Thursday, March 20, 2014

First Day of Spring in Olympia

By Janine Unsoeld
Babies in strollers, puppies on walks, cherry blossoms in bloom, and children of all ages blowing bubbles on Percival Landing…hey, it’s the first day of Spring!

A 22 year tradition continued with bubble blowing on Percival Landing by “The Kiss” statue during the noon hour today. The event happens no matter what the weather – wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, and yes, sun! This year, it was all sun, blue skies, and puffy white clouds, with just the right amount of wind to help blow the bubbles up into the air.

Above: Ten children from Debbie’s Daycare in Tumwater participated, and many others who heard about the event, or just happened to be walking by. Many said they will come back next year. The tradition will continue!
There are many critical life lessons to be learned during the tricky craft of bubble making and blowing. For the adults, the secret formula for the perfect bubble juice is very exact and concoction amounts must be measured carefully for the creation of awesome bubbles.
For the children, patience, too, is key: bubbles don’t always work out, depending on the wind and other factors, especially when other children take great joy in stomping and popping them before they get too far away.
Above: One boy received a private lesson on the art of bubble making from Gita Moulton, left, as he used a special wand that opened and closed. He showed great patience and his efforts paid off splendidly.
Above: Devon D., an artist who was making a rubbing of nearby tile art onto black construction paper, also came by to participate in the festivities.

A great time was had by all!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Olympia Planning Commissioners Meet Privately With Developer Before Zone Amendment Hearing

By Janine Unsoeld
A situation of a possible violation of the Open Public Meetings Act when two strategically planned, off the record meetings and conversations occurred, involving six members of the city Planning Commission, three Olympia city councilmembers, and an area developer, Jim Morris.
The Planning Commission is a quasi-judicial body that hears land use issues and reports and makes recommendations to the city council.
Morris is a party to a code text amendment zoning case having to do with a professional office/residential multifamily zoning district in the Kaiser-Harrison area on the Westside of Olympia.
Morris is in favor of the proposed zoning code amendment, and submitted comments on it prior to the deadline of March 10.
March 10 at 5:00 p.m. was the last day to comment on the case, File 14-0210, which is currently before the Commission. Several community members who knew this made the effort to comment, with many requesting that no action be taken on this case by the Planning Commission or the council until all the facts, meetings held, and conversations are known.
Some community members are calling for the resignation of Chair Max Brown, Vice Chair Kim Andresen, and possibly others. These letters have been posted online at the City of Olympia website with the agenda for the next Planning Commission meeting on March 17.
The Planning Commission heard the case on March 3, and is scheduled to deliberate and vote on a recommendation on the zoning text amendment case involving Morris’ property on March 17, a decision which is forwarded to the city council. 
Letter About Off-the-Record Meetings
Late last week, Little Hollywood received emails containing two attachments: a letter dated March 8 from Judy Bardin, Olympia Planning Commissioner, addressed to Leonard Bauer, City of Olympia deputy director of the department of community development and planning, and a letter dated March 9 from attorney Bob Shirley to the Olympia Planning Commission.
The letter by Judy Bardin details that she was invited by telephone by Planning Commission vice chair Kim Andresen to attend a private meeting with developer Jim Morris and others related to the development field.
Bardin chose not to attend because she felt it would be a conflict of interest given Morris' interest in the zoning code amendment and her position on the Planning Commission. In February, she found out that four other members of the Commission and city councilmember Nathaniel Jones attended the meeting held January 31 at the offices of Jim Morris.
On March 3, another meeting was held with Morris, real estate agents and others, with Planning Commissioner Carole Richmond, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and Councilmember Cheryl Selby in attendance. The evening of March 3 was when the Planning Commission heard the zoning case in a public hearing.
Bardin said she decided to write the letter because she is concerned about the integrity of the Olympia Planning Commission and concerned for the public perception of the commission with respect to whether it is dedicated only to the public interest.
Bardin goes on to say that she does not think the commission should take any action on File 14-0210 and that the vote scheduled for March 17 should be tabled indefinitely.

The March 3 Planning Commission Meeting
In the online audiotape of the March 3 meeting of the Planning Commission at, Planning Commission Chair Max Brown tries to quickly shut down Ms. Bardin's question about the meeting with Morris held earlier in the day. The conversation starts at 1:39:30, and lasts almost exactly five minutes.
There is great effort to get a minimal amount of information dragged out of city planner Amy Buckler, who chooses her words carefully, and Planning Commission Chair Brown about the meeting.
The following is an unofficial transcript as heard from the audiotape by Janine Unsoeld and is not to be used for legal purposes.
Bardin: I wondered if Commissioner Andresen could fill us in on the meeting at Morris’ office today.
Andresen: That was a private meeting, you mean, it didn’t really have anything to do with the business at hand though.
Brown: Yea, I think I’ll take that one off the record for - since it’s not part of the - our liaison assignments – I’ll leave that ‘til a later time.
Bardin: Could we hear who was at the meeting?
Brown: (asking Andresen) Are you OK with that, or -
Andresen: Could we ask staff if this is pertinent to the meeting?
Buckler: Well, I think what she’s asking is, ah, the Planning Commission leadership and the Planning Commission itself wanted to meet with some economic development or developers – to learn about development issues in general and I think you announced it at another meeting or told everybody or invited everybody  individually to come outside of a quorum, to sit with some developers, not to speak about any particular projects themselves but just issues in general as part of your efforts to learn more. And when it was discussed at the leadership team meeting it was - Leonard was at the last one of these events - it was announced at that particular event that this was not specific to any issue with the city, there’s not a quorum, it was a general discussion about development issues, just like when other groups meet to learn more about their specific issues, like the Carnegie Group, so –
Bardin: So, I’m just curious, umm, who was at – there was an earlier meeting?
Male Voice: Yes.
Bardin: So, there were two meetings that were basically the same, pretty much the same, today, and the earlier meeting, sort of the same agenda?
Buckler: The same agenda existed for both…I’m trying to figure out what information you would need….the whole planning commission has had the opportunity to be there.
Bardin: Right, but it would just be nice to get, like, a report. Was anything discussed that was relevant to planning and who was at the two meetings?
At this point Chair Brown jumps in, speaking quickly.
Brown: I can give a report - I just don’t want to take up more time since this wasn’t something that we were going to discuss as tonight’s meeting. I’ll give a quick overview…and we can talk about this off-line. The day that we went, I think, there were four commissioners: myself, Commissioner Andresen, Commissioner Parker, Commissioner Horn, city councilmember Mayor Pro-Tem Jones was there, and then a group of four or five, either developers or commercial real estate folks and they were just kind of saying, ‘Here’s some of the opportunities that the city has to or that we see – or that other jurisdictions are using to help incentivize growth and to get projects moving.’ There’s kind of a perception in the community – and Leonard was there as well – and I think, it was just, more than anything, it was a question and answer opportunity for us as officials and city staff to say, ‘What are other jurisdictions doing to help you that’s making it easier for you to do business here that we can be aware of and it was really just kind of some pretty candid conversations about past opportunities that have been missed or, umm, projects that have had opportunities but never been developed but we were very clear about saying any projects that anyone is intimately involved with or working on currently is not to be discussed and those issues were not discussed. It was really just an informative – and I think part of it, too, was to build those relationships of something that hasn’t been in the past to say, ‘What did we learn, what do we not know, you’re the experts, we’re not, what can we do, so I think I’d like to leave it there and kind of wrap it up real quick if you don’t mind and feel free to ask me questions of the meeting or those that have participated. There might be one more and if you have time to go I think it would be very beneficial to hear what people are doing and what people are trying to make happen….
Brown then abruptly adjourns the meeting after getting a first and a second to do so.
Brown, in explaining that at least one more meeting was planned, assures that, eventually, all planning commissioners and city councilmembers would have been extended the opportunity to privately attend one of these off the record meetings, again, without any official quorum, just prior to votes by both bodies about the code amendment case involving Morris.
Commissioner Richmond's Perspective
In a public email on March 9, Planning Commissioner Carole Richmond said that the meeting she attended on March 3, the same day as the Commission meeting, was not about the zoning change affecting Morris' property, which she says was never brought up.
Richmond says Andresen did not stay for the March 3 meeting, because she said she had a “professional relationship” with Jim Morris, indicating that she is an employee or consultant to Morris. Leonard Bauer, deputy director of the city’s Community, Planning and Development department, attended the first meeting.
“Issues discussed were: The homeless situation and how that affects the desirability of doing business or living downtown, lack of a unified vision for the future of Olympia, the costs of construction downtown, restrictions imposed by lenders (one of whom was also in the room), and "things taking too long." That was about it and it was just a free-flowing conversation. These are certainly issues over which the City Council and Planning Commission have some influence, but none of these issues have taken the form of proposals to be acted upon. I think these are issues that developers (and others) would like the Council and Commission to put on the radar,” said Richmond in the email.
Richmond goes on to say that she is glad that Bardin brought the issue to the attention of the whole Planning Commission because of the "appearance of fairness" issue.
"Morris scheduled these meetings so that less than a quorum of Planning Commissioners could attend (at staff/OPC request) and that looks bad. Given a choice, I would've preferred for one meeting with developers to be held during a regular Planning Commission meeting, as nothing was discussed that couldn't be said in public, but I didn't question this. I do know that many developers don’t particularly want to take part in public processes and I wanted to hear what they had to say,” said Richmond.
City Response to Public Comment
Leonard Bauer, city deputy director of Community Planning and Development, sent a letter via email on March 12 at 5:26 p.m., to all those who commented, including Little Hollywood, on the meetings with Morris.
The letter summarizes information about the two meetings, providing explanations that were never given at the commission meetings by staff, commissioners, nor mentioned by city councilmembers Jones, Buxbaum, or Selby during their council reports.
It is common practice for commissioners and city council members to report their attendance at community meetings that they attend, especially if more than one or two or three attended the same meeting.
Bauer attended the January 31 meeting. He states that at the beginning of each meeting, it was stated and agreed that there could be no discussion of any issues that could become the subject of review by either the Planning Commission or City Council, including no discussion of any specific permit or specific use.
Bauer says the topics of conversation included that the cost of construction in downtown Olympia is high, making redevelopment difficult; impact fees are high and the timing of the payment may be difficult to finance; lending practices for construction can make it difficult to redevelop; the usefulness of the multi-family housing tax credit program; increased homelessness has had negative impacts on potential development in downtown Olympia; and a perceived lack of a unified vision by the city for development in Olympia.
Great topics, worthy of public discussion, yet, Morris and others were able to privately control the conversation, and personally reach and possibly influence six out of nine Planning Commissioners and three out of seven city councilmembers.
One public, official opportunity was never offered to the commissioners, councilmembers or the public to learn more about these “economic development opportunities” or “barriers to development” from a developer’s perspective.
Many commenting on the situation feel that the fact that no one spoke up about the meetings until the issue was forced by Commissioner Bardin seems to be a deliberate attempt to circumvent the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act. Such actions cast suspicion on how prevalent the practice is of purposefully arranged private meetings of members of the same body to prevent a quorum, which would trigger public notice and recording of the conversation.
“I am concerned about the integrity of the OPC, since it has recently come to light that they are having secret meetings with developers. While this might technically be legal, it sure is sleazy. How can I pursue this problem as a private citizen?” writes Nancy Sullivan to the city clerk in a March 9 email.
“…According to a member of the Planning Commission, the staff and members of the Commission recently met in private with a party with a material interest in the instant rezone request – an ethical and legal breach of practice. There was, evidently, an awareness of the fact that such meetings were improper….Will there be consequence in this instance? Will the consultant to the developer be asked to resign from her post? Will the tarnished rezone issue be withdrawn from consideration? Will this initiate a serious review of how the city conducts itself and does business? I look forward to learning the steps the city will take,” writes Bethany Weidner to Community Planning and Development staff in a March 9 email.
The City of Olympia website is

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oyster House Restaurant Takes Shape

Above: Oyster House restaurant owners Leticia and Tom Barrett inspect the progress on the framing earlier this afternoon.
By Janine Unsoeld
Construction has begun on the rebuilding of the Oyster House restaurant in downtown Olympia. The framing for the walls was built in the back parking lot of the property on Sylvester Street near Percival Landing and put up yesterday morning with a crane in three hours. 
Today, Oyster House owners Tom and Leticia Barrett stopped by to check out the progress. They said they hope to open by mid July.
“It’s all still up in the air, and depends on the weather. God willing, everything will work out… there are a lot of people out of work,” said Leticia Barrett.
About 50 employees were put out of work when the restaurant burned down due to a suspected dryer fire in July 2013.
Leticia Barrett said they hope to rehire some of their previous employees, but many have moved on to other positions. Barrett said she is in conversation with the state Department of Labor, who will host a special hiring day for them about a month before opening.  
As the Barrett’s left the job site, Butch Livengood, a framer for Bailey Construction, who was busy doing his job, said, “We’ll get it done.”
Above: The Oyster House restaurant yesterday morning, shortly after the framing went up.
High Tides, Sea-Level Rise and Wiring Concerns
When asked about the electrical wiring along the Budd Inlet side of their property, which is often underwater depending on the tides, Leticia Barrett said they have all their permits and is confident everything is up to code with the city. 
Last September, Little Hollywood asked city staff about the integrity of the wiring around the Oyster House since the high tide of December 2012:
“….As you probably know, the New Jersey boardwalk businesses may have burned down a couple weeks ago because of waterlogged wiring after Sandy. This is being disputed, but Governor Christie is convinced. Is there a way to find out if electrical inspections were made of city/private property wiring after December's high tide?”
In a series of September to October 2013 emails from Little Hollywood to city staff, Paul Hanna, the city's fleet and facilities supervisor for the public works department, said that the city’s department does normal electrical preventative maintenance inspections on city buildings only. 
“We have not done any inspections specific to water intrusion, because our buildings were not affected by the high tide.  I’m not aware of any other inspection work that was done,” said Hanna.
David Hanna, associate director of the Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation department, also said in an email that there was no inspection of the Percival Landing electrical system after the heavy rains.
In a conversation late this afternoon with Tom Hill, the city’s building official and code enforcement supervisor and permit and inspection manager, Hill said he'll have the city's electrical inspector take a look at the situation.
Above: As seen from Percival Landing looking toward the Oyster House and the state Capitol Building in the distance, this picture was taken February 28, 2014, at 4:40 p.m. when the high tide was about 14.4 feet near the Oyster House.
Above: A close up of the wiring. The wire is imprinted with “Above ground and Underground - Sunlight Resistant” Is the wiring sea water resistant? Picture taken February 28, 2014 at about a 14.4 foot tide.
Above: A lamp post and another electrical box up close. The paint on the lamp posts is in direct contact with Budd Inlet and looks corroded. Picture taken February 28, 2014 at a 14.4 foot tide.
Above: The Oyster House, seen here, with the wiring and its parking lot fully submerged by sea water on December 17, 2012 after the high tide.
Above: At another angle, the Oyster House's parking lot, lamp posts, and wiring to the restaurant is seen here fully submerged by sea water on December 17, 2012 after the high tide.
To read more about the Oyster House and see more December 2012 high tides pictures, go to and type keywords into the search button.
Sample articles include, “Witnesses to High Tide in Olympia” posted December 17, 2012 and “Olympia's Shoreline Master Plan and the Oyster House Restaurant: A Missed Opportunity for Budd Inlet Restoration?” posted September 20, 2013.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Columbia Heights…Take Two…or Three…or Four….

Above: Big, yellow, official public notice signs....When you see one of these, don't just walk on by! Stop and read it! It may have more to do with you than you may think! This one on 4th Avenue illustrates the land use intentions of Columbia Heights Partners, LLC.
By Janine Unsoeld
A new, new, new public notice for a proposed downtown Olympia project called Columbia Heights was issued a couple hours ago by the City of Olympia. 
The land use application, submitted by Columbia Heights Partners, LLC, is for a proposed mixed-use, seven story building with 138 market-rate residential units in the 100 block of 4th Avenue West.

Mostly notably, the latest notice says that a public meeting of the Design Review Board has been rescheduled from March 13 to March 27, 6:00 p.m., at Olympia City Hall.
Due to errors in previous notices, this is the third notice issued for this site under the current owners. The property, sold by the city, was owned by previous owners who intended to build residential units on the site, and was approved to do so, when the company went bankrupt before the project began. The previous permit approvals expired, resulting in a new city and public review process.

The other public meeting dates for an upcoming informational meeting, an extended written comment period, and a public meeting of the city site plan review committee remain the same as written in the second notice issued, and mentioned in a March 7 article by Little Hollywood.
For more information about the proposed Columbia Heights project, go to and type keywords into the search button or contact Steve Friddle, Principal Planner, City of Olympia, (360) 753-8591 or

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Proposed Downtown Olympia Drug-Free Zone Ordinance Passes Committee

By Janine Unsoeld
To potentially thwart the activity of drug dealers in downtown Olympia, a proposed drug-free zone ordinance passed the city’s Land Use and Environment committee on February 20 and will now go to the full council.
It has not yet been scheduled to be heard by the city council as of this week.
The draft ordinance designates five civic centers located in downtown Olympia and the area within 1000 feet of the perimeter of each civic center as drug-free zones.
These civic centers include the Hands-On Children’s Museum on Adams Street, the Washington Center on Washington Street, the Olympia Center on Columbia Street, Olympia City Hall on Fourth Avenue, and the Olympia Timberland Library on Eighth Avenue. A map indicating the areas shows that the downtown core of Olympia is covered.
The draft ordinance, states, “…there is an increase in the consumption of illegal felony drugs, including methamphetamine and heroin….Drug-free zones will permit a potential enhanced sentence if a person is convicted of a felony drug offense in violation of 59.50.401, 69.50.410, and 69.50.204, excluding marijuana leaves and flowering tops….”
The creation of the draft ordinance was a joint decision made between multiple agencies and departments within the city. 
The police department worked with the city prosecutor, the Thurston County prosecutor, the Thurston County Sheriff, the city manager’s office, the Community Planning & Development department, the Parks department, and the Public Works department.
The top five reasons for arrests downtown in 2013 in descending order, are outstanding warrants, drinking in public, trespassing, assault, and narcotics, says Amy Stull, senior program specialist for police community programs at the Olympia Police Department.
Roberts and Tunheim Address Proposed Ordinance
Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim explained the proposed ordinance in a brief presentation to the committee.
“State law allows this designation….It certainly is not the solution. We can’t arrest our way out…but it does allow us to identify those repeat offenders and refer those cases….All these areas are where we’ve had a considerable number of calls,” said Chief Roberts.
The proposed ordinance uses current statute language and does not take the passage of I-522 into consideration. “The marijuana discussion is different,” said Tunheim.
Tunheim said his office would use the designation as a strategy, and is a collaborative effort with other agencies. “It has a valuable role, and is really consistent with the ongoing efforts of the Olympia Police Department and all law enforcement leaders of the community with a more regional approach….I want to stress it’s not our intention to go on an all-out enforcement effort and jail everyone we can….It’s about the prosecution of drug dealers and the ability to address the chronic offenders with some enhanced sentence.”
Tunheim said that with an arrest for a felony drug case, the offender could go to the state prison system if the sentence exceeds one year, or it could get handled on a county level. “The enhanced sentence automatically kicks us into that conversation for treatment options, through the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) or Drug Court.”
The Thurston County Superior Court Drug Court is a 12 – 18 month treatment program, but not everyone is eligible to participant.
Tunheim said, “Coerced drug treatment can be as effective as voluntary treatment, and that’s a shift of what we’ve known before….The more leverage you put on the table, the greater chance they can get treatment.  Make no mistake - dealers are in it for the money. That’s what they’re motivated by.”
Roberts and Tunheim would like a map of the ordinance area to be part of the ordinance. “Admitting it into evidence makes it easier for us, so we can say, ‘here’s the zone, here’s where the deal happened.’”
Tunheim added that the prosecution doesn’t have to prove that the offender knew it was a drug-free zone and says a dealer is defined as someone who possesses drugs and paraphernalia with intent to deliver. Evidence could include packaging, materials for the purpose of redistribution, scales, notes, records, multiple packages of all the same weight, and the presence of drugs.
“There is no automatic threshold – it’s just the totality of evidence,” said Tunheim.
Tunheim said he plans to ask the court to restrict the offender’s ability to come into downtown. “If the court puts that in place and a law enforcement officer knows they have that order, then they will be in violation of a court order, and the officer can engage that person and make an arrest.”
The specifics of an exclusion order will be addressed at the time the order is issued by the court, said Chief Roberts, when asked later by Little Hollywood.
Asked if there is capacity to hold additional offenders, Tunheim said yes. “Yes, we have capacity. We have for quite awhile. We face this challenge of people not looking at a lengthy sentence for a felony…they serve time, get out, and do it again. It’s tougher for us to push people into treatment….The Drug Court has their own treatment staff. There is capacity. In the county overall, outside the criminal justice system, for detox and drugs, there is a lack of capacity.”
Felony offenses are already illegal in parks so drug-free zone signs will not need to be placed in parks such as Heritage Park or Sylvester Park, which are governed by the state. It is expected one sign per city facility would be sufficient notice.
“The signs will send a message to the community that we’re taking this serious, that we’re cracking down,” said Councilmember Jeannine Roe.
Councilmember Langer said he would like to get the word out to the Tacoma community that dealers are not welcome in Olympia. Roberts and Tunheim said there are already collaborative efforts underway with the City of Tacoma Narcotics Task Force.
Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, asked about the Olympia Farmer’s Market. Roberts admitted that the market is not included in the zone and is a point of contention in discussions. “I was concerned with going too far. It is city property….the city attorney will have to weigh in.”
Councilmember Steve Langer invited public comment during the meeting, and community member Monica Hoover said that the proposed ordinance criminalizes poverty.
She followed up her comments with a letter to the council, saying in part, “I have no faith that the prison system contains solutions for the vast majority of the problems we are facing in society.  They are mostly part of the problem that drains resources away from what people really need.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world; many times greater than countries that we might consider our peers.  Longer sentences for drug related crimes are a significant part of this problem.  Please reject this ordinance and work for solutions that don't exacerbate the prison problem.”
Tunheim responded, saying that in the last 25 years, there has been a dramatic shift away from incarceration to treatment. “….Evidence is showing us that criminal justice gets people into treatment and use the system as a way to get into treatment.”

Roberts said that when people complete Drug Court, the charges are dismissed.

Roe said she views the proposed ordinance as a deterrent for hardcore dealers. “It may save some lives, and targets individuals making a business of this.” Langer agreed. “I support this. It deals with drug dealers and not users.”
Exclusion From Downtown Olympia
Later, Tunheim clarified for Little Hollywood that whether a certain offender is excluded from the downtown or not is ultimately a judge's decision and will likely be made on a case by case basis, depending on the circumstances of that case and the offender. 
“Both the state (through the prosecutor) and the defense are allowed opportunities to make recommendations to the court before a judge makes the decision.  My deputy prosecutors will generally recommend a condition like this if they believe the person continues to present a risk of further criminal behavior downtown.  A judge can potentially order someone excluded from downtown at any point in time after they are arrested and charged and, once imposed, a condition like this would likely last until the case is concluded. However, if the defendant is convicted, the same order can also be part of the court's sentence extending the condition up to a couple of years.”
To clarify questions regarding the Drug Court program, Tunheim also said later:
“In almost all cases involving drug related charges, participants who graduate have their charges dismissed.  That is part of the reward for successfully completing the treatment program.  Their “record” (because it does not involve a conviction it is generally only available to law enforcement) shows only that they were arrested and charged, but that the charge was dismissed.  If someone enters drug court but is terminated before they graduate, then the judge decides their guilt or innocence for the original crime based only on the information contained in the police report.  If convicted, then they will have that conviction on their record.”
A conference, Substance Abuse: A Community Response, will be held Wednesday, April 30, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Great Wolf Lodge Conference Center, 20500 Old Highway 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531.
Sponsored by the Thurston County Drug Action Team, the conference will provide educational breakout sessions, opportunity for discussion and collaboration, and informative professional keynote speakers.

Prevention leaders, treatment professionals, law enforcement professionals, educators, health professionals, government officials and community members are invited to attend. 

The conference is designed to cover all community sectors and focus on current and emerging issues, latest research findings, best practices, successes, lessons learned, and problems solved. The conference is designed for all levels of experience. 
Early-bird registration, on or before March 31, is $35 and includes lunch. Regular price registration, April 1 and later, is $45. Payment for registration must be received on or before March 31 to qualify for the early-bird price.
For more information, contact Tamara Clark, Events Coordinator, TOGETHER!, at or 360-493-2230 ext. 10.

For more information about the proposed ordinance, go to the February 19, 2014 story, “Draft Drug Ordinance Covers All of Downtown Olympia,” at
The City of Olympia website is

Friday, March 7, 2014

Downtown Business Owners, Residents Discuss New Building Proposal

Above: The parking lot adjacent to several downtown Olympia businesses is the proposed site for a new, mixed-use, seven story building with 138 market-rate residential units.

By Janine Unsoeld

Over 30 downtown business owners, employees and residents attended a city sponsored neighborhood meeting last night at Olympia City Hall to discuss the permitting process and proposed plans for a new, mixed-use, seven story building with 138 market-rate residential units in downtown Olympia.
The proposed building address is 123 4th Avenue West and borders Columbia Street, Capitol Way, 4th Avenue, and 5th Avenue.

The applicant, Columbia Heights Partners, LLC, of Seattle, is planning 7,600 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and structured parking for 121 vehicles. It is uncertain if the applicant will allow the public to park in their garage.

The space is currently a parking lot, next to the New Moon Cooperative Café, and the former Ken Schoenfeld’s furniture store on the corner of 4th Avenue West and Capitol Way, and Olympia Federal Savings, which is on the corner of 5th Avenue and Capitol Way.
The lot was sold by the city in 2002 to the Colpitts Development Company who intended to build residential units. The permitting process was approved by the city, and then the applicant went bankrupt.
Steve Friddle, lead city planner for the project, convened the informational meeting to explain the new proposed project and answer questions and concerns. Some questions went unanswered until more is learned from the applicant. There are several known differences between the previous application for this site and the current one.
The commercial element is new and there are more residential units, but with a smaller square footage per unit. Because of the commercial element, and the proposed building is in a historic area of downtown, the city’s Heritage Commission will also be involved.
This morning, the city issued a revised, second notice of application for the project with several new dates. The first notice of application was issued February 18 with several errors.
A second neighborhood information meeting will be held March 26, 6:30 p.m., at Olympia City Hall, and an extended comment period will end at 5:00 p.m. on March 28.
The city’s site planning review meeting for the proposed project is now scheduled for April 2, 9:00 a.m., at Olympia City Hall.
However, a city Design Review Board meeting for the proposed project has not been changed. It is still scheduled for March 13, 6:00 p.m., at Olympia City Hall.
Friddle said that the proposed project is expected to get underway in May, and estimated that construction will last for about 14 – 18 months, which will include a loss of parking on Columbia Street, pile-driving, noise, and emissions related to construction.
Several people expressed concern about the financial viability of the applicant, and named other projects that were begun before the recession, but not completed, such as the barely-begun eyesore on Capitol Way near the Olympia Farmer’s Market and other proposed high-end residential projects that were never begun, such as the residential and mixed use Larida Passage project proposed for the isthmus in downtown Olympia.
Simon Gorbaty, one of 14 owners of the New Moon Cooperative Café, which is located adjacent to the project, is concerned that the original public notice contained incorrect information and does not give citizens adequate time to comment. The city received the application during the week of February 13 - February 18.

Late tonight, Gorbaty says he is aware of the revised land use application, but is still upset that the date of the Design Review Board has not been changed.

“The Design Review Board meeting date applies to the previous notification which was in error and doesn’t allow the public enough time to find out about the project and comment on it.”

Gorbaty says that as of 4:30 pm today, over 130 Olympians, employees, and/or owners of several downtown businesses, including Bamboo Garden, New Moon Cooperative Cafe, The Spar, Spider Monkey Tattoo, Last Word Books, Café Love, Rainy Day, Dumpster Values, Danger Room, Earth Magic, Hannah’s, Chopsticks, Saigon Rendezvous, and G. Miller have signed on to a petition expressing concerns about inconsistencies in the application process of the project.

It asks, in part, that the city postpone both the Design Review Board and Site Planning Review meetings to allow downtown residents, workers, local property and business owners time to assess the impact and understand the implications of the project.

“Basically, I went down to City Hall and started to review some of the documents for this project and it seems to me that they are using proposal information from 2008, including the traffic impact analysis, and may be taking short cuts on some important environmental regulations. It's hard for me to read through all of these documents but some obvious red flags are coming up,” Gorbaty told Little Hollywood several days ago.

At last night’s meeting, Micheal Snow, another owner of the New Moon Cooperative Café, said, “We’ve been doing very well since opening, but we still owe $70,000 on our loan, and we pay $1,500 a month….We can’t sustain a loss in business….If our sales drop just three percent, we’ll go under.”

David Scherer Water, vice president of operations at Deskoba Inc., a commercial property development and management firm, has lived in a building on the corner of 5th and Washington for the last fourteen years, and supports the proposed Columbia Heights project. At last night’s meeting, he urged some creative thinking and suggested that the New Moon Cooperative Café owners contact the Columbia Heights applicant directly to start a conversation.
In a letter provided to Little Hollywood today, Scherer Water says that less than four percent of Olympia’s population lives downtown.

“This is the lowest this ratio has been in the city’s history. A hundred years ago more than half the population of Olympia lived downtown. Fifty years ago it was about ten percent. Today 96 percent of our population comes downtown to visit, to shop, to party and they leave. I believe this is the source of most if not all of the complaints commonly made about downtown. We need more people to live downtown. Downtown Olympia will be a better place for everyone when there are more people who go to sleep and wake up here, and downtown will be less reliant on paid staff and police.

“I think the forested areas around Olympia are beautiful. By comparison, I think downtown Olympia is ugly and the perfect place for big buildings. I love the idea of big apartments going up in downtown Olympia, it represents less land that gets cleared for developments. As far as I’m concerned, you can wall off the waterfront. I could care less about blocking the view. If the Columbia Heights project caters to rich people, I say great, we could use some rich people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any living here now. So, bring them downtown, put some high-density McMansions downtown -- safely away from forested areas.”

Scherer Water understands that small businesses will suffer during the construction of the proposed Columbia Heights project.

“I encourage all concerned shops, restaurants and property owners to reach out to Columbia Heights LLC. I suspect that they'll want to have good neighbors, that they'll want to avoid negative public relations, that they'll want to get this building up without incident and are willing to help. Why? Because there's more profit in being good neighbors. That's just a fact. They're going to spend millions putting this thing in the ground. They'll want a return on their investment. Having the support of one's neighbors and helping neighbors remain whole during a construction is a smart investment that pays back over time.

“If I'm wrong about this last point, if they reject a request for help, then they don't know Olympia and this project will die from the negative public relations like so many others have. But, if I'm right, everyone will come out of this ahead, including them….There’s a consensus, based on a simple thing that seems self-evident, but it has been tested and it has been proven successful by numerous urban planning studies: the best way to improve a downtown area is to get more people to live there. And, the best people are all people, a mix of rich and poor.”

Skeptics and optimists for downtown projects abound: If built and occupied, the units would boast views of the state Capitol Building to the south, and Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains to the north. Even after an eventual sea-level rise takes over, the top floors may still have a view, unless liquefaction from the Big One brings it down first.

For more information about the proposed project, contact Steve Friddle, Principal Planner, Community Planning and Development, City of Olympia, (360) 753-8591 or

Written comments about the project are due by 5:00 p.m. on March 28, 2014 and should be directed to Steve Friddle, City of Olympia, Community Planning and Development, 601 4th Avenue E., P.O. Box 1967, Olympia, Washington 98501-1967. The proposed Columbia Heights project file number is 14-0015.
The City of Olympia website address is
To learn more about the New Moon Cooperative Café, go to the Summer 2013 issue of the South Sound Green Pages, “Cooperative Model,” at
Above: Steve Friddle, principal planner for the City of Olympia, explains the proposed Columbia Heights land use application last night at Olympia City Hall.