Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Approved: Mistake on the Lake Redevelopment

Above: The 100 foot, nine-story Mistake on the Lake obscures the stunning Olympic Mountain range, as seen from the Washington State Capitol Campus in January. Adding two 35 foot buildings to the scene, a City of Olympia hearing examiner approved a redevelopment proposal for the building. A public hearing on the project was held January 9 and lasted nearly six hours.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“The Capitol Center Building is unattractive and its location is truly unfortunate. In a perfect world it never would have been constructed, and it could not be constructed today....Although I share in the popular dislike for this building I am left with no alternative but to grant it the same protection given to every other nonconforming building,” wrote City of Olympia hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir. 

Scheibmeir’s decision, dated February 2, approved a controversial, proposed mixed-use redevelopment for the building by developer Ken Brogan.

Although the application could have been handled by the city, the nine-story building on the isthmus in downtown Olympia is so controversial that the city deferred to a hearing examiner to determine whether the proposed project is a permitted use within the urban waterfront-housing zone and complies with all city codes. 

Approval for the proposed housing and commercial project, Views on Fifth, is subject to some routine conditions.

In a previous case upon which Scheibmeir based some of his decisions, another city hearing examiner, Tom Bjorgen, called the building an errant thumb on the landscape. 

A nearly six hour hearing about the proposed project was held January 9 at The Olympia Center with over 200 community members in attendance.

Refusing to allow this project to go forward in the absence of any conflict with the Comprehensive Plan or noncompliance with development regulations, just to encourage the removal of the building, would constitute a taking. This would impose a significant, involuntary burden on the city – a burden it has declined to voluntarily take,” wrote Scheibmeir.

In June, 2017, representatives for Views on Fifth submitted an application to change the proposed use of the existing Capitol Center Building from an earlier proposed hotel to a multi-family residential development, and to develop the rest of the project site into a mixed use commercial residential project called “Views on Fifth.”

The city made a State Environmental Policy Act determination of non-significance for the project in early December, 2017, which was appealed by attorney Allen Miller, on behalf of several clients, that same month. That appeal was denied by the hearing examiner on January 25.

Above: David Nicandri signs in to testify at the proposed Views on Fifth land use public hearing held January 9 at The Olympia Center in downtown Olympia. Nicandri testified in favor of the redevelopment.

Numerous individuals and representatives of organizations testified against and in support of the redevelopment of the Capitol Center Building. 

Supporters said the project contributes to sustainability, economic revitalization in downtown, and long-term Growth Management Act goals.

Todd Cutts, executive director for the Olympia Downtown Association, said his board endorsed the project, saying more foot traffic is needed downtown. 

Joanna West, chair of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, which also endorsed the project, called it a “unique moment for Olympia.”

David Nicandri challenged testimony about the original Wilder and White and Olmsted concept plans and spoke to the environmental challenges of demolishing the building.

Nicandri spent 25 years leading the Washington State Historical Society, was the founding president of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and currently sits on the City of Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission.

In the late 1970s, he incorporated Citizens to Save the Thurston County Courthouse, resulting in an effort that successfully sued the state of Washington to preserve the building on Capitol Way. 

“In that case, you had another building…so incongruous, so ugly, so poorly designed in comparison to the state capitol group that it did not deserve to remain on the landscape. It was intended to be demolished because it would obscure views of the capital from the east campus, what eventually became the state Department of Natural Resources building. Of course, in the greatest irony, at present the state office of archaeology and historic preservation is housed in that building.”

Scheibmeir stated that the proposed redevelopment meets all codes, even to scenic views.

“It might be argued that the two additional buildings, the Southwest Building and the Northwest Building, impair existing scenic views, but the view analysis provided by the applicant…adequately demonstrates that the views toward Capitol Lake and the Capitol from 4th Avenue are not worsened by these additional buildings,” wrote Scheibmeir in his decision.

Above: A screenshot of the proposed Views on Fifth and two additional 35 foot buildings as seen from the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Simmons Street. 

For more photos and information about Views on Fifth, or the Views on 5th, Mistake on the Lake, Capitol Center Building, owner Ken Brogan, downtown Olympia, sea level rise, flood events, King Tides, the proposed hotel, or the isthmus, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and type key words into the search button.