Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thurston County Commissioners Adopt Biomass Facility Moratorium

Thurston County Commissioners Adopt Biomass Facility Moratorium

By Janine Gates

The board of Thurston County Commissioners today approved an ordinance adopting a 12 month moratorium on new biomass facilities. The ordinance, which takes effect immediately, states that "adopting the moratorium is necessary for the preservation of the public health, safety and general welfare of Thurston County residents."

The moratorium language was created out of research conducted by county staff, along with information and public testimony recently received by the commissioners, largely regarding the biomass gasification facility proposed by The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia.

Interim regulations were also adopted to define biomass facilities, biomass conversion and biomass gasification.

The board meeting was announced as a special meeting of the commissioners. Commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero were present - Commissioner Karen Valenzuela was unable to attend.

During the meeting, which lasted about ten minutes, Romero said that the moratorium is to give the county "breathing room" to study the biomass issue because it is not currently addressed in county code. The commissioners also found that the biomass issue is not adequately addressed in Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater urban growth area zoning codes.

"We don't have enough information - it's all anecdotal at this point. We don't want to be like other counties and get caught in a reactionary mode. There might not be enough wood, for example, to sustain this facility," said Romero in an interview this afternoon.

"We want to be ahead of the curve and not behind it....this could be terribly unhealthy for us. It's about clean air in many ways. It's not a narrow issue and it doesn't have to do just with Evergreen - it's the issue of biomass that we need to get a handle on. We have very little wiggle room before we're not in compliance with the Clean Air Act," said Romero.

Commissioner Cathy Wolfe also expressed concern about TESC's proposed fuel supply and issues related to health. The Commissioners also serve as the county's board of health.

"We need time to study the issue before we move forward with permitting...I want to learn a lot more - we're not taking a position at this time on the issue, but it's prudent to slow down. I'm so glad everyone's paying attention to this issue," said Wolfe in an interview this afternoon.

The use of biomass to create heat and electricity is an issue of national debate.

“This is not just a planning issue…we need to work with the health department and other jurisdictions to study the issue," said Jeremy Davis, Thurston County associate planner, who compiled background information and resources for the consideration of the commissioners.

“We’re planning to do a website in the next week about the moratorium so we can provide people information. This will be available at www.thurstonplanning.org. We are also required to have a public hearing within 60 days about the moratorium. The board has not officially set the date for the public hearing, but will at its next meeting," said Davis.

A tentative date for the public hearing has been set for February 7, at 5:30 p.m. in Room 152 at the Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW. The meeting date will be determined at the board's next meeting, January 4th, 2011.

The notice for the public hearing will also solicit comments for adding the item to the Commissioners 2010-11 Comprehensive Plan Amendment docket. The commissioners will study environmental and siting issues, propose amendments to the Thurston County comprehensive plan, if necessary, and propose amendments to the Thurston County code.

There are two circumstances in which the county moratorium can not prohibit siting such facilities: essential public facilities as defined by the Growth Management Act, and facilities that fall under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) energy facility certification process. Under Washington state law, the council could preempt local zoning regulations following its public hearing process.

Davis did not see that Evergreen's proposed facility is included in these circumstances at this time.

"If it's determined it is an 'essential public facility', then it would come in under those GMA provisions," said Davis. It is in TESC's hands as to what to propose to add to the state's capital facilities project list. Davis said it is unlikely that the TESC facility would fall under EFSEC's certification process since those facilities are usually very large.

"If they come in as an essential public facility, then there is a very long, public, special use permit process," said Davis. Since TESC has not yet submitted any application, it's hard to say what kind of facility it would be typed as, and what kind of permit process would follow, says Davis.

Four other, larger biomass facilities have been proposed, permitted or built in nearby counties. The facilities include the Adage and Simpson incinerators in Shelton, Mason County, the Port Townsend Paper incinerator in Jefferson County, and the Nippon incinerator in Port Angeles, Clallam County.

The Evergreen State College was asked to comment on today's moratorium. Jason Wettstein, TESC communications director, responded on behalf of several senior staff and administration members involved with the biomass facility project.

"We haven't had time to consider what this means for our project. Scott (Morgan, TESC's sustainability coordinator) found out about the meeting and went this morning prepared to provide the commissioner's with information, but he was not asked for it. It was really a bit of a surprise," said Wettstein.

Jeff Morris, economist and principal of Sound Resource Management with 25 years of professional experience in biomass issues, attended the Commissioner's meeting today.

"It was pretty amazing what they did - I think it's great. The process needed to slow down because TESC has never seriously considered alternatives based on any scientific life cycle research.

"TESC also hasn't addressed revealing what the emissions are (of the proposed facility) much less what the impacts of those emissions will be. I'm hoping this time-out will lead to the consideration of real scientific information that's available on ways to reduce our carbon and pollution footprints," said Morris.

In related news, The Evergreen State College did not receive the $10 million it requested for its proposed biomass gasification facility in Governor Chris Gregoire's transportation, capital, and economic development budget released last week. TESC did receive $10.8 million for other projects such as the renovation of the communications and science lab buildings.

Other funding TESC wanted, but did not receive, was for lecture hall renovation planning, acquisition of land to support TESC's Tacoma campus facility, and modernization of the original farm building at TESC's organic farm.

"We got less than we wanted...and we'll have to give our facilities extra TLC (tender loving care) at a basic maintenance level," said Steve Trotter, TESC budget director and Sustainability Council co-chair.

During the upcoming legislative session, Evergreen will continue to advance its funding priorities for its capital budget projects, which includes the proposed biomass gasification facility, said Trotter last week.

For more information:

About TESC's proposed biomass facility, see articles by Janine Gates at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.

Thurston County Commissioners: www.co.thurston.wa.us/bocc

Thurston County Planning Department: www.co.thurston.wa.us/planning or www.thurstonplanning.com.

Office of Financial Management (OFM)- OFM maintains the state list of essential public facilities: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/reports/default.asp and

MRSC information on essential public facilities: http://www.mrsc.org/askmrsc/pastinqsubject.aspx?sid=26#Essential Public Facilities

State of Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council website: http://www.efsec.wa.gov/default.shtm

Thursday, December 16, 2010

TESC Responds To Misleading Biomass Testimony Given to House Capital Budget Committee

by Janine Gates

TESC Responds To Misleading Biomass Testimony Given to House Capital Budget Committee

Evergreen State College (TESC) vice-president John Hurley acknowledged today that his remarks to the House Capital Budget Committee last week about TESC's proposed biomass gasification facility may have unintentionally created some misconceptions about the college’s process regarding the project.

Hurley's letter to TESC's Sustainability Council is reprinted below.

Hurley optimistically told committee members last Thursday that TESC will begin the permitting process and that construction for the facility was expected to begin in the summer of 2011. He did not acknowledge that the feasibility study by TESC's Sustainability Council for the project was still ongoing.

TESC's sustainability coordinator, Scott Morgan, nor TESC's budget director, Steve Trotter, who is also TESC's Sustainability Council co-chair, have said they did not know Hurley was going to give the update to the committee.

Hurley gave the presentation to the committee as part of an update from recipients on grants received under the Jobs Act's K - 12 energy efficiency program. Evergreen received a $3.7 million grant in early October from the Washington State Department of Commerce towards the construction of a new biomass facility.

To reach carbon neutrality by 2020, the college is studying the issue in an effort to discontinue its reliance on fossil fuels to heat its buildings and produce hot water. TESC has also expressed interest in producing its own electricity using biomass. The use of biomass as an energy source is hotly debated within the state and around the country.

In a separate statement provided to this blog, TESC president Les Purce said he and Hurley are both committed to the process of the Sustainability Council in studying the feasibility of a biomass gasification facility.

“I want to assure you that both John and I are committed to the process the Sustainability Council is undertaking in the review of the biomass gasification proposal, and we look forward to their recommendations in early March. We are both committed to helping the college advance our sustainability agenda including our campus-wide carbon neutrality goals,” said Purce.

In an interview last week, Purce acknowledged the controversy around TESC’s proposed biomass gasification study.

“I realize that we cannot rest on our laurels, but I am surprised by the level of suspicion around Evergreen and the idea that we would do something that wasn’t in our best interest and would not move us closer to our carbon neutrality goals. I would like to add that Evergreen has a 40 year track record of leading on issues of social and environmental justice. We intend to uphold this long-standing tradition in the context of this biomass gasification feasibility study.”

Editor's Note:

The following emails from Steve Trotter, TESC's budget director and co-chair of the TESC Sustainability Council, and John Hurley were received today, December 16th.

They were sent to about 80 individuals, including the TESC Sustainability Council, members of the TESC Clean Energy Committee, and various TESC staff, faculty, students, and community members interested in the biomass issue:


On behalf of the Evergreen Sustainability Council, I wanted to forward to you John Hurley’s message to the Council regarding his recent testimony. I am also passing along a link our site that has links to the two presentations that you saw at our last Council meeting regarding the McKinstry feasibility report and the Sustainability Council’s draft schedule and process.

Evergreen’s Office of Sustainability Blog: http://blogs.evergreen.edu/sustainability/biomass/

McKinstry’s Power Point Presentation: http://www.evergreen.edu/sustainability/docs/bmg/mckinstry_presentation_120610.pdf

TESC Sustainability Council’s Draft Process/Schedule: http://www.evergreen.edu/sustainability/docs/bmg/council_process_update_120610.pdf

I hope John’s message speaks to some of your concerns and that these two documents provide context into the work we are trying to accomplish. John is aware of the misperceptions he may have fostered inadvertently in his testimony, and encouraged me to forward his full response to you for your blog. We hope that this will also provide background to the conversations you engage in via your blog and elsewhere in the community.

I also want to reaffirm that Evergreen remains committed to the process you saw outlined during our last Council meeting.

Thanks Janine,

Steve Trotter

John Hurley’s message is below:

Dear Members of the Sustainability Council:

Last Thursday, December 9, I testified in front of the House Capital Budget Committee to report on Evergreen’s ongoing efforts to reduce its energy costs and usage. Part of this testimony included a brief report on the status of the biomass gasification initiative at Evergreen, for which the Department of Commerce has awarded us grant funding. In the process of providing this testimony, I unintentionally created some misconceptions about the college’s process and where we are in that process. I’d like to clear those up and send a clear message that I have been and continue to be committed to the college’s process for evaluating the appropriateness of biomass gasification as a tool for reducing our carbon footprint.

In the context of this testimony, I referred to the draft feasibility study which has been prepared by McKinstry. The draft version of this study provides encouraging data on energy savings, fuel and emissions. I was asked to provide the Capital Budget Committee with a timeline for the proposed project, and while I did provide a preliminary timeline to the committee, it was not meant to imply that our study process is finished or that we have reached a conclusion. The decision to move forward with the biomass initiative is still dependent on several critical factors, including the receipt of a favorable review from the Sustainability Council. I remain committed to the Sustainability Council’s process and timelines.

One of the concerns that has been expressed is that I did not mention the additional elements which are being studied by the Council in my testimony. I hope all of you understand that I was given only a few minutes to provide testimony, which didn’t leave much time for discussion re: our process. I focused my report on the concrete measures that Evergreen is taking to reduce its carbon footprint because this is the information the Capital Committee needs to conduct its work.

On reflection, it would have better if I had woven more information about the process into my testimony to prevent creating any misconceptions about where we are in that process. The fact that I didn’t shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the ongoing work of the Sustainability Council, including its ongoing efforts to determine whether this initiative would in fact result in a reduction of our carbon footprint. Satisfactory answers to the key questions being studied by the Sustainability Council will need to be found before the college makes a firm commitment to the construction of a biomass facility, and I did not intend to imply otherwise in my testimony.

That being said, I am enthusiastically looking forward to receiving the Council’s recommendations in early March to help bring this process to an essential milepost. My comments to the committee should be interpreted in this context. If the reviews by the Council, the VP’s and the President, and the Board of Trustees are favorable, indicating that the project will help us meet our sustainability goals, we would begin to move to secure permits shortly after the concluding recommendations from the Sustainability Council are received in March.



John A. Hurley, Ed.D.
Vice President for Finance and Administration
The Evergreen State College
360.867.6500 Office
360.867.6577 Fax

For more information about TESC's proposed biomass gasification facility, see other articles on this blog at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com by using the search button and typing in key words.

Monday, December 13, 2010

TESC's Biomass Project: "This facility is expected to begin construction in 2011...."

Above: TESC vice-president for finance, John Hurley, explains the biomass gasification process at a community meeting held on campus in July.

TESC's Biomass Project:
“….This facility is expected to begin construction in 2011.…”

By Janine Gates

Senior staff of The Evergreen State College (TESC) gave members of the Washington State House Capital Budget Committee an update on its proposed biomass gasification project on Thursday, December 9.

After reviewing recent TESC energy conservation and efficiency successes, TESC vice-president for finance, John Hurley, briefly explained its biomass feasibility study process - which is still ongoing - then confidently told committee members, “We will begin our permitting process and this facility is expected to begin construction in 2011 - the summer of 2011....”

TESC director of facilities Paul Smith joined Hurley in the presentation, but did not speak.

Committee members held the work session to hear updates from recipients on grants received under the Jobs Act’s K-12 energy efficiency program.

Evergreen received a $3.7 million grant in early October from the Washington State Department of Commerce towards the construction of a new biomass gasification plant. It was the highest amount of any project awarded by the Governor’s $31 million grant under Commerce’s “Jobs Act” to create jobs and for energy cost savings.

TESC estimates that their proposed biomass gasification facility will cost about $13.9 million to build.

McKinstry Deems TESC Biomass Facility "Feasible"

According to McKinstry, an energy services company, The Evergreen State College’s biomass gasification project is feasible. McKinstry staff revealed their draft findings to TESC’s Sustainability Council in a meeting on campus on Monday, December 6.

TESC contracted with McKinstry in April of this year to study the feasibility of the project in terms of finances, adequate fuel source availability and conceptual design. McKinstry also assured TESC that project savings can be guaranteed.

According to McKinstry, TESC could save $583,000 net per year in fuel savings by converting from natural gas to biomass.

McKinstry contracted with a Vancouver company, LD Jellison, which determined that Evergreen can be consistently supplied with fuel. This supply is potentially available from Washington State Department of Natural Resource (DNR) lands, Ft. Lewis, and members of the Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG).

According to its website, NNRG’s priority is to support the growth of a profitable, sustainable, and environmentally sound timber industry in Washington State, primarily through its northwest certified forestry program for small landowners.

Scott Morgan, TESC’s sustainability coordinator, Morgan says, “We haven’t talked to anyone yet about supplying us (TESC’s biomass gasification facility), we’re just assessing what’s out there.

"For working forests, biomass is a waste stream. Some leave more than others on the ground and some is inaccessible. LD Jellison determined what is available for use,” said Morgan in an interview last week.

TESC’s efforts to study the issue of biomass gasification to heat its buildings and produce hot water is part of its stated goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. The use of biomass and whether it is carbon neutral, is being hotly debated on a national and international scale.

McKinstry also suggested that Evergreen, in a future phase of the biomass gasification project, could produce its own electricity.

“There is a potential for heat and power applications here, but it would cost another several million dollars," says Morgan.

"The University of British Columbia in Vancouver is just kicking out a pilot project doing this. It’s not something we can pursue right now, but if the technology is there, we’ll pursue it and use the same amount of energy more efficiently.

“There was federal money available for combined heat and power projects but we’re not ready and I don’t think we could have qualified. The money was mostly for utilities and municipalities. The Commerce grant was specifically aimed at schools, because they had been shut out up to now.”

TESC Sustainability Council Crams To Show Their Homework

TESC appears to be scrambling to show their homework on several fronts to beat several financial deadlines that are already in play.

At TESC’s Sustainability Council meeting on Monday, December 6, Morgan outlined a long laundry list of fundamental process and study issues that still need to begin, and resolved, in a very short timeline and with a small budget of $115,000.

This list includes a comparative survey of renewable energy options, a project specific analysis of carbon neutrality question, a project specific emissions analysis, an analysis of likely regional impacts on forest health, an analysis of the community impacts of the biomass facility proposal, a plan for long-term monitoring, a blueprint for a learning lab to support academic engagement, and the creation of an ongoing science review and advisory panel.

A draft TESC report on the project’s next steps says, “Despite many conversations around the values and details of these concerns and extensive, but uncoordinated, literature research by various members of the Sustainability Council there has been no formal agreement on who should be completing these study elements.”

Because of state restrictions on hiring consultant services, TESC is looking in-house to accomplish some of these tasks. The report goes on to say that the council is limited by “our lack of personal expertise in the particular issues in question, our lack of time to dedicate to developing that expertise, and limited time to physically perform the research necessary to inform our final decision.”

It had been suggested in a community meeting last month that TESC hire University of Oregon forest science professor Mark Harmon to do an analysis of TESC’s carbon balance question. Harmon has since responded that he may not have the time to do this, but could help find someone who can assist the college.

To answer another key environmental concern, Morgan suggested sending out an emissions analysis of several tons of local slash to determine what is in our local wood source to determine what is in it. TESC would have to create a specific list of what should be analyzed, such as dioxins, furans, heavy metals, radionuclides and nanoparticles. This could be a very expensive test.

Morgan suggested inviting Kirk Hanson of the Northwest Natural Resource Group as well as TESC faculty to do a study of regional forest health impacts on source forests, and determine the impact of TESC’s participation in the biomass supply equation.

Sustainability council member, faculty member Rob Knapp, commented that it is getting near the holidays and accomplishing these tasks could be difficult.

The Sustainability Council was not briefed during last Monday’s meeting that college vice-president Hurley would be providing his ambitious sounding report, three days later, on the project to the House Capital Budget committee.

The Sustainability Council has been meeting once a month for the last year, according to Morgan. “Council meetings were reduced to one time per month last year while we were going through our re-budgeting.”

As for meeting minutes about the biomass feasibility study discussions, they are almost non-existent. “I kept them for a while, but it got to where I couldn’t run the meeting and keep minutes, and there was no other staff,” says Morgan. Due to budget cuts, Morgan’s position is three-quarters time.

The next Sustainability Council meeting is January 10, the same day as the legislative session is scheduled to begin.

TESC Follows the Money

Evergreen’s tight timeline to accomplish a lot of work appears to be money-driven. In February, the council anticipates a need to submit a contract with McKinstry and/or the Washington State Department of Commerce to remain eligible for the $3.7 million jobs and energy cost savings grant TESC received from Commerce in October.

March is the anticipated deadline for the council to make a decision and recommendation on biomass to TESC vice-presidents. In April, the legislative session is scheduled to end and TESC will find out if it receives any portion of the $10 million it requested in state appropriations to build the gasification plant.

In May, college president Les Purce and staff will present the college’s draft 2011-13 capital spending plan, which may or may not include funding to build the biomass gasification facility, to TESC Board of Trustees. In June, Purce will present his recommended budget to the Trustees, who will make their final decision.

The next Board of Trustees meeting is January 19, 2011. The public is invited to make comments to the Trustees during the public comment period.

Speakers Address Thurston County Commissioners About Biomass

As the community becomes more aware of TESC’s proposed biomass facility, several speakers addressed the Thurston County Commissioners during its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, December 7.

Janet Jordan, who hosted a show on Thurston County Television in September about biomass issues, spoke about TESC’s proposed biomass facility. In part, she was concerned about Evergreen contributing to the overall dependence on local wood supplies.

“TESC has said that its biomass gasification plant will use only 12,000 tons of fuel a year and will draw its supplies from forests within a radius of 30 - 50 miles around the college….it will be competing with the Adage plant currently planned for Shelton. The price of fuel and the effect on the forests will come from the total demand of all the biomass plants in the area,” Jordan said.

“We used to burn wood to heat our houses back in the 18th century. We got away from that because there were not enough forests in the world to fill the demand, and because we understood how many other irreplaceable services forests served. These lessons are still valid. Let’s not let our thinking go backwards to a time when we didn’t understand them.”

Barb Scavezze, coordinator of the Cool Thurston Campaign, thanked the commissioners for their role in reducing Thurston County’s carbon footprint. She urged the commissioners to not allow biomass incinerators in Thurston County.

“Wood waste energy releases carbon into the atmosphere - more than fossil fuels - and contributes to climate disruption. We need to transition away from burning carbon fuels for energy to renewable energy forms….”

Allen Gutman, a retired local physician who lives near The Evergreen State College, also registered his opposition to Evergreen’s proposed biomass facility. “Use your best judgment and your care for our environment. I don’t know why they’re considering biomass…It claims it’s carbon neutral but it’s not - it’s not renewable. It’s not safe, there’s toxic emissions that aren’t regulated…it produces dioxins…we do have other solutions.”

“We’re Tree Huggers, not Tree Burners!”

Above: Connie Simpson outside the Thurston County courthouse in Olympia on December 7 after her testimony to commissioners about TESC's proposed biomass gasification project.

Connie Simpson, a retired registered nurse who lives in Mason County and a TESC alumna, told the commissioners that she developed asthma in the 1990’s after she moved to Shelton. She said she believes her asthma and other health issues is caused by living near the Simpson Lumber and Olympic Plywood industrial sites. Connie Simpson is not related to the Simpson Lumber family.

Simpson told the commissioners that three of her grandchildren who live in Shelton have upper respiratory problems. She questioned whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington State emissions regulations or the Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency has protected her from the consequences of inhaled pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter from diesel trucks carrying timber, and emissions from the downtown factories.

“…so, I was astounded when I learned that my alma mater, TESC, was proposing a biomass plant. We’re tree huggers, not tree burners!” said Simpson.

Simpson questioned the college’s proposed need for two truckloads a days of biomass, for the facility. “Diesel trucks will log and load the trees, trucks will haul the fuel to the college with their attendant diesel emissions affecting every living thing they pass…TESC is merely spreading out their footprint, not eliminating it.”

Later, Simpson said she will no longer contribute to the Evergreen Foundation if TESC builds a biomass gasification plant. She also said she has started a group called Grandmothers Against Pollution.

For more information about TESC's biomass gasification study project, read “Biomass Issue Becomes a Public Relations ’Biomess’ for The Evergreen State College,” November 24, 2010, at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.

To view the House Capital Budget Committee work session and TESC’s report to members on December 9, 2010, go to: http://www.tvw.org/media/mediaplayer.cfm?evid=2010121014&TYPE=V&CFID=1638937&CFTOKEN=55582746&bhcp=1

To contact TESC College President Les Purce or the Board of Trustees, write them at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington 98507, or call (360) 867-6100. For more information on Board of Trustee meetings, go to: http://www.evergreen.edu/trustees/meetings.htm

The TESC Sustainability Council’s website is being updated: http://www.evergreen.edu/sustainability/sustainabilitycouncil.htm or go to http://www.evergreen.edu/sustainability/biomasshome/htm

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Olympia City Council Votes for Urban Waterfront - Housing Zoning for Isthmus

Above: City of Olympia Planning Commission Chair Roger Horn, left, chats with Councilmember Steve Langer during a break after tonight's vote to rezone the isthmus to UW - H 35.

Olympia City Council Votes for Urban Waterfront - Housing Zoning for Isthmus

By Janine Gates

After a public hearing on the issue, the Olympia city council voted tonight, five to two, in favor of rezoning downtown’s isthmus area to Urban Waterfront-Housing (UW - H) and limiting the height to 35 feet.

Mayor Doug Mah and Councilmember Craig Ottavelli opposed the zoning designation, preferring Urban Waterfront (UW). In voting against the motion to approve UW - H 35, Mayor Mah said that he "had doubts in the UW - H zoning's ability to get rid of blight or change the condition on the isthmus. UW has a slightly better chance..."

In support of the motion, Councilmember Rhenda Strub reminded the council that last January she wanted UW - H via a text amendment. "There was a level of trust missing at that time - I hope we're past that...." She added that her vote for the UW - H designation "has nothing to do with a single parcel or making the property attractive for purchase for those who want it to be a park."

Councilmember Stephen Buxbaum said that an additional refinement of land use can occur in the comprehensive plan process and vision for making the isthmus a beautiful asset for downtown Olympia.

Councilmember Steve Langer thanked the planning commission for their efforts saying, "I do think that this part of Olympia is of statewide importance. It's not just a piece of land...this area is special and having view corridors will bring people downtown and achieve some of those things - economic development - that people want."

Twenty people spoke during the public hearing portion of the evening.

City staff had recommended that the council adopt the city’s Planning Commission UW-H 35 recommendation.

Planning Commission chair Roger Horn was pleased with the outcome. “The Planning Commission went through an extensive process. It indicates the kind of vigorous debate that we had in trying to bring a balanced recommendation to the council that reflects the wishes of the community,” said Horn.

In their meeting deliberations, several planning commissioners expressed concern regarding some of the permitted uses in the UW zoning type, so UW - H was recommended to prohibit objectionable uses. Some of these uses include light industry, welding and fabrication businesses, recycling facilities, on site hazardous waste control facilities, equipment rental services, and more. The commission has asked city staff for a full review of allowed uses for all zoning types as part of the comprehensive plan update process.

The commission also asked to receive and review code information regarding the additional 18 foot height allowance for mechanical portions of a structure. “Having this real-world information would help the commission and council in balancing transparency in the code, public expectations and the need of the development community,” says a planning commission report.

Planning commission members James Reddick and Paul Ingham did not agree with the commission's UW-H 35 majority recommendation, and produced a minority report. In the report, their position is to permit a zero building height and to implement a sub-area master plan for the affected isthmus properties.

“Contrary to the majority’s claim of merely “rolling back” the height to 35 feet, the majority’s rezone does not address the many important urban problems and issues that arise from the isthmus rezone to UW-H 35,” the report says.

Such issues include compliance with capitol campus architects Wilder and White’s 1912 plans for the isthmus, the screening of roof equipment from adjacent Westside neighborhoods and the state capitol campus, and the proximity to high-traffic volume arterials involving noise and pollution.

Two speakers specifically agreed with the commission's minority report.

In testimony, Westside resident Roger Polzin supported the UW - H 35 designation, citing sea-level rise and earthquake and liquefaction issues. "We have to look at short and long term issues...the city is built on fill....We should not be encouraging high intensity uses downtown."

Above: View of the isthmus, Budd Inlet and the Olympics from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial on the state Capitol Campus. The owners of the nine-story building, above, currently called "The Views on 5th Avenue," have recently submitted a land use application to the city to convert it from office use to a hotel.

Other speakers supported the UW - H 35 zoning on the grounds of the unique views to and from the state capitol campus and Budd Inlet.

"This vista is the most important in the state of Washington," said land use attorney Allen Miller, whose testimony represented several Washington state governors, former secretary of state Ralph Munro, Friends of the Waterfront, and the Black Hills Audubon Society.

The evening's zoning issue became a little muddy due to the revelation by this blog that the owners of the nine-story former Capitol Center Building recently submitted a land use application to the city to change the building's use from office to hotel. The building, now called “The Views on 5th Avenue,” is located on the isthmus.

Community member Chris Stearns testified that he is not against hotels, but is concerned about increased traffic on the Fourth and Fifth Avenue bridges. "This is not the right location for intensive development."

Scott Shapiro, an owner of the building, spoke during the public hearing, supporting the Urban Waterfront zoning designation. Hotels are not allowed under UW - H zoning.

Shapiro cited the economic benefits a hotel would have for the city in terms of construction, sales, property and lodging taxes, and jobs.

Neil Falkenburg, asset manager for The Views on 5th Avenue said in his testimony that the ownership group is choosing to invest money in the building and the community. He said there would be an estimated 15,000 hotel customers each year that would benefit downtown.

The owners submitted a tenant improvement application to the city on November 10th, which was denied in a site review planning meeting composed of the city’s community development and planning members on December 1. Glenn Wells, architect for the owners, submitted a land use application later that same day.

Wells also testified at tonight's hearing, saying, "Our downtown businesses are struggling. What's the cause? A lack of free parking? A lack of housing? Bottomline, there's not enough shoppers. We need a viable downtown core."

Wells said that peak hour traffic is the building owner's primary concern and that an analysis stated that an office building would generate 110 peak hour trips versus the 81 trips generated by a hotel. "A hotel will bring in tourist dollars...one million dollars into the downtown business core and will put tens of thousands of people a year downtown at night," said Wells.

Some people have questioned whether the owners are “vested” in the property by submitting an application on November 10th in an attempt to get possible approval before the city council met to possibly change the zoning for the isthmus property.

In real estate development, a project is considered to be “vested” if it is determined that a landowner has proceeded financially far enough down the path of development of their land that the local government should not be allowed to enforce newly enacted zoning ordinances against them.

Asked prior to the meeting whether or not the proposed hotel project is “vested” by current owners, Brett Bures, associate city planner answered, “We’re deeming the application complete and it will be reviewed under the zoning that was in place when the application was submitted."

According to Todd Stamm, city planning manager, a land use application typically goes through two, 60 day review cycles. There is a gap in between those two cycles for the city to ask questions of the applicant and to allow the applicant time to respond.

Asked if existing permits would transfer to new owners should the current owners decide to sell the property, Stamm said yes.

The new zoning designation will go to final reading at next week's city council meeting.

See article posted on December 2 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, “Hotel Project Application Submitted for ‘Mistake on the Lake’ Building - Public Hearing on Isthmus Rezone on Tuesday” and other articles on this blog for more information about the isthmus.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hotel Project Application Submitted for 'Mistake on the Lake' Building - Public Hearing on Isthmus Rezone on Tuesday

Above: The view of the state Capitol Building from the ninth floor of The Views on 5th Avenue, aka "The Mistake on the Lake."

Hotel Project Application Submitted for 'Mistake on the Lake' Building - Public Hearing on Isthmus Rezone on Tuesday

By Janine Gates

It took less than five minutes yesterday morning for the city of Olympia’s planning department to deny a "tenant improvement" permit application to convert downtown's nine-story ‘Mistake on the Lake’ from an office building to a hotel.

The project was submitted to the city's planning department on November 10th. Tenant improvement applications are usually used for straight-forward interior remodel projects.

Nothing about the former state Department of Corrections building, now called "The Views on 5th Avenue," however, is straight-forward.

So, later that same afternoon, project engineer and architect Glenn Wells submitted a new application, a land use application, for the proposed hotel project.

According to the applicant's plan, the first floor of the nearly 75,000 square foot building would include a lobby, swimming pool, fitness center, dining/lounge area, a kitchen, laundry and meeting areas. The second to ninth floors would have 16 rooms per floor for a maximum of 128 rooms.

For comparison, the nearby three-story Phoenix Inn has 102 rooms and an indoor swimming pool and the eight-story Governor Hotel has 119 rooms and an outdoor, seasonally open swimming pool.

Todd Stamm, city planning manager, says he put the item on the city's site review planning agenda as a public courtesy due to the controversial nature of the area. The city's site review planning group meets on Wednesdays to review presubmissions for proposed land use projects.

The tenant improvement permit application denial appeared to be a no-brainer for staff members.

“Short version: this permit application has substantial issues for fire and police,” said Stamm. Other staff concurred. The city’s lead building official, Tom Hill, agreed, saying that the application has multiple issues that need to be addressed.

“Yes, we need a land use application,” said Hill.

Wells was not at yesterday's early morning meeting, saying later that he actually wasn’t notified that it was on the agenda. Wells says he didn’t know if his tenant improvement application would be accepted or denied, and had a land use application ready to submit.

“There’s no reason why the city would deny a change of use from office to hotel and not issue us a building permit,” said Wells.

A tenant improvement application can often be easily handled by city staff when it involves changes to the interior of a building. A land use review combines State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, the design concept, a site plan review, and triggers an opportunity for public comment.

Asked to comment today on the hotel proposal, Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation said, "This has always been a concern in the background that someone would develop the building and we'd have to live with it for the next 50 years. Hopefully, this may give impetus for efforts to acquire the building for demolition purposes and incorporate it into an isthmus park."

The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation is raising funds to acquire a portion of the isthmus for a public park.

Above: From this viewpoint from Budd Inlet, the building in question partially obscures the state Capitol Building.

City Council Public Hearing Next Tuesday: Decision Will Determine Path of Project

The current zoning for that parcel allows a hotel on that site. However, a critical city council public hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, December 7, will determine the path of the proposed hotel project.

In January 2010, the Olympia City Council adopted an ordinance for the interim rezone of certain properties on the isthmus between the southern end of Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake. The interim rezone reverts back to the zoning that existed prior to January 1, 2009. The newly adopted rezone is intended to last until the end of 2010. The zoning is now Urban Waterfront (UW) and limits building heights to thirty-five (35) feet.

The reason for quickly adopting the interim ordinance last January was to prevent the filing of any new development applications under the zoning in effect at that time while allowing sufficient time to further evaluate the appropriate long term uses and allowable building heights for the area.

The city's Comprehensive Plan update is currently underway. To create a permanent rezone, the council will need to adopt a final rezone and comprehensive plan amendment by the end of the year.

In a November 1 meeting of the city’s Planning Commission,the Planning Commission recommended the creation of a new zoning category, urban waterfront-housing (UW-H), but with a height restriction of 35 feet. Simply put, it’s a new category in an existing zone.

On Tuesday, the city council will hold a public hearing and take action to consider two proposals for the isthmus: their own urban waterfront interim rezone ordinance or the planning commission’s new one, urban waterfront-housing with height restrictions.

“We’ll see what they do. The Urban Waterfront (UW) zone allows a hotel. If the interim ordinance were to lapse, it would revert back to Urban Waterfront - Housing (UW-H), which would not allow a hotel,” says Brett Bures, city associate planner.

The Views on 5th Avenue property is owned by a limited liability corporation and includes partners Jim Potter and Scott Shapiro. The area next door is the parcel owned by Triway Enterprises and is the site of the proposed "Larida Passage" project.

Shapiro, contacted by telephone to comment on the new land use application said, "A hotel is the highest and best use for the property right now - it's best for it to be occupied and would provide tax revenue to the city. I think it would be a win-win situation for everyone."

Above: The men's bathroom on the ninth floor. Hey, at least it's clean.

The owners estimate that it will cost $1.8 million in construction costs to structurally retrofit the building so that it will be suitable for a possible hotel. Asked to comment on this figure and the proposed hotel, Shapiro said, "It will be a sizable investment....it will create construction jobs in the short term and jobs for the long term. Environmentally, we are recycling an existing building as opposed to demolishing it and putting it in a landfill." Shapiro said the owners will be seeking LEED certification and that the facade will look "much nicer." LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification system.

Above: The Views on 5th Avenue - International Style.

Neil Falkenburg, asset manager for the property provided a tour for this reporter yesterday afternoon of the years-vacant, gutted-out former state Department of Corrections building. Taken to the ninth floor, Falkenburg showed a poster of what the building would look like after a remodel.

“At the time we were envisioning the property to be an office building, the city’s design review committee wanted us to stay true to the building’s original design, called an 'International Style.' It (the design) will not change as a hotel - it’ll stay the same," Falkenburg said.

Another building near the property, a single story building covering 17,000 square feet, is owned by a related partner group, but is not part of the current permit request, says Falkenburg.

Pacific Real Estate Partners agent Troy Dana says the property, which has a spectacular 360 degree view of Olympia, Budd Inlet and the state Capitol Building, is currently on the market for $9.5 million.

Asked if he will now try to market the property to various hotel chains, Dana said, “It depends on what the owner asks me to do - I don’t think we’ll limit ourselves to any one market segment. I’m not actively marketing the property right now…I’m just waiting for Scott (Shapiro) and Jim (Potter) to give me my marching orders.”

For more information, contact Brett Bures, associate city planner, at 753-8568 or Todd Stamm, city planning manager at 753-8314 or go to www.ci.olympia.wa.us.

For more information about the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, go to www.oly-wa.us/OCPF.

For more information on the city of Olympia's isthmus zoning issues, the city's Planning Commission, or Olympia City Council actions, see other articles on www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type keywords into the search engine.

Specifically, see www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, October 19th, “Planning Commission Tables Isthmus Rezone Discussion” for recent background information

Above: The current interior of the building on the ninth floor on "The Views on 5th Avenue."