Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Momentum Builds To Bring "Three Cups of Tea" Author To Olympia: High School Group Reaches First Half of Fundraising Goal

Above: Greg Mortenson meets children and signs books after a speaking engagement at Seattle Pacific University on December 15, 2009.

By Janine Gates

The Olympia High School student Rotary club, Interact, successfully reached the first part of its goal to raise $12,500 by December 28 to bring “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson to Olympia. (See related story dated December 14 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.)

The high school group needs to raise another $12,500 by April 13. Mortenson is scheduled to appear in Olympia on May 13. Mortenson’s honorarium goes towards his non-profit, Central Asia Institute, to build schools, primarily for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A total of $12,515.00 came through by the December 28 deadline, according to Norma Schuiteman, Executive Director of The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound.

Donations for Mortenson are being accepted by The Community Foundation, a local non-profit organization. To make a donation towards Mortenson’s honorarium, checks can be made out to: "The Community Foundation," and mailed to: The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, 111 Market St NE, Suite 375, Olympia, WA 98501. Be sure to write “Greg Mortenson Project” in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

Kaycee Keegan, 18, is excited to achieve this first hurdle. Keegan originated the idea of bringing Mortenson to Olympia for her senior project and has been speaking in front of several South Sound area Rotary clubs and other organizations to raise thousands of dollars toward the honorarium.

Keegan, who is in Virginia for the holidays, said in a phone interview, "I'm really, really excited about it because now we can move on and we know we can get him....We did get a big donation - $2,000 - from a doctor's medical group and that really helped us, but we also got lots of $20 - $25 donations that really helped too. We still need people to help. We hope to get some corporate sponsors - a few companies have expressed interest and I'm going to go visit them in the next few weeks."

Above: Kaycee Keegan, Olympia High School Interact student group co-coordinator, briefs the Interact club on her speaking engagements with several Rotary clubs to raise money to bring author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May.

Sean Padget, president of the downtown Rotary Club, echoed Keegan's comments. "I'm pretty excited about it. I've read his first book ("Three Cups of Tea") and I'm working on his latest one. There's lots of angles to this, but it's a great story that really teaches young people about the power of one and the value of community service." Mortenson's publishing company required that an adult be the official event coordinator for Mortenson's visit, and Padget is fulfilling that role.

At a recent Interact student group meeting held just prior to the holiday break, Olympia High School principal Matt Grant suggested to students, “We have to start organizing as fast as we can...we need separate committees, such as food, publicity and entertainment....There’s a lot of room for creativity and leadership.”

Teasha Feldman, Interact group co-coordinator, said she will work on the international dinner, which will serve as a fundraiser for Mortenson’s children's program, Pennies for Peace. Pennies for Peace encourages elementary and high school students to spend time with their elders and introduces children to philanthropy.

Ticket and event location details for Mortenson's appearance in Olympia will be forthcoming.

Mortenson Speaks in Seattle

Above: In his new book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mortenson describes how his daughter, Amira, 13, discovered there were no playgrounds at any of the schools he had built. Playgrounds are now required at every school. When Taliban leaders saw this playground at one of his schools, Mortenson says they ran over to swing on the swings, and Mortenson was successful in gaining their cooperation in the area. "They had no chance to play as children....We don't need troops, we just need playgrounds," Mortenson said.

Author Greg Mortenson spoke in Seattle on December 15, packing Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Broughton Hall with 2,000 people. Recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson was greeted with a standing ovation. Gracious and humorous, Mortenson told the audience many stories while giving a slideshow of his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and described his recent interactions with current U.S. military leadership.

Mortenson began by saying that he is not a political person but expressed concern with President Obama's current strategy in Afghanistan. "You can't run a democracy in secrecy...and we didn't consult the elders there...they are the real integrity of the country. The country itself is quite fragile and corrupt. We have to consult the elders, and our military (leadership) is ahead of our state department right now."

Mortenson, an Army veteran, says he is impressed that military leaders such as General David Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have "listened and taken notes," and have each visited Afghanistan over three dozen times in the last three months. On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden have each visited the country once, for a few hours, Mortenson said.

Mortenson's humanitarian efforts not only include the building of schools, but has recently expanded to include a midwife training program in Pakistan's Charpursan Valley, near the Afghan border. Twelve women are in the program. Afghanistan has the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world, and Pakistan the 32nd highest. In Pakistan, 297 of every 100,000 women die giving birth. In Afghanistan, the maternal mortality rate is 1,600 for every 100,000 live births.

Mortenson admitted that he does not like public speaking, but realizes that people want to see him. After his presentation, Mortenson met with all the children who wanted to meet with him for book signings, before meeting with adults. Mortenson said it is his interactions with children that gives him the most energy and hope for the future.

Describing his initial efforts to raise money to build his first school, Mortenson said, "it wasn't adults, it wasn't celebrities, it was children who would raise 62,000 pennies," that gave him his start. Mortenson related several stories of specific children who have begun organizations that make a difference in the world.

Mortenson said he is often asked why he focuses on building schools primarily for girls. "There is an African proverb I learned as a child in Tanzania, 'If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate a community.' We have a goal to educate a girl to at least a fifth grade level to reduce infant mortality, reduce a population explosion, and improve the basic qualities of health and life itself." Just under half of the population in Pakistan and Afghanistan is under the age of 15.

Mortenson says girls are more likely to teach their mothers to read. Mothers, also, are usually asked by their sons for their blessing to participate in a jihad, "and educated women do not give it."

According to UNICEF, thousands of schools have been destroyed or shut down by the Taliban or other groups in Afghanistan and an additional 850 schools in Pakistan. Only one Central Asia Institute school has been attacked by the Taliban, and that was two years ago in Afghanistan. The girls were back in school within two days.

Above: Greg Mortenson in Seattle December 15.

For more information on efforts to bring Mortenson to Olympia, contact Kaycee Keegan at mortenson.project@gmail.com.

For more information about Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, go to www.ikat.org.

For more information about Pennies for Peace, go to www.penniesforpeace.org.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Design Review Board "Tables" Triway's Larida Passage Plan

Above: Design Review Board members Goularte, Laclergue, Findley, and Daniels at last week's meeting on December 10 in the Olympia city council chambers.

By Janine Gates

By a vote of 5 - 2, the city Design Review Board tonight decided to table the context plan for Triway Enterprises’ proposed Larida Passage project. Board chair Thomas Carver and board member Spencer Daniels voted no. Two board members, Katie Cox and Robert Findley, were not present. The meeting lasted about two and a half hours.

Asked to comment on the evening's decision, a tired city senior planner Cari Hornbein said, “I am unclear as to what we do with this decision,” as she was putting away the evening’s technical equipment at 9:30 p.m.

Board member Jane Laclergue read a prepared statement and made the motion to table the context plan and ask Triway Enterprises to come back with a new one. Triway staff members Jeanette Hawkins and Gail Merth made comments to the board throughout the evening that they would be unable or unwilling to make any changes to the building’s massive size, which was a major source of discussion tonight.

Jeanette Hawkins, Larida Passage project manager, was perfectly clear about what tonight's vote meant. Asked for her opinion, Hawkins said, “She (Laclergue) was trying to stop the project…it was confusing, but our project is moving forward."

Hawkins and Gail Merth, BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises, were given ample time to address the board’s concerns and questions and provide new materials to the board such as view scenes from various angles.

Above: New materials presented to board members at tonight's Design Review board meeting includes Larida Passage views from Triway's perspective. These view scenes, also included views looking south from Rotary Point on West Bay Drive and from the 400 block of Sherman towards Heritage Park.

Carver hoped to deal with the context plan, the preliminary building design and the landscape design as three separate components of the project. Although Carver outlined at the beginning of the meeting what the board was going to do, “wrap it up with three motions and recommendations,” the board expressed confusion on their role and responsibilities and reviewed code language from the beginning of the meeting to the end.

The context design discussion started with board member David Goularte setting the tone for the evening's deliberations: “…I feel like I’ve been baited and switched. At first I was thinking, ‘Here’s an interesting design for the isthmus’…but now they don’t match…what am I supposed to comment on?

Board member Spencer Daniels agreed. “I keep seeing the schematics and the pictures and I’m concerned about what governs what…

Jane Laclergue, who has served on the Design Review Board for 15 years, said she has reviewed about 100 cases, and read a prepared statement saying that she feels "the board is being put in a position of huge conflict between the city’s code for design review and the land use code for this project.” She said she could not vote for a project “that is only in context with a building which so many people want removed.”

Laclergue read Design Review OMC 18.76.010, which states that the board’s purpose is “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community; to preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historic significance.” The code also says that the board is to “consider applicants’ needs and goals and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

Laclergue also read Design Review OMC 18.110.060 which discusses view preservation. “All development must reserve a reasonable portion of such territorial and immediate views for significant numbers of people from public rights-of-way.”

Laclergue said that the words, “significant numbers of people,” meant, to her, those at the Capitol Campus and those arriving by boat, “not those finding their way to a viewing tower obscured on two sides by Building B. When I saw the picture of what Building B (the 90 foot building) would do to the view of the Capitol Dome from Budd Bay, I knew there would need to be changes to the building’s shape before I could vote for it.”

The subject of view angles was discussed at length. Daniels said, "Whatever we do has to be justified within the code - to deny this project, we have to find specific language in the code to do that. Regarding view preservation, staff looked over this matter and we were told they were considered...."

Carver said he agreed with Daniels. "...I've had the worst time of where to go with this. I could not find a reason to deny (the applicant) based on view...."

Boardmember Thomas Muller said, "...It's a great building, it has everything the city needs design-wise but although it meets the specifications...this project would so negatively impact views and does not fit in this space. Move it downtown. It has everything we need, just not here."

Daniels countered, "Then why did we approve Union Heights, which is taller than anything around it?"

Laclergue said, "(Because) there will be other buildings around it. This one won't."

Several members commented that they drove around the city to study various view points. Board member Goularte said "This is a very unique view....in fact, I was driving around up to the Eastside, seeing the impact of Larida Passage, so I'm having a really, really, really hard time with this...."

Triway Enterprises' staff were invited to address board concerns. Hawkins stood up and asked if they read the email she had sent board members. Seemingly irked that several board members did not appear to know what email she was referring to, Hawkins took a deep breath and gave a lengthy, pointed presentation about views, saying, "The views of Larida Passage are complicated, I'm not going to deny that...In our view study, we do not impact any residential views, but we do impact views from the Temple of Justice...we do not impair the Olympics at all...."

Muller said, "I purposely drove to Heritage Park and Marathon Park...I absolutely wouldn't see them (the Olympics)...it affects the views from everywhere...."

Above: Stunning Olympics as seen from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in Spring.

Cari Hornbein, city senior planner, said she printed out the scenic vistas map and reviewed the checklist for view preservation from public rights of way. "...It all gets mixed together...it seems like there's so many moving pieces...I appreciate the predicament you're in...."

Board member Dwight Hollar asked Hornbein if there are any public rights-of way views from the Capitol from a historical perspective that will kick in if they approve the plan. "I hate to say this, but no...that is not in our purview...." said Hornbein.

During a meeting recess, Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, said, "This is huge. This is the first time an official agency has sides with the people instead of with the developer. What also became apparent is that the city has no ability or interest in protecting views from the Capitol."

Resuming the meeting after they voted to table the context plan and have the applicant come back with a new context plan, some board members could not see how they could move forward with voting on the preliminary building design and landscape design.

For a full hour, Carver pursued the point of moving forward with the remaining issues. Finally, Carver made a motion to approve the preliminary building design, with the modification of the roof lines on both buildings and provide the board with more details of the mechanical equipment screening on the rooftop. The motion passed 4 - 3 with Muller, Hollar and Laclergue voting no.

Then, Carver asked for a motion to approve the landscape plan. The motion passed 5 - 2 with Muller and Laclergue voting no. Confusion ensued on when the context plan for Larida Passage would come back to the board. It remained unclear.

After the meeting, some audience members questioned, amongst themselves, the evening's process.

"Why did the applicant get a chance for rebuttal tonight? There's obviously been new material submitted by the applicant - new material that the Design Review Board has had to digest, and there's no chance for more public comment...." said community member Susan Ahlschwede.

According to Hornbein, the next steps for the Larida Passage project is for the site plan review committee, made up of city staff, to review the project for development regulations, engineering standards, Shoreline Master Plan regulations, and the Urban Waterfront plan for views, and prepare written comments on all those pieces to give to the applicant to respond.

"Typically, there’s one round of revisions, then we review the plans, create a staff report, do a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, and it goes to the hearings examiner who will make a decision. This will all take several months.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Olympia High School Student Group Works To Bring "Three Cups of Tea" Author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May: They Need $12,500 by December 28

Above: Interact student group coordinators Kaycee Keegan, left, and Teasha Feldman sit on either side of Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant.

By Janine Gates

Olympia High School’s Junior Rotary club, Interact, is working to bring “Three Cups of Tea” co-author Greg Mortenson to Olympia on May 13, say student group organizers Teasha Feldman and Kaycee Keegan. Logistics for Mortenson's arrival to Olympia is still being worked out, but it is expected to include a major public speaking opportunity and an international dinner.

"Three Cups of Tea" is now required reading for all officers enrolled in counterinsurgency courses at the Pentagon. Mortenson's new book, released December 1, is called, “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

According to Mortenson's publisher, “Stones into Schools” picks up where “Three Cups of Tea” left off in 2003. Mortenson recounts his ongoing efforts to establish schools for girls in Afghanistan; his extensive work in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan after a massive earthquake hit the region in 2005; and the unique ways he has built relationships with Islamic clerics, militia commanders, and tribal leaders even as he was dodging shootouts with feuding Afghan warlords and surviving an eight-day armed abduction by the Taliban.

Mortenson receives about 2200 speaking requests per year and his honorarium is $25,000. The honorarium goes towards Mortenson’s non-profit foundation, Central Asia Institute, to build schools, primarily for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mortenson's organization has established more than 130 schools, serving 58,000 students. In his new book, Mortenson says that, "$20 is enough to educate a first grader for an entire year, $340 can send a girl to four years of high school and $50,000 can build and outfit an eight room schoolhouse and endow the teacher's salaries for the first five years."

The student group has raised $5,700 so far, much of it pledged by four local Rotary Clubs and several local banks. Keegan says they just found out that they need a total of $12,500 by December 28. The other half of Mortenson's honorarium, $12,500 is due by April 13.

The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, a 501(c)3, has stepped forward to be a fiscal co-sponsor for the event. Checks can be made out to "The Community Foundation," and mailed to: The Community Foundation, 111 Market St. NE, Suite 375, Olympia, Washington 98501. Be sure to write "Greg Mortenson Project" in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

"I think it's going to be a great event. This is an ideal community for Mortenson to reach to - he appeals to a very diverse audience," says Community Foundation program coordinator Anne Kirske.

According to Keegan, the first half of Mortenson's honorarium must arrive in New York by December 31st. For more information on how to contribute towards Mortenson's honorarium, the public can email Keegan at mortenson.project@gmail.com.

Above: Last week, Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant met with the student group, Interact, which is hoping to bring "Three Cups of Tea" co-author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May.

Student Kaycee Keegan, 18, was inspired by reading "Three Cups of Tea," and contacted Mortenson last June to see if it was possible for him to come to Olympia. For her senior project, Keegan says, “I wanted to do something that really mattered.” Mortenson recently confirmed his availability to come to Olympia.

"I thought it was a long shot to even get him. I wanted to promote service in our community - he gave us his whole life and I hope it will inspire us to do more in our own community. Every little thing helps. It will educate us, and build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Keegan said in a recent Interact student group planning meeting.

The Interact student group meeting gathered 12 students and various group advisers last week, including Matt Grant, principal of Olympia High School and Martin Meyer, Rotary Club liaison. Meyer says the Rotary service club seeks the “bring youth ages 14 - 18 together in an organized fashion to promote leadership, awareness of international and local issues and have fun along the way.” This is the club’s fourth year of working with the Rotary.

The Interact group is involved with many projects. Last year, the group held an international dinner for the Malawi Clean Water Project and raised about $2,000 for the project.

Mortenson will be speaking at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. The free event is open to be public. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. to the first 2,000 people.

Above: Two Cups of Tea in Turkey: "The first cup of tea you share with us, you are a stranger. The second cup, you are a friend. But with the third cup, you become family...." - Balti Saying.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"All We Want For Christmas is...A Health Care Bill!"

Above: Olympia physican Stephen Albrecht speaks at a health care rally in Sylvester Park in Olympia today.

by Janine Gates

A few dozen health care reform activists met downtown today in Sylvester Park at a rally that urged passage of a health care bill before Christmas.

"The Patient Protection and Affordable Act is, to a great extent supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians," said local physician Stephen Albrecht of Olympia Family Medicine. "We are long overdue for this and we want Santa Murray, Santa Cantwell, Santa Reid and others to know we want it for Christmas! So that's the doctor's prescription - you need to call Murray and Cantwell....Let's wrap it up before Christmas!" yelled Albrecht. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Senator Reid's health care bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "is fully paid for, will provide coverage to more than 94 percent of Americans while costing some $894 billion over ten years and reduce the deficit over the next ten years."

Representatives from labor, senior, women's health care, and other organizations also participated at the rally, sponsored in part by Health Care for America Now! Olympia's rally was one of nine occurring today in Washington.

Holiday cards were made available to participants to write to Washington senators Murray and Cantwell, and congressional representatives Adam Smith and Brian Baird, to urge their support of current health care legislation.

Above: Trying to keep warm, Debby Pattin accepts food bank donations and hands out health care related information at the rally today in Olympia.

For more information and daily updates on the current national health care legislation, go to: www.healthcareforamericanow.org

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Design Review Board Hears Larida Passage Application - Board Continues Meeting To December 17th

Above: Sunrise over Mount Rainier from the Fourth Avenue Bridge in Olympia yesterday morning. When asked by Design Review Board member Daniels about specific view corridors, city senior planner Cari Hornbein said that the view corridors of Budd Inlet, Capitol Lake, the Olympics, and the Capitol Dome were studied. She did not mention that any view of Mt. Rainier was studied. This is the precisely the view that would be obstructed by Triway Enterprises' proposed Larida Passage development on the isthmus as you come down Harrison Hill and cross the Fourth Avenue bridge. Click on picture to enlarge.

By Janine Gates

After receiving two and a half hours of information and testimony, the city's citizen advisory committee charged with reviewing the design of Triway Enterprises’ Larida Passage project decided to continue tonight’s meeting to Thursday, December 17th.

City senior planner Cari Hornbein gave an overview of the project with staff recommendations, the applicant gave its presentation, represented by project manager Jeannette Hawkins and three others, and an overflow gathering of concerned citizens gave testimony until 9:00 p.m. Seventeen members of the public gave testimony against the project design. Two approved of the project: former city councilmembers Holly Gadbaw and Joan Machlis.

“Normally, we get zero members of the public….” started Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver, looking out at the crowd. The nine member board had two absent members.

The Design Review Board was established by City ordinance (OMC Chapter 18.76) to apply design review requirements and guidelines in the review of public and private projects throughout the City and the Olympia urban growth area.

Most board members were actively engaged in the discussion. When landscape architect Alan McWain described the living “green wall” which is proposed to be featured down the full length of the 90 foot building, he mentioned that he had designed one in Tacoma. Board member Robert Findlay asked, to chuckles heard throughout the audience, “Have you seen what it looks like (now) in 6 degree weather?” McWain admitted he has not seen it.

Board member Spencer Daniels asked for confirmation that the only public viewing site is from a viewing platform on the 35 foot office building and said that the 35 foot building looked separate from the other and very plain. He expressed concern about the tunnel-like view corridor between the two buildings. The space between the two buildings is 40 feet.

Two other board members noted the discrepancy in scale between the two buildings. Gail Merth, a BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises for the project, said, “Well, we would love to do 90 feet on both buildings…we are maximizing what we are allowed to do at this point….in my mind, the building are siblings, but not twins….”

Above: Gail Merth, BCRA Architect hired by Triway Enterprises, explains the Larida Passage project to the city's Design Review Board tonight.

As part of their presentation, Triway Enterprises showed a three dimensional aerial view “movie," of Larida Passage’s conceptual design of the buildings. The computer simulation, which did not show any context to Olympia, the isthmus, Capitol Lake, Budd Inlet, the Olympics, or Mt. Rainier, seemed to go over like a lead balloon for board members and the audience.

Finally, after Merth's presentation, board member Robert Findley said, “This is a very massive, bulky structure. I’m concerned about the impacts of that…This may sound na├»ve, but what were your considerations regarding height?

Board member Katie Egland Cox commented that it would have been helpful to see some elevations to show the building in context with its surroundings.

Board vice-president Jane LaClerque commented on the lack of setbacks. “It’s the same square, rectangular block shape like the building to the east that everyone despises….”

Merth jumped up to point out a setback on a visual display, saying, “There’s a little one here….” Unconvinced, LaClerque added, “Well, you don’t see it in the scale of the building….I’m disappointed that the building looks so much like the other building.”

“Eek, I’d have to disagree with that,” said Merth, at which point, Carver called for a recess.

Above: Design Review Board members during a recess of their meeting in council chambers tonight. Chair Thomas Carver is in the center.

The Public Has A Chance To Comment

Nineteen members of the public had three minutes each to provide their comments to the board.

Diane Wiatr, a member of the city’s Heritage Commission and a former member of the Design Review Board, said, “I’m one of three people in the city who was not opposed to this project…(but now) I see recycled mixed-use of Kirkland, Bellevue and Seattle (in this design). It looks like the kitchen sink has been thrown into this design….”

Former city councilmember Holly Gadbaw, representing the group Oly2012, supported the project and the design. “The most exciting part is the structured parking…the design standards are finally starting to produce the kind of buildings we want….”

Steve Segall said, “What you have here is a rush job…this is out of place, out of character, graceless…and at odds with the landscape. The building design is almost Stalin-esque….”

Local artist Janice Arnold said, “I am saddened and a little speechless…the size, lack of setbacks, scale, and height are all incongruous with the setting. Olympia deserves better. We deserve a building that we wouldn’t want to demolish in 30 years.”

Allen Miller, local land use attorney, spoke on behalf of himself, six former Governors, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro and others. He and his clients asked the board to deny the project due to its conflicts with the historical design principals of State Capitol Campus architects Wilder and White and the Olmsted Brothers.

Miller also told the board that the project is unlawful under Sato v. Olympia, a decision of the Shorelines Hearings Board which held that a seventy foot building in the isthmus area violated the Shoreline Management Act by irreversibly damaging the public views of the Puget Sound and the Olympics from the Capitol Campus.

The municipal code (OMC 18.76.010) that establishes the Design Review Board states, in part, that the Board is established “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community;…preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historical significance;…and consider applicants’ needs and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

“This project violates the public trust of preserving the view corridors from and to the State Capitol Campus from the Temple of Justice and the Law Enforcement Memorial out to Budd Inlet and Olympics,” said Miller.

The Olympia City Council voted to rezone the isthmus area to 90 feet last December. The rezone of the property is now under appeal with the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

Alan Hardcastle, a member of the Heritage Commission, opposed the project design, questioning the possible negative economic impact to city tourism because of the compromised views from and to Budd Inlet. “This design is out of proportion…downtown is not a series of mini-malls. This building does not add to the historical character of downtown….”

Jerry Reilly, former chair of the Olympia Planning Commission and current chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, also opposed the project. “While many features of the design have merit, its fundamental problem is that the building is in the wrong location….Under the very terms of your code responsibilities, we believe that you should find that this design is not approvable.”

Joan Machlis, former city councilmember, approved of the project design. “I believe the development has creatively handled a variety of requirements such as the public viewing area and a partially covered trail. The landscaping meets tree requirements…this is the kind of urban…design we will see in the future….”

Bonnie Jacobs, representing Friends of the Waterfront, commented on the lack of context shown to the board and the public by the applicant's three dimensional computer program. “Obviously, the architects are proud of the buildings, but the movie is a perspective that I will likely never see. It’s massive - sidewalk to sidewalk - right by the Mistake on the Lake….We will indeed be walling off the waterfront. What particularly affronts me is the “viewing platform.” To say that a little platform that we might be able to get to during certain hours is almost laughable if it didn’t anger me so much.”

Former Mayor Bob Jacobs said that he felt that the design is "OK," but the project would be better suited down by the Farmer’s Market, the transit center or city hall. “It’s massive, out of scale with the surrounding area - it’s twice the size of the General Administration Building. Historical views will be blocked, and the exterior lighting looks good until you realize it will upstage the Capitol Building.”

Gail Merth, in response to a question from a board member, concluded the evening by saying, “Design is a very subjective thing…it’s impossible to make everyone happy….”

By 9:00p.m., board chair Carver called the question to move toward a recommendation or continue the meeting on December 17th. Board members Cox and Daniels said they wanted to continue the meeting and make a recommendation.

Board member David Goularte said he got a lot of information tonight and wanted more time. LaClerque agreed. “We were given more handouts tonight from staff that I’d like to look over.” A quorum won out, and board chair Carver adjourned the meeting, which will be continued December 17th.

Above: View from Budd Inlet of the Capitol Building obstructed by the Mistake by the Lake building. The proposed Larida Passage project would be built to the right of this existing, vacant building.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Larida Passage Lives As a Land Use Application - Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input at Thursday Meeting

Above: Landscape architect Alan McWain, right, shows Thad Curtz a three dimensional view of Larida Passage on a computer program at tonight's open house at the Olympia Center.

Despite developer Tri Vo's reported financial woes, his project in downtown Olympia called Larida Passage lives on paper as a real land use application to the City of Olympia.

City staff held an open house with Vo's development firm, Triway Enterprises, tonight at the Olympia Center to give the public an opportunity to view the land use and design illustrations and plans, submitted by Triway to the city in late October.

The massive, controversial mixed-use project is located on the narrow "isthmus" area between 4th and 5th Avenues. It is proposed to be two buildings: a 50,000 square foot building containing a mix of retail and office uses and a 273,000 square foot building containing retail space, 141 residential units and private parking for 433 vehicles. The buildings are proposed to be 35 feet and 90 feet. There is no 65 foot building as originally discussed in Triway's conceptual plans.

Landscape architect Alan McWain was brought onto the project with BCRA, the architectural firm hired by Triway, he says, to bring a "human scale" to the project. The project, for example, contains a water feature, a green wall, and green roofs. Asked to describe 'green walls,' McWain said that there will be planted fabric attached to a concrete board which will be irrigated through drip lines down the entire 90 foot building. "I believe it will be one of the largest green walls in North America...certainly it will be the largest in Washington."

Asked to describe the water feature, McWain said, "It will an eighth of an inch thick and very still. It will reflect the clouds and be lighted...it's supposed to represent the Puget Sound ecosystem where the water trickles down. You'll be able to see it from the Fourth Avenue bridge." The water feature will be chlorinated and contained inside the private courtyard area of the residential building.

McWain lives in Seattle but grew up in Olympia near Olympia High School. He left Olympia to go to college. Asked if he is excited about the project, McWain said, "Yeah, I am actually. I think it's a great project. It meets all the requirements and pushes the limit to bring green design to downtown Olympia....I'm trying to bring the environment back to an urban setting and create a human scale."

Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input

While Triway Enterprises is optimistic the project will go forward, there are a few hurdles to clear. The Design Review Board, a city advisory committee composed of nine members, will meet on Thursday, December 10 in the City Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. SE, at 6:30 to formally hear the applicant's proposal.

The public is invited to come to give comments to the board regarding the project, says Thomas Carver, chair of the Design Review Board. Carver attended tonight's open house. "We will hear a presentation by the applicant, a presentation by city staff, and take public comments. Then we will deliberate and give a recommendation to the site plan review committee." The site plan review committee is composed of staff from the city's Community Planning and Development department.

"If it gets too late to deliberate and make a recommendation because we receive a lot of public comment, we will continue the meeting to December 17," explained Carver.

Asked how long it could take to deliberate, Carver said it depends. "We just got our committee packets (containing the application) last Friday. This is a very involved project, but it is a single project. We could make a recommendation at the end of Thursday's meeting or carry it over to December 17."

Above: Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver is serious about his role on the city's citizen advisory committee. Serving on the board since 2002, Carver says he cannot talk about the actual design of the project until Thursday. "We don't want to be lobbied by anyone - we want to be as independent as possible."

The Design Review Board, created in the early 1990's, reviews projects for pedestrian friendliness, site and building design and aesthetics. Asked if aesthetics were a rather subjective judgement, Carver admitted, "It is...it is, but there is the letter of the code, and the intent of the code. We look for projects to meet the intent of the code because it is very possible for you to build a concrete box and paint it different colors, but it still looks like a concrete box."

The board meets to review projects proposed to be over 5,000 square feet, anything downtown, and anything along major corridors and arterials," said Carver. Recent projects reviewed by the board includes the Washington State Employees Credit Union building, the Washington Public Utilities building, and Union Heights, all on Union.

"We're different from other city citizen advisory boards," says Carver. "We are scheduled to meet twice a month, but due to the slow down in the economy, we've only had a third of our usual meetings because we review projects. If there are no projects to review, we don't meet."

Asked if he, as an architect, has any vested interest in the Larida Passage project, Carver laughed and said no, that if he did, he would recuse himself from the review.

Asked if he gets calls from people freaked out about some project going up, he said, "No, it's usually the other way around. A few of us were freaked out about a car wash being built on Black Lake Boulevard in front of Evergreen Christian Center, but we found out it is under 5,000 square feet."

For more information about the Larida Passage project, contact Cari Hornbein, Senior Planner, Community Planning and Development at 753-8048 or chornbei@ci.olympia.wa.us.

For more information about the history of the Larida Passage project, go to stories on Little Hollywood from earlier this year.

Above: The annual Toy Run in downtown Olympia along the isthmus area and Deschutes Parkway. With a proposed 433 additional vehicles driving in and out and around the isthmus area, traffic congestion will be increased.