Monday, September 29, 2014

Local Chiropractor Makes An Appeal Regarding Proposed Development

Above: Local chiropractor John Tanasse stands near the vacant lot he purchased on State Street near downtown Olympia. The nearby historic Bigelow Neighborhood Association is upset with his building’s proposed design on the long vacant lot at 924 State Avenue, saying it is not in keeping with the historic nature of the area. The Association has retained an attorney in the case.

By Janine Unsoeld

Summer has come and gone, the prime season for construction projects in the South Sound. But one project that didn’t happen as planned was the groundbreaking of a business on State Avenue near downtown Olympia.
In a classic case of competing visions for what constitutes smart land use and acceptable urban design strategy, local chiropractor John Tanasse finds himself at odds with those he had hoped would welcome him to the neighborhood.
In an unusually frank, open letter to the community, Tanasse strives to explain the difficulty a recent land use process has had on his family and his business. After sending the letter to the Bigelow Neighborhood Association, Tanasee was informed by the neighborhood’s attorney, Allen Miller, that direct communication with the neighborhood was “unethical.”
Tanasse expressed his ongoing frustration to Little Hollywood, saying, “There’s no way to communicate or continue the conversation with neighbors except through the legal process.”

The city of Olympia will hold an administrative appeal of his case on October 8 at 6:30 p.m., City Hall, 601 4th Avenue East, Room 207. The hearing is open to the public, however, only those who are already parties in the case may speak.
On State Street near Quince and Pear streets, the proposed three story mixed use building would have a 2,931 square foot footprint, which includes the garage, and a 6,970 square foot total with shared parking in the alley and on the north side. The business would be located on the first and half of the second floor, with two residences on the second and third floors.

Tanasse says his proposed building is of a larger scale than the adjacent buildings, but it is modulated into smaller parts that are in proportion to its older, smaller neighbors.

Bigelow neighborhood residents have been upset with the building’s proposed design on the long vacant lot at 924 State Avenue, saying it is not in keeping with standards or the historic nature of the area. Neighbors say that most surrounding buildings were built before 1925, and are gabled, have porches, and have clapboard or shake siding.
State Street, however, is not part of the historic Bigelow neighborhood boundary. It is considered to be a high density corridor by both the City of Olympia and the Thurston Regional Planning Council.

Businesses within view of the Tanasse property include Thurston First Bank, Frost and Company, East Olympia Healing Arts, and the Washington State Lottery. Two businesses, Muffler and Brake Service and the R.L. Ray Violin Shop are located directly across the street from Tanasse’s proposed mixed use home and business. Some of these businesses are in former homes converted to businesses.
The historic Bigelow neighborhood has an eclectic mix of businesses and residences, with a variety in the ages, sizes, and character of the buildings. The building next to the proposed business is about 100 years old, according to the project proposal submitted to the city by Tanasse. While residential in character, it has been transformed into a triplex. A building to the east is a former residence about 70 years old that is also now a business, Morgan James, PLLC Personal Injury Lawyers.

Both buildings are well maintained, but neither has landmark status or is of known significant importance. Some buildings on Olympia Avenue to the north are on historic registers or significant to the history of the Bigelow neighborhood. The closest historically recognized buildings are at Olympia and Pear and at Olympia and Quince Streets.

Olympia's Comprehensive Plan

Olympia's Comprehensive Plan expresses the community's vision and goals and sets policy direction for the next 20 years. An update to the current plan is in its final steps.

Tanasse believes he is talking the talk and, quite literally, Tanasse wants to walk the walk when it comes to the implementation of the current draft of the land use and urban design chapter of the city's plan.

The Plan states what Olympia values: “Olympians value neighborhoods with distinct identities; historic buildings and places; a walkable and comfortable downtown; increased urban green space; locally produced food; and public spaces for citizens in neighborhoods, downtown, and along our shorelines.”
It also states our vision for the future: “a walkable, vibrant city.”

In our conversation about accommodating the future growth of the community, protecting our environment, and increasing urban density to minimize suburban sprawl, Tanasse says these kinds of challenges are not unique to downtown Olympia.

“Our close neighbors in Portland’s Pearl District, Seattle’s Belltown, and Tacoma’s downtown have all met these challenges in similar ways and have effectively revitalized their urban areas....People moved in, not out. They work, reside, play, eat, entertain, bank, and shop within the city. Vancouver B.C. sets the standard in this regard. This is what makes for thriving cities and towns.”

“I care about the city….Putting my vision of the community’s Comprehensive Plan is the direction we need to be moving. I want a robust, thriving downtown. Any thriving municipality has to have high density, especially along busy corridors. I wanted to have a small lot and maximize the footprint intentionally. As a minimalist project, it’s a mixed use building. I want to be part of the solution….”

Tanasse, who grew up in Seattle and is one of nine children, has lived in the South Sound area for 46 years. Tanasse and his wife have three children aged 11, 13, and 18, all of whom anticipate living in the mixed use building along with his elderly parents.
“….The building will be eco-friendly, reduce our energy usage to a fraction of the current three separate locations that we now occupy. We will cut our family living area in half, and total roof area by three….I want to downsize now. And why wouldn’t I want an elevator in my house? I have disabled friends and my father has Parkinson’s and is in a wheelchair….I want to stay here until I crumble, but no one wants to live where their ideas or projects aren’t welcome. It’s hard to stick around, pull up your sleeves and do something….”

Neighbors Saw Red

Tanasse admits he jumped into the project underestimating the extent of the neighborhood backlash. He also expressed frustration with the City of Olympia’s development process.
“My first several trips to the city were about what I planned on doing. I had an idea of what I wanted to do and I was very clear about my square foot needs…I said, ‘Is this possible in this lot?’ I’m not a developer, but I carefully reviewed the codes myself and I was continually reassured that what I intended was possible….now, they want me to put gables on it. That means space that has intended use goes away.”

Under “New Construction-Infill Buildings” for historic buildings, guidelines state that new buildings should be compatible with adjacent buildings in terms of height, materials, set back, width, scale and proportions, and roof form.

While Tanasse’s original vision for the modern building would have it painted bright red, Tanasse has responded to the recommendations of the city’s Design Review board which governs standards.

Now, portions of the building on the east and west sides that bump out will have cedar siding, the same material as on the recessed front of the building. Each of these elevations will have a large portion that is cedar. The primary color of the flat panels will be "cool marine green" and the cedar siding will have a light "cape cod" finish.

“The project touches the intersection of commercial and residential. I get everyone’s frustration – I admire that they are passionate about their neighborhood and want to shape it as they see fit – that’s to be commended….It’s about a big difference in vision….” says Tanasse.

Above: Tanasse Chiropractic is currently at 1303 4th Avenue East, directly across the street from the offices of The Olympian newspaper, in a former home built in 1889. Upon purchase of the building 14 years ago, John Tanasse says his family invested in its restoration efforts including rot removal, jacking the south end up six inches, restoration and repair of the original fir floors which were covered by liquid nails and industrial carpet, and tilted up the original concrete retaining wall along 4th Avenue. The building is also sporting a fresh new paint job and garage roof rebuild.

An Appeal to Drop the Appeal
Tanasse’s open letter, titled An Appeal to Drop the Appeal, is below:

Dear Bigelow Neighborhood,
We are writing to reiterate the awkward position in which we find ourselves. From the outset of this project, we have been open with the City of Olympia Community Planning and Development, the governing body for construction and development within the City of Olympia, about our intentions, project scope, and design for this location to accomplish what we set out to create, to remain consistent with the city’s mission, and to avoid issues that would cause potential obstacles during the process. Because we are a family and a small business, and not developers, we counted on the city's process, perhaps naively, to help guide the way. Not once during the process were we told we would need to go through a Bigelow building application process, nor a Bigelow Neighborhood design review. We also were not informed that gables would be required for project approval. If that had been the case and we were able to understand the level of neighborhood disapproval we could have and would have chosen NOT to purchase the property nor initiate the process.  We would simply have chosen to move on.

Unfortunately, this was not the case, and we find ourselves heaps of resources into this, not wanting to be here, feeling trapped by the city, and held hostage by the neighborhood with no way out but to walk away with missed opportunity for all parties involved. We scratch our heads trying to understand how we got here, and why it is possible that a neighborhood could, and would hijack such a lengthy, painful, and costly process for a family, in the name of sameness on an avenue of divergent architectural character. We find difficulty identifying the relevance of this position at this critical juncture of civic need.
We never expected much of a welcome from an avenue scarce of permanent residents. We also didn't expect to be blasted by the residents to the north. We were disheartened by private and public attacks in neighborhood meetings, editorials, and letters to the city. We were again saddened by the neighborhood's decision to appeal our project despite our efforts to make meaningful design changes. This sadness was further deepened by an invitation to attend a neighborhood block party, with two fresh pies in hand, only to meet a frosty welcome by some and a table of Tanasse Legal Fund envelopes and paraphernalia. Clearly, welcome is not in the cards as we oddly find ourselves begging to move our family to State Avenue.

Mr. Elder stated at the first public meeting, “The Tanasses will do what’s best for the Tanasses.”  I can only respond to him and the entire neighborhood that moving to State Ave. isn't entirely self-serving. Ask our children who had no interest in leaving Holliday Hills. Ask our friends who think we’re nuts! It has taken thoughtful consideration and a fair amount of courage to consider moving our family to State Avenue given the current condition of downtown.  I ask Mr. Elder the same. “Given your action of appealing our project, are you acting in the best interest of this town? “ You also mentioned at the first meeting that the Bigelow Neighborhood was a little like Disneyland. You feel transported to a different place. As we recall, Disney’s motto is that it is the friendliest place on Earth. With the exception of few kind and supportive souls (thank you), this has eluded us in your neighborhood, as you confirmed this in conversation as identifying yourself and members of your neighborhood as being “prickly.” Do you feel this is an identity that must be upheld at the cost of good, healthy city development? Who does this serve?
By deciding to build on State, we felt we could accomplish goals individually and collectively. We wanted to create a more appropriate space for our family business not far away. We wanted to participate in a new direction of development for family, multi-generational, and multi-use living that seemed intelligent, efficient, cost effective, and important for municipal vitality, preservation of open spaces, and prevention of sprawl. We wished to use our creative, financial, and human resources to participate in improving Olympia by being a part of downtown in all of the ways that this implies. We have felt an ongoing responsibility to contribute to solutions of problems our community faces. Ironically, we find ourselves the problem of this community. We are sleepless and tired which we assume is a strategic goal shared by the legal team in the absence of substantive legal grounds for this action.

This has brought forth a whole host of additional questions we have for Bigelow Neighborhood residents. We hope you will consider them thoughtfully.
What are you afraid of? Why has this lot been vacant for so long? Why has it been for sale on many occasions for long periods of time?  Why, if you covet the character of your neighborhood would you not secure it to protect your interests? Are we not the first family who has been held hostage? Why do you feel all the houses in the area need to look the same? Given there is so much architectural variety and flat roofs within a stone’s throw, why is it our building you insist have gables? What is so wrong with a town whose vision is to develop along commercial corridors, especially along a road that sees 25,000 cars per day? Do you feel justified in obstructing any development that fails to meet your aesthetic taste and opinion when there are no legal encumbrances that provide provisions for doing so? If so, do you believe this to be good for this city, or, good only for this neighborhood? If our building was two stories with a gable roof, would it not be just as tall with wasted attic space, blocking views from the same sections of sidewalk? Do you feel you are entitled to views of the Capitol building through vacant lots and commercial corridors? Do you not care more about the character of your neighbor than their difference in taste? If you are so adamant about our building looking the same, are you as adamant that we are the same, politically, religiously, and ideologically?  Do you believe that someone more foolish than us will want to build a single family residence on 924 State Ave. when permitting, studies, design, engineering, and impact fees cost well over 100K before a single shovel breaks ground? If so, do you believe this person would want to spend the 100K to develop on 924 State Ave. with the constant barrage of graffiti, hypodermic needles, human feces, and vandalism (all of which we have endured at 1303 4th Ave.)? Do you believe they will want you to design it? Why do you have such an ax to grind with the city? Are you really going to use us as a wedge between the city and the 20 year comprehensive plan that intelligently has the health of the entire city in mind and is based on thousands of man hours of study, thoughtful consideration, debate, and success elsewhere? Did you really mean to hire legal counsel to dump enough mud on our project in the hopes of making us go away?  Do you really take pride in being “prickly”? Do you understand that there were no permanent residents of State Ave. present at any of the public meetings regarding this project? Do you recall that we are a family, with children, parents, and grandparents, like you? Do you recall, we are already fellow neighbors from three blocks away, choosing to become permanent residents on State Ave, in a time of dire city need for more residents willing to shop, eat, play, and help out? Did you know there is a heroin epidemic in this town?  Did you know that violent crime is up many fold in this town over the last ten years?  Are you really going to make us beg to move to State Avenue? Do you realize that we already feel a bit vulnerable?

We have admired and appreciated the Bigelow Neighborhood and all of the care that has gone into it by those who live there. We have wrongly assumed by the eclectic appearance of State Ave. that our activity would have minimal impact on Bigelow Neighborhood residents. We apologize the process, as it is, excludes early public input. We did consult Heritage Commission members regarding the historical significance of properties on either side, and did ask for guidance regarding our modern intentions. The response we received from multiple members was that one honored historical design and character.
MORE by building a distinctly modern structure than by constructing a new building that mimics historical design. 

We have heard you during the public meetings and we have attempted to make meaningful changes and concessions including color change, additional modulation, privacy railing and screening along the alley side, and additional cedar siding to soften the contrast. Clearly, we have divergent visions for OUR project, and perhaps for city direction. We would like to remind you, we rolled the dice after careful feasibility review and purchased the parcel, which sat for years. Therefore, we will ultimately decide its size, appearance, and spirit, within the code requirements and zoning allowed. We have sincerely considered your input in ways that would maintain minimum project demands.
As such, we are asking you to immediately stop harassing our family. We ask you also to stop bullying our project. And, we kindly request that you withdraw the appeal so that we can all move on and participate in more meaningful ways.

John and Tiffany Tanasse