Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Olympia Sea Level Rise Website Coming Soon

Above: When it comes to sea level rise, downtown Olympia is running out of time. Here, the waters of Budd Inlet reach the floorboards of the Olympia Yacht Club office at high tide the morning of March 10, 2016. Luckily, favorable weather conditions created a tide lower than expected, peaking at about 17.4 feet.

Sea Level Rise Language Clarified for Views on 5th Plans

By Janine Gates

In light of a possible redevelopment of downtown Olympia’s nine story Mistake on the Lake, also known as the Capitol Center Building or Views on 5th, Little Hollywood checked in earlier this week with City of Olympia's water resources director Andy Haub.

What progress has the Olympia City Council made about sea level rise issues since city staff dropped their sobering report about Olympia's vulnerabilities on the council last February?

The briefing by Haub and other staff last February was so frank, it caused one council member to throw into the conversation the consideration of abandoning downtown.

Council members have been updated on sea level rise issues informally since February, and adopted an ordinance on August 30 to raise finished floor elevations in downtown for new construction. 

Although the council’s Land Use and Environment committee hasn’t been updated on the topic since April, staff updated the city’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) on October 6. 

The UAC will be helping the city develop the scope of a sea level rise program plan. One goal will be to develop a formal community plan that prioritizes downtown investments. The city is working on establishing participation with the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and looking at the sea level action plans of San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C.

“We continue to make progress in 2016 and the plan is on schedule to begin in early 2017,” said Haub.

Haub also said that an interactive sea level rise webpage on the city website is scheduled to be up later this week. 

The link will be:

The webpage will include a map of downtown. Folks can select various levels of sea rise and see how it affects downtown, degree of inundation, buildings affected, street impacts, and so forth. It should be helpful,” said Haub.

Above: High tide at Percival Landing earlier this month, with the nine story Capitol Center Building, the proposed Views on 5th, in the background. 

Language Clarified for Views on 5th Plans

The community is in need of a sea level rise primer specific to Olympia. 

Recent verbiage used by staff in a meeting to describe how the proposed Views on 5th project must be raised to 16 feet, for example, caused confusion for readers of Little Hollywood.  Admittedly, Little Hollywood didn’t do a good job of explaining that the reference didn't mean 16 feet above the street, and added a note of clarification to the story.

Developer Ken Brogan showed city staff his preliminary plans to redevelop the nine story building and a nearby one story building at last Wednesday’s Site Plan Review Committee meeting. The one story building would be converted to a three story building. 

The elevation reference was in relation to mean sea level, and in the case of the vacant nine story building bordered by 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, and Simmons Street and Sylvester Street near the Heritage Park Fountain, the sidewalk is 12 feet above sea level. This means the project would need to accommodate a four foot sea level rise.

This analysis is in keeping with the city’s projection of about four to eight feet of sea level rise in downtown Olympia by 2100. 

“....The construction of the project must be designed so that the lowest occupied floor is raised to 16 feet elevation. Alternatively, the applicant can dry flood proof the exterior walls to ensure flood proofing is accomplished with barriers or panels that close entrances, should there be a flooding event, said Tim Smith, principal planner for the City of Olympia, in an email to Little Hollywood.

The 16 foot elevation is an incremental step toward preparing the city for sea level rise and adds one foot to the minimum finished floor elevation required by the current flood prevention ordinance for properties within Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mapped flood hazard areas. This would be two feet above FEMA’s coastal flood elevation, 14 feet, for downtown.

Parking is proposed under the new one story building, but not three stories. Smith says there is about a six foot differential shown on Brogan’s preliminary plans with regard to the lowest parking floor elevation.

“Staff believes it is very possible to design a foundation or other structure so that it is impermeable to water intrusion and the effects of buoyancy. The design for these considerations will be addressed and calculations performed by the soils and structural engineers based on the conditions and as these elements come together,” said Smith earlier this week.

“If water were to infiltrate or seep into the area, pumps could be used to remove the water. We see this often on a much smaller scale when we have a sump pump in a basement or subterranean garage with a hillside condition that may have a water infiltration issue.”

Above: The Oyster House restaurant prepared for the high tide on March 10, 2016 with a wooden barrier and a few sandbags.

Downtown Strategy

Many other downtown issues are ongoing through processes that have separate timelines and decision tracks.

Another city sponsored Downtown Strategy open house will be held on Saturday, October 29, from 10:00 a.m. to noon, at the Olympia Center at 222 Columbia Street NW in downtown Olympia.

The public can review proposed actions related to housing, transportation, business, and urban design. Staff will ask participants about their priorities for what should be the most immediate actions the city should take within the six year implementation period.

A final draft report will be released later this year, leading to its adoption by the city council by the end of 2016.

“As we mapped and evaluated the downtown land uses, we were struck by how much critical infrastructure and how many emergency transportation corridors are encompassed by our relatively small downtown. 

We all concluded that downtown needed to be protected in its entirety, or not at all. It’s all or nothing,” explains a descriptive flyer produced by the city for the Downtown Strategy process.

For more photos and information about the staff report to council in February, sea level rise, king tides, and flooding issues in downtown Olympia, Andy Haub, the Downtown Strategy, and more, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.

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

A full description of the Dowtown Strategy goals and process can be found at

Above: Ryan Kang, general manager of The Governor Hotel, speaks with his tablemates at a Downtown Strategy meeting for developers and businesses on April 28, 2016 in city council chambers. Other businesses at his table represented the Port of Olympia, Ron Thomas Architects, Big Rock Capital, Olympia Federal Savings, Petworks, Prime Locations, Rants Group, and Adroit Contractors.