Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Isthmus Public Hearing: Most Support Interim Zoning Ordinance

by Janine Gates

"When city council is going well, no one comes to council meetings," said Thad Curtz looking out at the relatively sparse crowd of about 65 people gathered for tonight's public hearing at the Washington Center. The hearing addressed the city's interim ordinance to rezone building heights on downtown's "isthmus" area back to 35 feet.

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which holds 1000 people, was booked in anticipation of a large crowd. "This is the best seat I've ever had at the Washington Center!" joked a city staffer who sat up in the second row near the stage. A public meeting held regarding the isthmus issue in September 2008 packed the Center to capacity.

Tonight, 27 individuals signed up to testify at the public hearing, most of whom thanked the council for their leadership in repealing the previous council's decision to increase building heights on the isthmus to a maximum of 90 feet. Four of the 27 spoke against the interim ordinance, including former city councilmember Joan Machlis.

Peter Stroble, a member of Oly2012 who opposes the interim ordinance, asked the council to "...surround the (nine story) Capitol Center Building with buildings of like scale and it makes more sense...." The city's Design Review board recently denied Triway Enterprises' design plan for large mixed used buildings on the site in part because it was out of scale with its surroundings.

Kris Goddard thanked the council for its decision to change the isthmus zoning back to 35 feet. "(The rezone to 90 feet and) giving up the views is akin to giving up your virginity - you can never get it back," she said to laughter from the crowd.

Several community members testified that they support the interim ordinance, but that it doesn't go far enough in acknowledging the issue of sea-level rise. Jim Lazar suggested a moratorium on development throughout the projected sea-level rise inundation zone until a solution, such as a dike, is implemented.

Rob Ahlschwede said one of the unintended consequences of the rezone issue is that it actually brought the community together. "It increased public participation around the comprehensive plan and the shoreline management plan," he said.

Indeed, there were a record 69 applicants for openings on several city advisory boards. The application process, which just closed yesterday, also attracted fifteen people who have applied for four vacancies on the Planning Commission, according to Cathie Butler, city communications manager.

Mayor Doug Mah said the council will make final comments on the interim ordinance at its meeting on March 9th.

The current council is operating with six members due to the absence of Councilmember Joe Hyer. Hyer was charged today with three felonies related to alleged drug offenses, according to The Olympian newspaper.

Later asked by this reporter what would happen if council votes were to tie three to three, Tom Morrill, city attorney, said that in this case, the interim ordinance will stay in place. "All the council has to do at this point is adopt findings to support the ordinance. If you have a stalemate (on future issues), then you just don't move forward," Morrill said.

The deadline to submit written comments for the record on the isthmus rezone interim ordinance will be accepted until Friday, February 26, at noon. Comments may be submitted to the Olympia City Council, P.O. Box 1967, Olympia, WA 98507 or email, citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us, or hand delivered to Olympia City Hall, 900 Plum Street, SE, Olympia.

The hearing was televised on Thurston Community Television (TCTV), on Olympia's cable channel 3.