Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chambers Prairie Grange Rezone Recommendation Passes Tumwater Planning Commission

Above:  Tom Schrader untangles the American flag on the historic former Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191 on the corner of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard in Tumwater on Saturday afternoon. 

By Janine Gates

“Everyone honks and wants to talk about the Grange! When I first put up the flag, I was coming down the ladder and didn't even get to the bottom rung. A guy who looked about 35 years old was standing there. He had stopped his car in the middle of the right lane, jumped out, had his hand out, and just said, ‘Thank you - I'm Chuck - really, thank you!’ I said thanks, and before I could say anything else, he was off to his car. Pretty cool….” said Tom Schrader, owner of the Chambers Prairie Grange.

Every day, tens of thousands of eyes are on the property at 1301 Yelm Highway SE. 

The Grange, built in 1910, sits on the somewhat confusing crossroads to and from the cities of Tumwater and Olympia.

Schrader is full of stories told by well-wishers who thank him for buying the property. Supporters often come in the form of visitors walking by, enthusiastic honking from drivers, happy shouts, and hand waving as he works on the property.

Saturday afternoon was no different. Cars honked in continuous, apparent appreciation
as Little Hollywood met Schrader at the property. 

The mossy covered roof is noticeably scraped clean and will soon be replaced with cedar shakes.

The inside is now cleaned out on both floors, the old heat systems and exposed ducts have been removed, new electrical service panels have been installed, a natural gas line and meter has been installed by Puget Sound Energy, remnants of a previously cut down old maple tree and brush have been removed, and architectural and engineering remodel plans have been completed and submitted to the city. 

Meetings with The Farm Homeowners Association, which is adjacent to the property, are ongoing.
Above: Electrical work by Lassen Electric and tree removal was underway in December 2015 at the Chambers Prairie Grange.

Schrader and his wife Tiffany purchased the building in October 2015 with the intention of restoring it and converting it into a neighborhood coffee and sandwich shop.

In order to make that vision happen, the parcel needs to be rezoned. The Tumwater Planning Commission held a public hearing at Tumwater City Hall on Tuesday evening, then passed a site specific rezone recommendation. The recommendation now goes to the Tumwater City Council.

Once in an agricultural area, the Grange is now surrounded by a tangle of different zoning categories.

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission pass the rezone from Single Family Low Density Residential to a category called Community Service, on the basis that the rezone was consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals.

The room was packed with those wishing to speak at the hearing, most of whom spoke in support of the rezone.

The board of the 95 lot subdivision called The Farm took a neutral position, saying that there is general agreement that it would be in the neighborhood’s best interest for the property to be improved and maintained.

Several residents spoke in opposition to the rezone on the basis of increased traffic, noise, and light concerns. Some did not understand or see the need for a rezone.

City staff said that the current zoning allows up to six single family lots on that parcel and the rezone is below the required threshold for a full traffic impact analysis.

Schrader addressed neighbor concerns in detail and offered to install traffic calming devices within The Farm. He is also open to negotiating specific deed restrictions for behaviors on the property.  He has already agreed to not be open past 10 p.m. on any day, and not past 9 p.m. on Sundays.

Schrader has been open about the fact that he intends to sell the property. It is currently listed for sale, with conditions, for $450,000. A prospective buyer must keep the Grange and work in cooperation with The Farm to keep it in community use. He says he is in conversation with several local businesses who have expressed interest in the property.

“We’re not in the bistro business, or in the historic preservation business….We wanted to keep the Grange, restore it historically, look around, and see that this was great that this was done. It’s going to be something you can be proud of ….It will be a neighborhood bistro. It won’t be a pool hall with fight nights,” Schrader told the planning commissioners at the hearing.

“The zoning change we are requesting is CS, Community Service, which would allow us to keep the Grange, but more importantly, limit how commercial the site could be developed. The CS zoning would actually protect against the property becoming a gas station, or 7-11 minimart, or a five story commercial building….businesses we don’t want at this site, and in this neighborhood,” said Schrader.

A Community Service zone allows at least 22 permitted uses, including general offices, educational institutions and services, a post office or parcel delivery facility, a museum, library, or art gallery, a child care center, an adult family home, a community garden or a farmers market.

Schrader and his wife are former residents of The Farm and Holiday Hills on Ward Lake and began speaking with neighbors at The Farm even before they purchased the property.

The Schrader's knew that a similar application was filed in 2012 by the Washington State Grange for the parcel to be rezoned to mixed use. That group did not speak with neighbors ahead of time, resulting in a poor relationship between the Grange and the neighbors.

“I want to win not for us, but for the Grange and the property…we’re deeply rooted to that corner,” said Schrader.

“…We are aware of possible unsafe traffic through a residential community. With our young kids, as with all parents, safety was always a concern for us…but remember, even without the rezone approval, the site will be developed, and traffic mitigation measures would still need to be reviewed….The new CS Community Service zoning helps keep the historic Grange, and for a use that the Tumwater community will enjoy for decades to come.”

The Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendation to rezone the Grange parcel.

Commission chair Deborah Reynolds called Schrader's offer to provide traffic calming devices in the subdivision generous.  

Commissioner Nancy Stevenson spoke in support of the rezone, citing the historic value of the Grange, and the unique sense of place it provides the neighborhood.

Commissioner Michael Althauser said he appreciated Schrader’s intentionality and due diligence in meeting with members of The Farm subdivision to address their concerns.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve slowly watched it decay over time. It will be a great community center and entrance to Tumwater,” he said.

“It’s the creation of a third place to gather. It would be primarily for people who live nearby. Each neighborhood should have a non-motorized (way to get to a) place to gather,” agreed Commissioner Joel Hansen.

Asked later about the Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard intersection, and whether a roundabout is in its future, Jay Eaton, City of Tumwater director of public works, said the intersection is currently operating at an acceptable level of service. 

“The projections out to 2040 show that, at some point, the intersection level of service will fall below desirable.  Improvements to the intersection could include expansion of the intersection to include a second westbound left turn on to Henderson Boulevard or it could include the construction of a roundabout.  Either option would likely provide an acceptable solution,” said Eaton.

Eaton said about 30,000 vehicles per day use the intersection. A little over 3,100 vehicles use the intersection in the afternoon peak hour. 

Indeed, the area is busy. Several pedestrians walked past the Grange property on their way to the Briggs YMCA and Kettle Park to walk their dogs.

Earlier this week, a woman driving by the property in a motorized wheelchair inquired what was going on with the property. After a thorough explanation by Little Hollywood, the woman said she was supportive of the project and would be first in line for a cup of coffee. 

Little Hollywood first reported in November 2015 that the Schrader's had bought the Grange. For photos and the story, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.

Above: A vintage songbook found in the Grange reminds us all to have fun. (Click on image to enlarge and sing along!)