Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Potential NorthPoint Developer Has Not Seen City Sea-Level Rise Maps, Data

by Janine Gates

Above: Former Olympia City Councilmember TJ Johnson speaks with MJR Development partner Mike McClure at an open house at the Olympia Center Wednesday night.

The second of three public open houses was held Wednesday night for a development firm to present its proposal for redevelopment of the NorthPoint area on the Port of Olympia’s shoreline in downtown Olympia. The third and final open house is Thursday, October 29, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Tumwater Comfort Inn.

The Kirkland-based developer, MJR Development, gave a slide show depicting two alternatives for the property that includes a one story restaurant and a three story hotel and/or office-mixed use option.

The public has until November 4 to comment on the proposals. Port staff will compile comments and present the information to port commissioners on November 9. The commission may make a decision on the proposal at its meeting November 23 or in early December.

The open house did not include an opportunity to collectively offer input in a way so everyone could hear the public’s questions or concerns. After the formal presentation, people looked at maps and development concepts and spoke one-on-one with developers and port staff.

The presentation revealed an ongoing, alarming disconnect between public desires and profit-driven out-of-town developers unfamiliar or unconcerned with city issues. Absent a comprehensive vision for the city of Olympia and the port of Olympia, several environmental shoreline management concerns went unanswered in private conversations throughout the evening.

Speaking after the presentation with MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie, who lives on the westside of Olympia, Lahaie was asked how his proposal addresses future city sea-level rise issues. Lahaie responded, “We don’t have a plan for sea level rise - this is very conceptual….” When asked if he has seen the City of Olympia’s sea level rise data and maps, he admitted he has not seen them and asserted, "We haven’t even been chosen yet. The commission needs to decide if they want to go forth."

When asked if he knew that Andy Haub of the City of Olympia was going to give a presentation to the Olympia City Council at its meeting November 10 about updated sea level information, Lahaie said he did not know that either.

According to the City of Olympia, sea level is rising in Olympia by about one foot per century due to post-ice age warming of the oceans, and will increase with global warming. Much of downtown Olympia is at risk, lying only one to three feet above the current highest high tides.

Andy Haub, said via voice mail earlier this week, that his upcoming presentation to the councilmembers on November 10 "will be consistent with past reports and will include more detail and a better analysis of land elevations."

Former Olympia city councilmember TJ Johnson asked MJR Development partner Mike McClure, who lives in Woodinville, about sea-level rise issues. When Johnson asked McClure how he can reconcile his organization’s mission of social responsibility with putting buildings in this location that is going to be impacted by sea-level rise, McClure responded, “I’m not going to get into a debate about global warming…global warming is still a debatable issue.”

McClure said, “We’ve had our eyes on Olympia as a development firm for a long time. We’re bullish on the future.” MJR offered a proposal for the proposed development on East Bay but it did not win. The winning proposal went instead to Taragon.

“These people are out to lunch,” said TJ Johnson later.

Out of 500 Port-issued invitations, only two firms, MJR and another development company, True North, responded to the Port’s request for proposals, which was issued September 10. The deadline for proposals was October 12.

When asked if this was a typical turnaround time for a request for proposals, Mike Reid, Port Property Development Manager, said, “that’s pretty quick.” Reid staffed a table that contained a stack about 10 inches deep of True North’s 18 page application. True North’s application was not accepted, Reid said, because it did not meet the Port’s requests on questions related to community benefits and market analysis.

The community benefit and market analysis questions were answered, but apparently not to the commission’s satisfaction. Both answers clearly state that due to the lack of time given to respond to the proposal, “there must be a discussion with the Port of Olympia before a true scope of project can be developed” and that they will do a “complete market analysis…once the scope of the project is defined.”

When asked why the turnaround time for the proposal request was so quick, Commissioner Bill McGregor said, “Usually it’s a bit longer, but our commission wanted to move forward…we’ve had public comment (regarding this area) in 2004, 2005, 2008, and at a work session August 26. There was a roomful of people so we took public comment.”

When asked why MJR's proposal does not address future sea-level rise issues, McGregor said, “They will have to engineer a solution. The Hands-On Children’s Museum is raising its floor two feet, so maybe that’s something that’s happening here - I don’t know.”

Port commissioner George Barner, who voted against the whole idea of development on NorthPoint at this time, an area that offers beautiful views of Budd Inlet, and the Olympic Mountains, said, “This is ridiculous! We need to slow it down and have a community dialog about what we want this place to look like. So here we are with one proposal! That's not a broad analysis. When I look at these sketches, what jumps out at me is asphalt! How gentrified can NorthPoint become? Look at the parking lots for the restaurant and hotel - they should be integrated into the building. NorthPoint could be a true recreation destination, for relaxation.”

Indeed, both proposal alternatives contain large amounts of impervious surfaces - one parking lot alone is nearly 40,000 square feet, to accommodate parking for the proposed restaurant, mixed-use office building, and/or hotel.

Above: MJR map detailing NorthPoint development Option #1

In describing development alternative #2, Lahaie romanticized his vision for a potential 100 room “boutique hotel," and offered a slide of the Inn at Port Ludlow as a model. “This is East Coast architecture, which I think is interesting....The hotel could offer locals an opportunity to enjoy jazz nights, cooking classes, and discounted weekend getaways, away from the kids.” Development alternative #1 features an office/mixed use option that "would attract engineers, architects, doctors, dentists and attorneys."

The proposed restaurant would be a one story, 5,500 square foot family friendly diner that could offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. This type of restaurant option at NorthPoint would be likely since the area already has the more expensive fine dining experience offered by the HearthFire Grill.

A special events outdoor area could accommodate weddings, community gatherings, outdoor dining events, musical performances, “and be a pocket park when not in use,” said Lahaie.

Above: The view of the Olympics from East Bay Drive, near NorthPoint, at sunset.

For more information, go to or contact Heber Kennedy at 528-8070.

Above: Port Commissioner George Barner takes a few business cards of MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie.