Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chambers Prairie Grange Faces Demolition

Above: With his back turned to the former Chambers Prairie Grange, owner Tom Schrader says the building on the corner of Henderson Boulevard and Yelm Highway in Tumwater will be demolished. Schrader is in negotiations with Starbucks to create a new 4,000 square foot building with a drive-thru on the property. 

Owner in Negotiations with Starbucks for Property Use
Site Plans Still Uncertain

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation

The 107 year old former Chambers Prairie Grange on the corner of Henderson Boulevard and Yelm Highway in Tumwater will be demolished, says building owner Tom Schrader.

Schrader’s decision to raze the beloved grange has caught many off guard, including City of Tumwater planning staff and the city council’s citizen advisory planning commission.

Members of the city council and the city’s historic preservation commission have not been formally informed of Schrader's new intentions for the building.

After weeks of hearing rumors, members of the city’s citizen advisory planning commission were the first to hear about the change in plans firsthand by Schrader during a public comment period at their March 14 meeting.

Their reaction, similar to that expressed by some city staff and others already familiar with the news, was one of confusion and disappointment, particularly since Schrader had wooed them all with his vision of saving the building and converting it into a neighborhood café and bistro.

The planning commission had recommended that Schrader receive a comprehensive plan rezone for the property from single-family, low-density residential to community service, which was approved by city council last October.

The prospect of tearing down the building is unthinkable for many Thurston County historic preservationists and community members who have generations of memories of the grange being used for community meetings, weddings, dances and other gatherings.

Schrader met with several local coffee businesses in the area to ascertain their interest in the property, but was unsuccessful in getting any of them to make a commitment.

At some point, Starbucks offered Schrader a contract on the property at 1301 Yelm Highway. 

Schrader gets upset at the suggestion that he obtained the rezone to increase the property’s value and says the contract is not a done deal.

“I met with Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters three times, Cutters Point Coffee twice, and everyone else at least once, so my effort has not wavered from that desire,” he told the city’s planning commission on March 14.

Schrader said he has also received offers from fast food restaurants such as Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Chick fil-A, corporations that have all expressed an interest in the corner for years.

“I could have gone with any of those, but I said no to all of them. Starbucks is a coffee shop that has an area where people can meet, with a social community area, and that was my intent for the grange anyways, wasn’t it?” said Schrader. 

He has expressed considerable frustration with the City of Tumwater and sought clarification on what he could do with the property. Schrader's plans call for the building to be demolished, the basement to be imploded and filled in, and trees to be removed.

Misunderstandings continue between Schrader and the City of Tumwater about the grange’s physical position on the property and the regulatory setbacks needed for sidewalks, landscaping and public works needs. 

Above: Tom Schrader met with City of Tumwater staff at an epic, two hour site review planning meeting on March 2 to discuss Schrader’s plans to demolish the grange and determine what he can and cannot do on the property. Developers and their representatives present staff with preliminary plans at these meetings and staff review regulations that may affect those plans. These type of meetings usually last 45 minutes to an hour.

Schrader specifically mentioned in a previous interview with Little Hollywood that he did not want a Starbucks, a Texaco gas station, a 7-11, nor a Burger King.

“….I want something the neighborhood wants,” he said in an interview with Little Hollywood in November 2015.

Schrader is currently in negotiations with The Farm Homeowners Association to purchase property adjacent to the grange property, which he says would allow for a safer, better project. 

Since he purchased the property in 2015, Schrader has worked with neighbors and residents of The Farm to appease their concerns regarding potential traffic and noise.

When asked by Little Hollywood if the city or a private entity could purchase the building and save it, Schrader bristled and asserted that the building cannot stay where it is. 

Schrader said he doesn’t want to hear any “bleeding heart stories” about the loss of the grange.

“I'm really not feeling too bad about whatever I do with the old grange because nobody gives a damn! Where was everyone who cared when I needed them? I have over $15,000 invested in architectural plans - remodel plans already submitted to the city - a gas meter, electrical engineering, new electrical meters, and I bought new cedar roofing.

“The building is in City of Tumwater right of way and they will not let me remodel or keep the building where it currently is - if I move the building, I will lose the basement, and the building won't survive the move,” Schrader said angrily.

“I've had building movers and general contractors do inspections on the structure, and they will not guarantee the building would survive a move. In fact, they wouldn't touch it unless I signed a waiver saying if the building imploded or fell over, I wouldn't file a claim against them.”

Although the outside looks intact, Schrader has a carpenter inside the former grange, salvaging part of the floor, which he says is not the original fir flooring. A maple floor was put over the old fir floor, maybe in the 1960-70's.

Schrader says he is keeping a lot of the old grange materials and is working with Starbucks on a possible design.

During a March tour of the grange, Schrader said that the new building will look like a grange, and wants it to be positioned lengthwise along Yelm Highway, using the grange’s exterior wood paneling.

Inside, several new water leaks were seen dripping from roof to floor.

Schrader, who says he doesn’t like to visit the property anymore, or even call it the grange because the situation is so depressing, rushed to find containers to catch the drips.

Schrader asked Little Hollywood to not take any interior photos.

Above: On what was a forested lot last yearthe new Starbucks and its drive-thru located on Cooper Point Road in Olympia is now surrounded by impervious surface. This Starbucks design is similar in size of what could be accommodated on Schrader’s property in Tumwater. Schrader has presented several architectural designs to Tumwater city staff and the parties have wrangled over setbacks and access to the site. 

Property Use Disputes

According to Schrader, the City of Tumwater is making him move the building in 10 to 20 years, because it is three to eight feet within the city's right of way.

The city has future intentions of adding another left turn at the intersection of Henderson and Yelm Highway.

“The city won't give me a break on reducing the setbacks. Any new building will be at least 20 feet from the sidewalk, which puts the building in the middle of the lot, so you don't have room for parking and the storm pond,” said Schrader.

The city says, yes, the building is in its right of way, but they were making regulatory exceptions, and working with Schrader to allow the building to stay in its current location.

When Schrader took city staff off guard by unexpectedly presenting them with preliminary plans to demolish the grange and replace it with a new 4,000 square foot building and parking lot, the project became a typical new development that must adhere to current setback and other development regulations.

The proposed Starbucks will have a drive-thru, which was just one major sticking point at a March 2 meeting between Schrader and the City of Tumwater development review committee.

Several city staff members met with Schrader for a two hour meeting to examine Schrader’s latest architectural drawings and design requests. 

Staff’s confusion on how Schrader got from Point A, saving the grange, to Point B, demolishing the grange, was palatable, with at least one staff member blatantly saying that he wanted the grange to be saved.

Schrader says a drive-thru is a mandatory feature for Starbucks and says the corporation is willing to wait for as long as it takes to get through the land use and design process.

“I need the city to help me design a project that’s good for Tumwater,” said Schrader.

City of Tumwater Perspective

The City of Tumwater has a different perspective on the whole matter but believes Schrader was sincere in his desire to save the building during the comprehensive plan and rezone request process last year.

“Tumwater has always been and continues to be supportive of retaining the grange building if possible. That being said, there is no city requirement prohibiting demolition of the building. That is a decision for the property owner,” said Michael Matlock, community development director for the City of Tumwater, in an email to Little Hollywood last month.

“….Retaining the grange building was much discussed during the comprehensive plan and rezone request process and I believe all parties have a strong interest and desire to see that happen. 

“The city did not require him to demolish it. A portion of the structure is in the city right of way. Initially, we told Tom he would need to remove that portion from the right of way. We negotiated that point and subsequently allowed that portion to stay in the right of way. Tom told me that he had some further structural analysis done and it was just not possible to retain the building,” said Matlock.

Asked about the drive-thru element, Matlock says a drive-thru is allowed under the current zoning, but would be subject to stringent design guidelines regarding placement and screening. It will not be allowed between the building and the sidewalk.

“This is a challenging site to develop because of its size and location. While we have had many discussions with Tom, we have not yet begun the site plan review process to work through these issues,” said Matlock.

City staff say that the new Starbucks, which includes a drive-thru, on Cooper Point Road near Haggen’s grocery store is very similar in size to the preliminary plans they have discussed with Schrader.

Grange Building History

Located on the former Route #2 in Thurston County, the Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191 was built in 1910 on land donated by the Wickie Family. 

The grange served as a vital community center for the area's farmers and their agricultural, social, educational and political activities. 

The wooden, one-story, 5,668 square foot building sits on .91 acres and is remarkably sound, despite its age. It has been untouched by vandals and still features the original wavy glass windows. The basement still contains long wooden tables suitable for dining and entertaining.

The building is not listed on any historic register. 

It sat vacant for years, but continued to be owned by the Washington State Grange until Schrader and his wife Tiffany bought it in late 2015. 

Since then, Tom Schrader has worked to clear the grange property of blackberry brambles and brush, scraped moss off the roof, hauled away old appliances, and provided electricity and natural gas to the building.

The rezone to community service last October allowed 22 permitted uses but limited commercial development of the property.  

The area has built up around the grange.

Northwest of the grange is the Briggs YWCA and the 137-acre Briggs Village. 

Northeast of the grange was once the Briggs Nursery. It is now Briggs East Village and a 200-unit development for active senior adults called Silver Leaf.

East of the grange is the Tsuki Nursery, which is on the market, listed and represented by Schrader, a commercial real estate agent for ReMax/Parkside.

That latter property is currently in Thurston County with Olympia Urban Growth Area jurisdiction zoned residential 4 – 8.

Jay Eaton, director of public works for the City of Tumwater, said in a past interview that the Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard 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,” he said.

About 30,000 vehicles per day currently use the intersection.

Above: With a simplified, hand drawn sketch, Tom Schrader shows his vision for the future site of the grange property. He says he will use portions of the grange's exterior wood paneling for the outside of a new building. Pending the possible sale of an adjacent piece of property to Schrader, siting logistics and details for the new development is still uncertain. 

Editor’s NoteThis story chronicles just a small part of a local land use project's complicated journey from idea to reality. Since late 2015, Little Hollywood has published three stories about Tom Schrader's ideas for the former Chambers Prairie Grange site. 

Little Hollywood spent three months investigating the update for this story, meeting and checking in with Schrader on multiple occasions, attending meetings, and communicating with city staff. 

The story is not over, but it would appear that the possibility of saving the building's structural and spiritual integrity, is now lost.

For more photos, information and previous Little Hollywood articles about the Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191, Tom Schrader, the City of Tumwater rezone of the property, and current and projected traffic levels at the intersection, go to Little Hollywood’s stories: