Monday, August 1, 2016

Olympia’s Green Cove Basin Watershed Threatened by Possible Rezone

BranBar, LLC is seeking a rezone near Cooper Crest Neighborhood

Above: Sal Munoz, president of the Cooper Crest Neighborhood Association, walks on the sidewalk of Cooper Crest Drive NW, a narrow street that leads to property owned by BranBar, LLC. He was one of several individuals who testified at a hearing last week  against a proposal to rezone BranBar property for a housing development. The BranBar development would be using Cooper Crest roads, as there is no other way in or out of the neighborhood.

By Janine Gates

The slow death by a thousand subdivisions of the environmentally critical Green Cove Basin watershed continues in west Olympia with the possibility of a land use rezone, and with it, the possibility of yet another housing development.

A request to change the zoning of about five acres at the west end of Crestwood Place NW from residential one unit per five acres to another category called residential low impact (RLI), would allow up to 20 single family dwellings on the property.

There is no actual land use application for the property pending before the city, so it is difficult to ascertain the full impact of the proposed rezone, but neighbors of the adjacent Cooper Crest neighborhood are upset.

The undeveloped, heavily wooded property, owned by BranBar, LLC, of Covington, is represented by Brandon Anderson, and was annexed in 2006 from Thurston County into the City of Olympia, along with the Sundberg property off Cooper Point Road.

These annexed areas contain the only areas of the city zoned residential one unit per five acres, which was a remnant land use designation prior to annexation.

The RLI designation is intended, the city says, to protect sensitive drainage basins.

The RLI definition states that it accommodates some residential development within sensitive drainage basins at densities averaging from two to four units per acre, provided that the development configuration avoids stormwater and aquatic habitat impacts.

The actual density for this parcel would range from 10 to 20 units. Lacking an actual application, the city settled on assuming the maximum would be desired.

The site lies in the Eld Inlet watershed within the 2,626 acre Green Cove Drainage Basin, considered to be critical aquifer habitat. The Green Cove Creek basin has its own comprehensive plan, adopted by Thurston County in 1998.

For more information about this watershed, see Little Hollywood’s story, “Housing Development Threatens West Olympia’s Green Cove Basin,” May 9, 2016, which focuses on Parkside, a preliminary plat application currently before the city that proposes to subdivide 30 acres near Cooper Point and 20th Avenue into 65 to 75 single family lots.

Above: Cooper Crest Drive NW, currently a dead end labeled as a future neighborhood collector, leads to the BranBar, LLC property. The street is surrounded by wetlands, which are labeled as protected by the City of Olympia.


The City of Olympia is supporting the BranBar rezone and issued a state environmental policy act determination of non-significance on June 22 for the proposed project. The comment deadline was July 6 and the appeal deadline was July 13.

The determination was not appealed, but several residents of the Cooper Crest Neighborhood Association showed up in force at a public hearing in front of Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmeir on July 25 at Olympia city hall to express their opposition to the rezone. The hearing lasted three and a half hours.

Scheibmeir, who said he made a site visit to the neighborhood and the property earlier that afternoon, said he would issue a decision in a timely manner and has up to 14 calendar days from the date of the hearing to do so.

Several speakers mentioned the Green Cove Basin Comprehensive Plan in their testimony, but it was only after Lisa Reiner, president of the nearby Burbank/Elliott neighborhood association, asked him directly if he had read the plan, that he responded that he had not, and in fact, no one had provided him a copy. He requested that city staff provide him with a copy of the document.

Residents brought up issues primarily related to traffic.

“….Although I’ve known and appreciated the environmental sensitivity of this area for years, it was not until I began reading, viewing maps, and comprehending the cumulative developments in the basin over the last 20 years that I became alarmed. My original testimony plan focused almost exclusively on traffic with only a brief mention of environmental issues,” said Russell “Rusty” Horton, an original resident of the Cooper Crest neighborhood, in an interview with Little Hollywood after the hearing.

Horton says the Green Cove Creek and Basin are special areas worthy of protection.

“In Cooper Crest, only a few hundred feet from the BranBar parcel, I have personally seen nesting Bald Eagles fledging their young in multiple years, coyotes, owls, hawks, long and short-tailed weasels, deer, cougar, pileated wood peckers, rough-skin newts, and salamanders. The water from BranBar drains directly to Green Cove Creek where the sensitive mudminnow and salmon and trout species spawn. I realize these are not all threatened species, but they are all indicative of the balanced ecosystem we want to see,” said Horton.

Little Hollywood asked Cooper Crest Neighborhood Association president Sal Munoz why the neighborhood did not appeal the state environmental policy act (SEPA) determination.

He said the $1000 appeal fee for the SEPA determination was difficult to pull together in a short period of time.

“We don’t spend that kind of money casually and we don’t know what the hell we’re doing – we just don’t know land use. We assume it would have required the hiring of a land use attorney, and that would have required a significant expenditure of money,” said Munoz.

Horton echoed that thought, and said he is looking ahead to the next step in the process.

“While extremely frustrated that the SEPA document defers all study until the rezone is approved and a development proposal is submitted, I thought that any appeal effort might be better focused on an actual development proposal SEPA - to try and force an environmental impact statement.

“Personally, I find it incomprehensible that we cannot use our imaginations and study theoretical densities that would be allowed by a rezone prior to the development proposal being submitted. We should have a right to not give away a greater density designation without first understanding its potential effects,” said Horton.

Above: Cooper Crest Neighborhood Homeowners Association president Sal Munoz discusses the history of the neighborhood near the BranBar LLC property. Here, Munoz describes how the streets were damaged by past BranBar, LLC activity to access their property. The road shows visible gouges. 

Cooper Crest History

“In my opinion, it is not wise or safe to add additional burdens to our streets…it’s not just volume, it’s about the character of daily life…this is a spot rezone to aid one owner at the expense of others,” testified Sal Munoz, an original, 11 year resident of the Cooper Crest Neighborhood Homeowners Association, at the public hearing on July 25.

Developed by Tri Vo of Triway Enterprises, the Cooper Crest neighborhood has had a long and torturous history. 

Touted as Olympia’s first so-called low impact residential development, the neighborhood features 138 homes built close together and narrow streets with multiple bulb-out curbs that constrict traffic. 

Residents are tight-knit and appreciate the family friendliness of the neighborhood, but also struggle with the challenges and realities of the development.

Residents immediately complained of shoddy workmanship and the area’s high water table, resulting in poor soil drainage, causing extreme flooding issues. Most of those issues have been corrected, but stormwater issues are constant, as most of the development features varying elevations.

Most important to the neighborhood right now is the fact that the BranBar development would be using Cooper Crest roads, as there is no other way in or out.

A city traffic impact study by the city states that the BranBar development would put the neighborhood at its fullest capacity.

Neighbors say the count conducted on March 8 by the city was low by 40 – 60 vehicle trips, and did not take several factors into consideration, such as several vacant homes, an extended vacation by a resident, and cars accessing the mailboxes on Cooper Point Place.

In general, the narrow streets are usually clogged with resident and guest vehicles, which, when parked in driveways, spill over onto sidewalks. Parking enforcement issues are constant.

Traffic is bad enough when residents need routine homeowner maintenance or other professional services, but they cannot imagine construction crews for BranBar moving through their streets.

Currently, with cars parked on one side of the road, each main access road is essentially a one way street.

Children routinely play in the street at Cooper Crest. Neighbors, who govern themselves through a private homeowner’s association, know to crawl through the neighborhood at 5 to 10 miles per hour. Many are worried that residents and guests of the proposed BranBar neighborhood will not be so careful.

Prabakar Manoharan, a 10 year resident of Cooper Crest, testified at the hearing and remarked that he has never seen such narrow streets anywhere in Washington State.
He said residents and their guests routinely use a fire lane, originally meant to be gated and used only in case of emergency by the fire department.

“Especially while entering the community, it is inviting to use the fire lane as a short-cut for more than 60 percent of the homes in the community,” said Manoharan. He said that he is sure that if the BranBar property is rezoned, residents who live there would do the same.

“The fire lane was funded and created specifically for Cooper Crest home owners and we maintain it. Has the city given a thought on how to control excess traffic in the fire lane or does the city have any future plans for the fire lane?” he asked.

He and others urged the city to create a separate access point from 20th Avenue to BranBar, identified as Road 65 NW, near Julia Butler Hansen Elementary School. The road would connect Cooper Crest Drive and Crestwood Place to the corner of 20th and Road 65 NW.

“The only benefit in the whole rezoning process is to the developer in saving some money from constructing an access road. Approving such a project increases the burden for existing and new homeowners, increasing the accident risks in the neighborhood. Please don’t be a part of it,” urged Manoharan.

Rusty Horton, who lives on Cooper Crest Place, a relatively minor street, says his street has become a de facto neighborhood collector for the lower half of the neighborhood.

“It was designed for a maximum of 500 vehicle trips per day…even now I have to deal with the speeding, safety, and access concerns of a street that is functioning like an avenue. I especially worry about the safety of my very active five year old and his young friends…Even without the new 20 homes from BranBar, Cooper Crest Place is nearly at its design value and will become a failing road if as few as eight new homes are built in BranBar,” he said.