Monday, March 21, 2016

Downtown Olympia Development, Views Survey Available

Above: This view of Mt. Rainier across downtown Olympia from the Fourth Avenue Bridge becomes obscured by the nine-story Capital Center Building as one travels into downtown. A new survey by the City of Olympia asks questions regarding downtown development, pedestrian improvements, types of preferred bicycle lanes, viewsheds, and more.

By Janine Gates

The City of Olympia is encouraging everyone in Thurston County to take a survey to help shape downtown Olympia.  As noted in a recent Little Hollywood story on March 14, part of the survey includes weighing in on downtown views to area landmarks.

The survey, part of the city’s ongoing Downtown Strategy planning efforts, is online at through March 27. The city says it takes about 15-20 minutes to complete.

City of Olympia city planner Amy Buckler says the city has heard “loud and clear” from a previous survey that the city must address parking, sea level rise and homelessness issues. 

Based on this survey and other plans, the city’s next steps in the Downtown Strategy will focus on design, view protection, historic preservation, business and development standards and incentives, and more specific strategies related to housing, retail and economic development.

It took Little Hollywood about 35 minutes to read through the survey questions, much less answer them. 

When asked about the nature of the questions, and their tendency toward the need for significant zoning and code changes, Buckler responded that the survey reflects what the city has heard in the public process so far, and include the input of their consultant’s recommendations.

“It is likely the city will update some development standards, and perhaps zoning, if needed, to align with the guiding framework of the Downtown Strategy. We are waiting for a guiding framework to be vetted through the…process of public engagement and analysis and discussion with city council on May 10 before scoping what updates might be needed. The guiding framework will drive any needed updates….”

Questions about viewsheds are included about mid-way through the survey, after questions about development scenarios, shared streets for pedestrian and intersection improvements, festival streets, types of bicycle lanes, and more.

Some questions are hard to argue with:

1. In the waterfront area, improve upon existing attractions to create a vibrant, attractive, family-friendly destination, with emphasis on the surrounding natural environment and many landmark views. Maintain vibrant and visible gathering places for public activity and events; increase waterfront recreation opportunities; and create inviting pedestrian connections to the historic shopping district, marinas, Farmers Market, Hands on Children’s Museum, LOTT Wet Center, and Capitol Campus.

On a scale of 1-5, with (1) being very important and (5) being not important, how important is this overall concept to you?

This question specifically involves the Northeast area neighborhood:

3. In the "Artisans/Tech" area, improve upon Port and LOTT activities and existing warehouses to create a mixed-use, artisan, culinary arts, and tech hub that includes affordable commercial space, housing (especially for artists), studio/workshop, gallery, live/work, and retail space. Encourage the reuse of industrial buildings and diverse, eclectic, energy- and water-efficient architecture. Ensure that visitors of all ages feel safe and comfortable arriving by bus, foot, bike, or car to participate in exciting education and recreation opportunities. Spur mixed-income residential development to support car-free lifestyles near the Transit Center. A more active atmosphere, redevelopment of blighted or underused sites, good design and continued clean and safe efforts by the City and other partners generate a feeling of safety in this area.

On a scale of 1-5, with (1) being very important and (5) being not important, how important is this overall concept to you?

Regarding the future of the Southeast area neighborhood, this question provides the only “not sure/don’t care” option in the questionnaire, among other options:

13. This area has significant potential for growth as a residential neighborhood. We have heard a range of preferences for the style of residential development in this area, sometimes a preference for tall residential buildings and other times for smaller scale residential development like townhouses, small lot homes, and low-rise multifamily buildings.  Assuming the same number of units are added in both scenarios described, check the circle that best represents your preference.

Above: Now it's gone - the view of Mt. Rainier becomes obscured by the nine story Capital Center Building as one travels into downtown Olympia.

Survey Questions about Views

The viewsheds for potential analysis have changed since the city’s March 3 Land Use and Environment meeting and now includes a new viewshed: City Hall to the Capitol Dome. The photo used to illustrate this view is from the sidewalk outside city hall on Cherry Street.

Two potential viewsheds were removed from the list: Marathon Park to Mt. Rainier, because it does not exist, and the effect of the 1063 Building, currently under construction, on the view of the Capitol Dome from downtown.

The survey uses computer generated illustrations of two viewsheds under consideration. City staff is in need of a photo from the navigation channel into Olympia on Budd Inlet, and a photo of downtown Olympia from the beach area of Priest Point Park. 

City staff provided Little Hollywood a map that indicates that the desired viewshed from the navigation channel is from the coordinates of 47 03.960 N and 122 54.509 W, which is roughly the center of the channel across from Swantown Marina.

Buckler confirmed that a photo of the viewshed from the East Bay pocket park to the Capitol Building featured in Little Hollywood’s March 14 article is one of ten proposed viewsheds slated for analysis. 

That view runs through Port of Olympia parcels 2 and 3 which are slated for development by local developer Walker John. Concept plans by architect Ron Thomas are not yet available to the public, Thomas said in an interview with Little Hollywood last month. If those parcels are developed as proposed, the public’s view of the Capitol Building from the park would be obscured.

If there are additional important viewsheds related to downtown that you think the city may have missed or if you have photos of your favorite views related to downtown that you want to share with the city, send them to

Submitted photos will become part of the public record and may be used for public engagement purposes, so the city asks that you indicate who should receive credit for the photo. Views must be from public observation points within downtown or looking through downtown to landmark views, such as Mt. Rainer, the Black Hills, Puget Sound, Olympic Mountains, Capitol Dome, says the city.

For more information, contact Amy Buckler, Senior Planner, City of Olympia, at (360) 570-5847 or