses. Looking over the easel information, Nick Vann said, “This is what it could be, but there needs to be incentives for developers. We have a lot of underused and inefficient areas, transportation-wise in particular. There’s currently no sense of place either. It’s important to get community buy-in so if we have to vote on any of this, then we know more. We’re homeowners – so we’ll be paying for it.”

Before the hearing, Mayor Pete Kmet and staff gave a 45 minute history of the draft Brewery District Plan, and said that the plan lays the foundation for future efforts.

“There’s money in the budget for the next level of planning, but we’re a long way from construction,” said Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet at the beginning of the hearing.

Public testimony covered a diversity of topics. Despite the ongoing publicity, open houses and meetings, some business owners were caught off guard with the Plan’s proposals.

Dan Vavrinec, general manager for Falls Terrace restaurant, said that initial flyers did not include the restaurant in the focus areas discussed. The restaurant has been in Vavinec’s family since 1969. His concerns were around the loss of parking in both options.

“Proposed changes…to Deschutes Way would be devastating and without doubt cause the closure of the Falls Terrace.” He said that option 1 would remove 50 parking spaces, and option 2 would remove 28 spaces, and both would place parking farther away. “Either option 1 or 2 would mean the loss of an area icon and the loss of employment for 42 persons.”

Vavrinec said that the current parking area is used and shared by Tumwater Falls Park in peak season, many community events such as the Duck Dash in June, and nearby businesses. He offered alternative proposals and improvements to the area.

Lonnie Lowe, Tumwater Chiropractic Center, and Larry Weaver of The Valley Club supported Vavrinec’s testimony, and added their own concerns.

“The reality is, when you change parking, it’s detrimental to business. People drive to where they want to go….urban centers haven’t taken off as much as people would like them to. When I go to downtown Olympia, if I have to circle the block a few times, I go to the mall. People with bad backs don’t ride their bikes….” said Lowe.

Weaver said The Valley Athletic Club has 11,000 members, and while the District Plan was an interesting concept, re-routing traffic and changing parking would present difficulties for the club and the Tumwater golf course.

Chris VanDaalen said that he appreciated the community process and said that the proposed zoning code amendments would provide a good opportunity for Tumwater to become a carbon neutral community, and a model for energy efficiency. He encouraged the use of renewable resources, being mindful of building orientation, and solar options to achieve net zero energy usage.

Bob Jacobs, a member of the Governor Stevens neighborhood, expressed concern about the general commercial zoning in the Sunset triangle neighborhood area, saying there was no buffer between the triangle and residential area. He also urged that as the area becomes more dense, to not forget parks for green space.

Sandra Brown, Capital Council of the Blind, said she appreciated the audible signals in the area, but had concerns about safety on Cleveland at the Intercity Transit transfer station.

“Right now we need to cross Cleveland…it’s very dangerous – you take your life in your hands. I’ll have the same concerns if it’s on Capitol Way.” She suggested the closure of the area around Safeway on Cleveland from the inside of both driveways into Tumwater Square, so that cars can’t access the area in the middle of Cleveland. Brown said this suggestion has been brought up before but didn’t make it into the final draft proposals.

Jack Horton, president of the Woodland Greenway Trail Association, said that the Plan presents a huge transformation to the area. “Pedestrians and bicyclists are the indicator species of a community’s values…it’s face-to-face instead of windshield-to-windshield. We have a growing knowledge-based economy, and what’s going to happen is, those people are going to select the kind of community they want to live in….and Tumwater has some iconic treasures….”

Walt Jorgenson, a former Tumwater city councilmember, asked that the council exercise caution about the nature of their investments. “If the private sector isn’t doing it, then there might be a reason for it…pick and choose elements of the plan that may be better than another.”

Stewart Hartman said he’s lived in Tumwater “since the town had a population of 800 people”, and that his father was hired to work for the brewery by the Schmidt family. He’s been working on an ambitious proposal to convert the brewery into an international cultural center, an environmental center, a day care center, a small vendor’s ‘world’s fair’ type of program, and restaurant, describing his plan as “a major co-op where everyone owns it and the profits can to redistributed to everyone in the county…it’ll have something for everyone.”

Judy Bardin appreciated the Plan’s visuals, and urged that the commission and the council maintain historic views. She also expressed concerns about putting people near traffic as the area becomes more densely populated, saying that health research indicates that there are adverse health effects such as childhood asthma, and that light pollution and noise from traffic causes hypertension and sleep disturbances.

The planning commission will consider all comments, make modifications to the Plan, and make recommendations to the city council. They will meet for work sessions to discuss the Plan on February 25 and March 11. A recommendation from the commission to Tumwater city council is expected in March.

Copies of the draft Brewery District Plan are available for review  in the Community Development Department at Tumwater City Hall, 555 Israel Road SW, Tumwater, during regular business hours, or online at


  1. Hi Janine,

    Thanks for the follow-up note. The numbers I mentioned the other night were an approximate average. I went back and looked at the data this morning. Our 2013 data shows an average of 351 boardings per day for the two stops on Cleveland (there’s a stop southbound and a stop northbound). We know that many people taking the bus to the Tumwater Square transfer station are actually transferring between the four routes that meet there but we do not have that transfer rate (percentage) between the routes. Just that there are a lot of people that use those stops on a daily basis.

    Let me know if you have any other questions or if I can help explain part of the concept of relocating those bus stops from Cleveland over to Capitol Blvd.


    Dennis Bloom
    Planning Manager
    Intercity Transit

  2. I have been going to Tumwater Falls Park for years, every time I drive I-5. And every time I do so, I think to myself "That building would be perfect for so many uses!"

    I am extremely glad that this entire area is getting looked at critically. Right now, despite the nature of the park, it feels a bit forgotten by both cities. As a (frequent) tourist, I'd love to spend more dollars in this community.