Monday, July 31, 2017

Seniors Denied Safe Access to Trail System

Above: Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement facility on Lilly Road in Olympia, have quietly worked for over two years to gain safe access from the edge of the facility’s property to the Chehalis Western trail system. Many of the residents use canes, walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters. Negotiations between the City of Olympia and property owners of the facility have stalled.

City Neglected to Obtain Right of Way, Property Owner Denies City Access

Ensign Road Neighborhood Pathway Project Received $162,000

Residents May Have Title II American Disabilities Act Case

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation

Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement living facility for seniors at 426 Lilly Road in Olympia, want improved access to a public trail that is so close and yet so far.

For over two years, they have patiently worked with their property management representatives, MBK Senior Living, and the City of Olympia to create safe access to the Chehalis Western trail system trail.

The hazardous connection is from the end of the property’s sidewalk at the end of Ensign Road to a steep, 65 foot dirt path that drops several inches, then dips down into the middle of a drainage ditch, and rises again to meet the trail. Another potential access point is also difficult and blocked by a parking lot curb and a rough lawn.

The Chehalis Western trail system offers 56 miles of paved, uninterrupted trails, allowing access to regional businesses, homes, work, and recreational activities.

On a regular basis, dozens of able-bodied staff and residents, including bicyclists, access the area near The Firs to reach medical offices, the Memorial Clinic, assisted living facilities, St. Peter Hospital, Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health), and a nearby apartment complex.

Many seniors who are disabled cannot negotiate the drop from the sidewalk to the dirt path, like Manuel Gutierrez, who is an amputee and uses a motorized wheelchair. He lives in a nearby apartment complex and drives to the edge of the sidewalk to watch others access the trail.

Brave motorized scooter riders access the trail either by driving to the next accessible entry point near Kaiser Permanente to the north, about one fourth of a mile away, or to an asphalt pathway to the south near an apartment complex, the Olympia Crest Apartments, also about one fourth of a mile away.

The intersection of Lilly Road and Martin Way is the second busiest intersection in Thurston County.

Above: As another resident of The Firs drives by on his motorized scooter, Ken Lewis, a resident of The Firs, stands in the middle of the dirt path that leads from a sidewalk with a several inch drop off to the Chehalis Western trail.

Above: City of Olympia councilmember Clark Gilman, center, met with Sherman Beverly, left, and Freeman Stickney, right, and about 20 other residents of The Firs in June to discuss their request for safe access to the Chehalis Western Trail. 

Beverly, a former resident council president at The Firs, is a professor emeritus of Northeastern Illinois University, and has recently published a book. In June, he shared with Gilman that he is nearing his 90th birthday and encounters difficulty accessing the trail.

Residents Petition City for Access

The city approved $162,000 for the Ensign Road neighborhood pathway in 2016 and has been supportive of the residents’ request for access. 

The city prepared to begin work on the project this summer, however, the property owner, Olympia Propco, LLC, denied the city right-of-way, thus blocking the project.

Clark Gilman was chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory committee when he first heard about the issue. He is now a council member. 

Gilman and Little Hollywood were recently invited to The Firs to take a look at the steep dirt path and hear the concerns of about 20 residents gathered to discuss the issue. 

Freeman Stickney, a former resident council president at The Firs, spent his career in the Air Force and the National Weather Service.

He says a significant number of the 130 residents at The Firs, including more than half a dozen who use power chairs, would like to use the trail for exercise and enjoyment.

In September of 2015, Stickney, along with residents Sherman Beverly, Jr., and Ken Lewis, presented a petition to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, signed by 85 residents asking the Olympia City Council to include their request for access in its neighborhood pathways program to extend the sidewalk in the 2016 budget.

The petition was acknowledged, and forwarded to the city council for their consideration.

“A few of the residents with power chairs have mentioned to me that they would use the Chehalis Western trail to reach businesses on Martin Way and the South Sound Shopping Center. The old railroad grade is level, and much easier and safer to traverse than Lilly Road,” said Stickney.

“The Firs highlights access to the trail in their advertisements. They have even organized trail walks, weather permitting – for those able bodied!” he added.

Gilman said that while it appears the property owner thinks that space is valuable for possible expansion, he doubted that the city would approve one. The drainage ditch causing the dip in the trail is actually a stormwater retention pond, and a wetland the size of about 10 to 15 acres is located directly adjacent the trail. 

During winter months, at least 12 inches of water is in the ditch, making access to the trail difficult for everyone.

“I think it would be good public relations for MBK Senior Living and The Firs to allow the city access. It’s not taking away anything from them. We could provide a nice bench and plaque on it, letting everyone know that they allowed this to happen. Let’s get this done, especially before it starts raining again,” added resident Mike Flothe.

City Realizes Its Own Oversight to Obtain Right of Way

Records indicate that the city has worked hard for two years, making numerous attempts to contact the appropriate representative for Olympia Propco, LLC, which is based in California, and proactively negotiate for the area.

Through the city’s Site Plan Review Committee, city staff reviewed the area and worked out the requirements needed for approval of the trail development and submitted its pathway design to the property owner.

The city is asking Olympia Propco, LLC to dedicate a 60 foot right-of-way for Ensign Road, as required by a development condition of approval that was apparently never completed, and dedicating roughly 18 feet by 50 feet of pathway right-of-way.

The facility was built in 1984.

The city realized its oversight when residents of The Firs made their petition for access. It has offered the owner a relatively small, but undetermined potential land tax reduction and offered to pay Olympia Propco, LLC a nominal fee of $10,000 for 13,897 square feet to expedite the process.

In 2015, the onsite executive director of The Firs’ property management company, MBK Senior Living, wrote a letter to the city supporting its residents, saying, “An ADA compliant trail access would be greatly appreciated and welcomed to our neighborhood and The Firs.”

Residents of The Firs believe they have a strong case with regard to Title II of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers state and local government activities.

Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities such as public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings.

Lack of access to the trail for those with disabilities covers several of those categories.

A MBK Senior Living representative based in California, Kevin Hanlon, wrote an April 7, 2017 email to city surveyor Ladd Cluff, seemingly extinguishing all hope for the seniors, disabled, and others members of the public from being able to safely access the trail.

“Being a senior community, we are extra cautious and sensitive to anything that could possibly make our property less secure. We’re very concerned a new access trail point might bring in greater activity and create a potentially less safe area. It is our belief at this time, that an access point in this area would not be prudent,” wrote Hanlon.

Cluff responded that that the response was very disappointing.

“The pathway would have a significant positive impact to our community. We will inform the public stakeholders that the pathway project is unable to move forward. Our message will be that the property owners are not willing to grant the public the necessary right-of-way for the pathway. We hope your position changes in the future,” wrote Cluff.

Max Rheinhardt, the new executive director for The Firs, recently addressed residents about the issue and on two occasions, suggested in meetings that the property owner may fence off the area in question for liability reasons.

He had little to say in a brief interview with Little Hollywood, except to say that some residents do not understand the situation.

Ken Lewis, 85, a retired manager of the hospital licensing program under the state department of health, has spearheaded effort for safe access for the past two years.

Lewis is active and regularly walks and bikes the Chehalis Western Trail. His wife is not able to access the trail, and the couple recently decided to move from The Firs to another retirement community that has access to trails.

“Fencing off the area would be horrible, and the worst possible, unintended consequence of our efforts for safe access. I even wrote Olympia Propco, LLC in June about my decision, and I never received a communication back. We gave The Firs notice that we will vacate our apartment with the lack of trail access as the primary reason. They need to know there will be consequences for their failure to resolve this issue,” said Lewis.

Above: Ken Lewis, center, speaks to Councilmember Clark Gilman and residents of The Firs at a meeting in June about the the proposed pathway on Ensign Road.

Ensign Neighborhood Pathway Application Funded

The residents of The Firs are not alone in their desire for access to the trail.

The nearby Olympia Transitional Care and Rehabilitation skilled nursing care facility has over 100 residents and over 130 employees. The facility shares a parking lot with The Firs and the trail is frequently used by its staff and residents throughout the year. 

Its administrator, Ben Jensen, wrote a letter to the city in 2015 in support of The Firs’ resident request for safe access to the trail from Ensign Road.

Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to the residents of The Firs at the time, a neighborhood pathway application to the city had been independently written and submitted in mid-2015 by Keith Edgerton, on behalf of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association.

Edgerton works across the street from The Firs as Providence St. Peter Hospital’s Sustainability Coordinator.

St. Peter Hospital is the largest private employer in Thurston County and has an active commute trip reduction program.

“Creating a safe trail connection would greatly improve all neighborhood business and St. Peter Hospital's ability to encourage staff to use alternate forms of transportation in order to reduce congestion in this area. This pathway would encourage residents (including the elderly) to access the trail for health and wellness benefits,” wrote Edgerton in his application.

“Whether it’s cyclists, persons with disabilities, moms pushing baby strollers or elderly people trying to access the trail, the existing trail connection poses access limitations and safety concerns.

The project received $162,000 in 2016 and the go-ahead from city council. However, the money has been sitting in the Capital Facilities Plan budget, on hold, ever since.

Asked what could happen to this funding, Michelle Swanson, city staff for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, says there are no other Neighborhood Pathways projects scheduled.

“This gives us the flexibility to reserve the funding for the Ensign Pathway for a while, in case the property owners decide to come back to the negotiating table. Were there another project in the pipeline, we probably would have moved on from building that project. 

“As we told them, we do hope they’ll come back to the table. We believe in the value of this project,” she said.

Above: John Gessner has lived at The Firs for about two and a half years. He uses a motorized scooter and must go out of his way to use alternative access points to the trail, either behind Kaiser Permanente or to the south, near Olympia Crest Apartments, along Lilly Road. He says there are five or six residents with scooters who would like to use the trail, but don't, due to the lack of safe access.

Last month, Gessner took a spill off of his scooter at the intersection of Lilly and Ensign Road. Luckily, several passersby immediately jumped out of their cars to assist him and right his scooter. He was shook up and slightly injured. Gessner wants trail access closest to the facility so he doesn’t have to use the streets to access services. I was lucky. My scooter was laying on top of me. I wouldn't have been able to get it off of me if it hadn't been for those folks.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Special Olympics Softball in Olympia

Above: Thurston County softball team member Sam Spencer, left, gives a high five to a member of the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team after a game at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday afternoon.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Raucous cheers of support, gentle chiding between teammates, and lots of humor could be heard all day as Special Olympics Washington held its 2017 Southwest Region Softball Tournament at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday.

“Way to go, Michaela!” and “Nice hustle, Adam!” could be heard coming out of the Cowlitz Black Bears’ dugout. The T-ball team from Kelso was playing a team from South Kitsap.

“Drink some water!” coaches, caregivers, and parents often urged.

“I’m hot,” said one player.

“So is everyone else – you’re no different,” replied his teammate.

Above: Henry, with the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team, takes the batter's stance.

About 800 players and 48 teams participated in softball games organized at LBA Park and Yauger Park on Saturday, set at a variety of ability levels depending upon player abilities, said Jennifer Palmer, senior sports manager for Special Olympics Washington, who was staffing the registration table.

Traditional teams have several divisions made up of players working within a range of abilities. Unified teams made up of team members with and without disabilities also compete. If an individual’s skill set isn’t at the T-ball or traditional team level, they play other games.

She said the state is broken up into four regions for the tournaments. The Southwest region covers an area from the top of the Olympic Peninsula down to Vancouver, and includes Pierce County.  

The teams that advance at the regional level will go to the state championships held August 18-20 in Everett.

Special Olympics Washington relies on many volunteers, including Tom McCann, who said he has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years.

While he was busy at the registration area, Palmer said McCann earned the 2007 Special Olympics Washington State volunteer of the year award because he comes to every event and has the great ability to anticipate a need.

Above: Bob Tauscher, coach for the Thurston County team, gives a high five to a player who just ran to home base.

Bob Tauscher, a coach for the Thurston County team, has been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years, focusing on basketball and softball teams.

He said Thurston County is represented by several teams at all ability levels with players ranging in age from 12 to 63.

While getting his team ready for a game, he immediately credited Thurston County coach Mark Barker with organizing special education programs and teams out of his home for the last ten years. Barker was coaching Saturday at the Special Olympics tournament's Yauger Park location.

Thurston County dropped its funding for special education programs, amid serious outcry by participants, parents and advocates, several years ago. 

“Mark is one heck of an awesome coach,” interjected Ali Chambers, 34, who says Barker has been her coach since 2006. She says she is more into soccer, but came to the tournament to cheer on her friends and take pictures. 

“I’m the paparazzi,” she laughed.

Hal and Donna Spencer sat near the Thurston County team dugout, supporting the team and their son, Sam, aged 36.

Hal Spencer is a retired reporter for Associated Press, and spent his last 12 years in Olympia covering the Legislature.

Spencer says Special Olympics sports bring a lot of joy to people with developmental disabilities and those who support them. As a family, the Spencer's have been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years.

In the past, Sam enjoyed participating with Left Foot Organics, a now-defunct organization that promoted self-sufficiency and inclusion for people with disabilities and rural youth while growing and selling organic food.

“Special Olympics help Sam feel like he’s part of something. Those on the spectrum often feel isolated. He enjoys the camaraderie,” added Donna Spencer.

For a history about Thurston County's specialized recreation programs and budget situation, go to Little Hollywood, and

For a history of Left Foot Organics, go to Little Hollywood,

Above: There was lots of excitement as a South Kitsap team player got caught between second and third base. As the ball was thrown to third base, she ran back to second base.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lacey City Council Hears Homeless, Advocates

Above: The Lacey City Council listens to a speaker at the podium about a proposed ordinance prohibiting camping in public places on Thursday evening. Patrick and Danelle Helsper, foreground, live in a recreational vehicle in a parking lot in Lacey and spoke to the council about their current circumstance.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The City of Lacey just turned 50, and the city council held an appreciation ceremony at its meeting Thursday night for those who made the year long celebration a success.

The accolades, though well deserved, along with the announcement of the city's new song, You're Never a Stranger in Lacey, could not have been more poorly timed.

Ironically, the city also had on their agenda consideration of an ordinance related to the prohibition of camping on public property. 

Tens of community members, social workers, and advocates for street people filled the room in opposition to the ordinance. Hasty conversations between council members just prior to the start of the meeting was observed

When it came time to approve the agenda, Mayor Andy Ryder made a motion to table the controversial agenda item, saying he wanted people to have a chance to comment on it.

City councils typically do not allow public comment on items already on the agenda and there had been no previous public discussion about the proposed ordinance.

City attorney Dave Schneider gave a brief report, then the council unanimously put the item on the agenda for discussion at their next work session, scheduled for August 3 at 7:00 p.m., Lacey City Council chambers.

The staff report, which lists no disadvantages to the ordinance, reads, Increasingly, people are camping in public areas in cities and towns across the country. Such camping is taking place in areas that are not designated as, nor intended or designed for camping. The allowance of camping in such areas presents health and safety concerns for the public. Other Washington cities have begun to regulate camping activities via their city codes. 

Currently there is limited regulation on this type of camping in the City of Lacey. Recent case law suggests that regulations which prohibit camping in public areas are permissible provided adequate shelter options are available for those camping due to lack of shelter. In the Lacey-Olympia-Tumwater area there are several such shelters available, some partly funded by public means. Accordingly, the City of Lacey may legally regulate camping.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit camping in any park, on any street, or publicly owned parking lot or publicly owned area. Violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine or by imprisonment not to exceed ninety days, or both.

compassionate enforcement section states that the investigating officer shall inquire as to whether the camping is due to homelessness. If the officer learns that is the case, the officer shall determine whether any known homeless shelters within the cities of Lacey, Olympia, or Tumwater have adequate space and facilities available to accommodate the subject of the investigation. 

If the officer determines that all such shelter space is full, the officer shall not issue a citation. If the officer determines that there is shelter space available, the officer may, within his or her discretion, issue a citation, provide directions to the shelter and/or offer one-time transportation to the shelter.

Above: Community members lined up to address the Lacey City Council Thursday night.

A wide range of representatives and volunteers from area homeless support and advocacy organizations, such as Sidewalk, Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, and Just Housing argued that there are not enough shelters in the region to house the homeless. The City of Lacey does not have a homeless shelter.

Community activists with veteran support groups, the Libertarian Party, the Thurston County Democratic Party, and various Tumwater and Lacey city council candidates all spoke in opposition to the ordinance. 

Others literally came out of the woods to speak for themselves, telling first-hand stories of their experiences with homelessness.

In all, thirty articulate, passionate speakers spoke to council members.

Just Housing arranged carpools for several people to attend the meeting. Many speakers handed out flowers to council members.

The flowers, some with names attached, signified those who have passed away on the streets or those who are surviving on the streets without shelter.

Tye Gundel, an organizer with Just Housing, said she wanted the flowers to remind council members that the ordinance represents so much more than a simple rule on paper.

“It is an ordinance that has the potential to affect the lives and survival of hundreds. We need to remind them that each one of them has the power in their vote to prevent so many more beautiful flowers from suffering and even possibly, from dying,” she said before the meeting.

Patrick and Danelle Helsper came to the meeting on their own, after hearing about the proposed ordinance on Seattle based radio stations KIRO and KOMO.

“I can’t give you an address,” Patrick Helsper started, trying to fulfill the typical requirement requested by public bodies when speakers approach the podium to speak.

He said he and his wife have been married for 34 years. Their home was foreclosed, and both have medical issues, making them unable to work. They receive Social Security, and park their motorhome in the parking lot of a Lacey business.

The couple says there aren’t enough recreational vehicle parks in the area and Capitol Forest changed its rules, allowing camping ten days in a calendar year.

“We don’t litter or leave trash. …We’re not criminals, we don’t do drugs, we’re just down on our luck! What are we supposed to do? We want to know!

Eric Miller said that this proposed ordinance hit home for him because he and his brother grew up homeless in Lacey.

When he was about 13 years old, his single mother developed agoraphobia, a fear of leaving the house, which they eventually did not have. He did as many odd jobs as he could. Friends would let them sleep in their garage or on couches. They also lived on the streets.

Through all that, he was vice president of his student body, graduated from South Sound High School, and received a community service award.

“My childhood was not easy, but one benefit that I feel like we had was that my mom didn’t have to run from the police or worry about our RV getting towed or impounded. We did have a lot of other things to worry about, but to me, at a time that income inequality is growing further, we need to look for a way to reach out to the most vulnerable and make things easier for them instead of figuring out new ways to attack them,” he said in an interview before the meeting.

James Blair, of Yelm, is chair of the Libertarian Party of Thurston County.

“When this meeting started, each and every one of you stood up and said The Pledge of Allegiance. The last sentence is, ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ This ordinance does not promote liberty and assuredly does not promote justice, he said. 

I don’t tell people this very much, but for nine months, I slept in my truck….Multiple times, wherever I parked, I was told to move….Everyone in this room could end up in the same situation….This doesn’t target homeless people? That’s the only people it’s targeting….You say other cities have this similar ordinances….If someone jumps off a cliff, would you? It’s wrong, and Lacey needs to step forward and find a different solution.

TJ LaRocque spoke as a private citizen in opposition to the ordinance. 

LaRocque works for Providence St. Peter Hospital and will serve as the manager for the Providence Community Care Center currently under construction in downtown Olympia. The center will provide wrap-around health and wellness services along with showers and restrooms.

He said that if the ordinance was enacted, it would be difficult to reverse, and that the City of Olympia’s ordinance, which is similar to the one proposed by Lacey, has caused damage to the community. 

“Even if this is with the best of intentions not meant to be coordinated around the homeless, there is no way to separate an ordinance like this from homelessness,” he said, saying that the majority of those who are car camping are families who could best be helped with rent assistance and rapid rehousing.

Since Lacey does not have a downtown, he said he does not want to see the ordinance push people out of Lacey and into a concentrated area like downtown Olympia.

“…And when people are looking at whether or not there are enough shelter beds, we fail as a community, referring to the 200 people per night who showed up per at Interfaith Works’ temporary warming center in downtown Olympia this past winter.

Eric Franks, a man who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, said he became homeless one and a half months ago because the property owner recently sold the home he was living in. He says this is his third stint with homelessness.

He said that Tuesday was the 27th anniversary of the American Disability Act, and learned that in the late 1800’s, there were American cities that made it illegal for persons with “ugly,” or “unsightly disabilities to appear in public.

“This ordinance criminalizes humanity. I don’t want to go backwards,” he said.

Phoenix Wendt, who lives in the woods, is active in finding solutions. She participated in the drafting of a resolution that will be introduced to the Olympia City Council at its meeting next Tuesday. If passed, it could result in a standing committee on homelessness.

Before the meeting, Wendt was circumspect about her situation.

I love everyone and I appreciate everyone to the point that, yeah, I may have a difficult past but this is the best I can give you right now. Why is it that evil is still in this world? Why does it still exist? It is to make us humble to have the pain and suffering to move us closer to understanding love, joy, and beautiful mercy and compassion for others. It brings us closer together,she said.

Above: Just Housing organized a rally outside Olympia City Hall on Tuesday evening.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Olympia City Council Sends Trump Investigation Letter

Above: Sharon Herting of Olympia offers some social media app suggestions for participation in the political process outside Olympia city hall on July 11.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The Olympia City Council has sent a letter to Washington State’s congressional delegation asking members to pursue an “aggressive, independent investigation” into President Donald J. Trump’s business ties, Russian connections, and actions to impede federal investigations, as well as other alleged violations of United States law.

At the council’s July 11 meeting, council members decided not to endorse a resolution calling for President Trump’s impeachment, but promised to send a strongly worded letter asking the state’s congressional delegation to call for an investigation into impeachment.

Without using the word “impeachment,” the letter spells out impeachable concerns.

The letter, dated July 18, was signed by Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby on behalf of the council. It was written by Olympia city councilmember Nathaniel Jones and Olympia city manager Steve Hall.

Bonnie Jones, coordinator of Puget Sound Communities 4 Impeachment, praised the letter and hopes it will unify the council in going forward with a plan to introduce a rewritten resolution at a later date.

“Things seem to be moving fast in some ways, but we still have work to do,” she said.

Addressed to U.S. House of Representative Denny Heck, the letter asks him to promptly contact the United States House Judiciary Committee to insist that it pursue an investigation.

The letter reads in part:

“Your constituents in Olympia have expressed their grave concerns that the President has violated his constitutional oath to faithfully preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Also, they are concerned that in violation of his constitutional duty, he has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice.

“The President’s actions have led many to conclude that he has violated the Constitution of the United States Foreign Emoluments Clause, the Domestic Emoluments Clause and contract lease provisions of the General Services Administration.

“Further, his actions indicate that he has tried to curtail investigations of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the Russian state interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and the conduct of his campaign personnel, including possible collusion with a foreign government. His firing of FBI Director James Comey has been acknowledged as an attempt to curtail legitimate investigations. These various actions have lead many, including our mutual constituency in Olympia, to assert that obstruction of justice has transpired.

“The City Council firmly believes in the Constitution and laws of the United States and insists that no person is above the law. The Office of the President of the United States requires the holder to faithfully execute the laws and Constitution of our Nation.

“Yet, Olympians have found that Donald J. Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President, in a way that is subversive to constitutional government, and with great prejudice to the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury to the people of this great city.

“When the honor and duty of the President is in question, an investigation is imperative.”

For more information about the Olympia city council’s deliberations regarding the letter and a resolution, go to Little Hollywood,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Chambers Prairie Grange May Be Saved – Again

Above: Chambers Prairie Grange building owner Tom Schrader arrives at his property at the intersection of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard in Tumwater. Instead of demolishing the former grange, Schrader now plans to turn it into a Starbucks. He is in the process of purchasing the adjacent property, above, from The Farm Homeowners Association.

Starbucks Still in the Picture, Possibly in the Grange

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation - Continued

In late April, Little Hollywood broke the news that Chambers Prairie Grange property owner Tom Schrader was planning to demolish the 107 year old former grange and that he had entered into negotiations with Starbucks to build a new 4,000 square foot building on the Tumwater property.

The news surprised, confused, and angered many Tumwater city officials and community members.

In early May, City of Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet and several city staff members met with Schrader to discuss the future of the building and negotiated a series of understandings regarding right of way, new building requirements, a rezone of the adjacent acreage currently owned by The Farm Homeowners Association, a proposed drive thru, and setbacks.

Schrader has not yet filed a formal land use application or submitted final designs to the city but now, instead of demolishing the grange and building a stand-alone building, the grange is expected to be turned into a Starbucks, says Schrader.

Time will tell. The building is not listed on any historic register.

In his haste to move the project along, Schrader had filed a request for an emergency rezone of adjacent property belonging to The Farm in June but Mayor Kmet and the city didn’t see a way to declare it an emergency if Schrader was going to raze the grange and build a new building. 

City staff negotiated several sticking points with Schrader so, as far as the city is concerned, the former Chambers Prairie Grange can stay where it is, and does not have to be moved to accommodate future expansion to the Henderson Boulevard and Yelm Highway intersection.

Schrader purchased the grange building in 2015 and announced he wanted to save it and convert it into a neighborhood coffee and sandwich shop. After verbal miscommunications with the city and receiving a rezone of the property in late 2016, he declared that the building could not be saved and began dismantling the interior.

As part of the negotiations to spare the grange from outright demolition, the Tumwater city council approved the sponsoring of a comprehensive plan map amendment and the associated rezone of an adjacent property owned by The Farm Homeowners Association, but not without some questions and comment, at their meeting Tuesday evening.

Getting the amendment and rezone on the city’s work docket allows staff to study the issue.

The Farm and a Proposed Rezone

The area being considered for a rezone is part of The Farm Homeowners Association property to the west and south of the grange on Yelm Highway.

Once an agricultural area, the grange is now surrounded by a tangle of different zoning categories.

Schrader has long been interested in this property in order to have more space to develop his property.

The purchase is still not final, but The Farm Homeowners Association community approved the sale of its property to Schrader in concept on May 25. The vote was 81 to 8 in favor of the sale, said Schrader.

Depending on the outcome of a property survey, the property is between 18,000 and 22,500 square feet in size and will cost Schrader about $100,000.

A developer agreement between Schrader and The Farm is also being prepared and expected to be finished next month. The city is drafting the agreement and must approve it before the rezone is granted.

The proposed amendment would change the Comprehensive Plan map designation of a portion of the parcel from Single Family Low Density (SFL) to Public Institutional (PI) and the zone district designation from Single Family Low Density (SFL) to Community Services (CS) to match the comprehensive plan amendment and associated rezone done for the former grange property in 2016.

Once the docket becomes final, staff will review the proposed amendment as part of their 2017 long range plan work program. The final docket review will start with a Planning Commission review and recommendation process that will begin in September.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Councilmember Nicole Hill wondered about setting a precedent for rezoning an open space tract to a different use. Staff agreed that the question was a “worthwhile concern,” but said that it is not clear from the record how it became open space, and that it is a remnant area fenced off from The Farm subdivision.

Members of the council and the Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission have been polite, but have indicated that they felt duped into the 2016 rezone from single family low density to community service, having been swayed by Schrader’s enthusiasm and promise that the grange and its historic character and integrity would be saved.

At a previous council meeting, Kmet admitted they all should have asked more questions and asked for a developer’s agreement at the time of the rezone of the grange property.

Schrader says Starbucks is willing to wait for the proposed rezone process to be complete. A few months ago, they did not prefer to be in the old grange building, but now, he said, they may be open to ideas.

Schrader went to Seattle on Tuesday morning to meet with Starbucks representatives to discuss his latest architectural drawings and ideas. Schrader says he wants Starbucks on the top floor of the grange, and he will keep the basement for parties and events.

Above: The basement of the Chambers Prairie Grange as seen in November, 2015.

Along with other changes, Schrader says that he has already taken out the floor and walls, and the stage will be taken out. In a 2015 interview, Schrader said he would save the stage.

With the historic integrity of the building and its surroundings slated to be dramatically altered, including the cutting down of at least three large Douglas fir trees and one maple tree to make a drive thru, it is uncertain whether or not the deal will be worthwhile to some historic preservationists.

At their last meeting, members of the city’s Tumwater Historic Preservation Committee discussed their desire to tour the property and see the inside of the grange.

Mike Matlock, community development director for the City of Tumwater, says the city is only interested in exterior appearances.

Dave Nugent, president of The Farm subdivision, says members of The Farm want the exterior appearance of the grange retained as a notable landmark, saying the grange is integral to his neighborhood.

Grange members built the hall on land donated by the Wickie Family, completing the structure in 1910, one of the first in Thurston County.

When Nugent was informed that Schrader visited Starbucks representatives with designs showing Starbucks in the grange, the news concerned him.

“Putting Starbucks in the grange without losing its historic integrity is something. The more he starts to modify the building the more he’ll lose the protections the city has offered him….It’s certainly gone back and forth. It is our hope that the grange is kept there. We want to see that corner taken care of,” said Nugent.

Nugent said Schrader has a lot to get done before The Farm sells their property to him, but strongly believes Schrader always intended to save the grange.

As for the building’s interior, he hopes Starbucks will want to tell the story of the grange and its history through pictures and design.

Nugent says he knows some trees will be lost and doesn’t think the neighborhood will be impacted. With the proceeds from the sale of the property, The Farm intends to create a barrier between the subdivision and the property to minimize noise and light pollution, and make other safety and beautification enhancements to the neighborhood.

“The sale of our property (to Schrader) is fortuitous. Neighbors are looking forward to the whole idea of going over there to get coffee and pastries and have it be a gathering spot,” said Nugent.

Above: A lot of traffic passes in front of the Chambers Prairie Grange on Sunday afternoon at the intersection of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard. Construction is ongoing for an active senior living facility across the street.

The Art of the Deal...Tumwater Style

In a development process that sounds a bit like learning how sausage is made, communications between Schrader and the city have improved in the last few months, particularly after an early May meeting resulted in negotiations laid out in print.

In a May 6 email, Mayor Pete Kmet wrote Schrader that if he wants to preserve the current building in place, the city is willing to support a vacation of a portion of the city's right of way on Henderson that the building encroaches on, in exchange for additional right of way on Yelm Highway where the stairs are, with removal of the stairs.

The city is also willing to support a waiver to the twelve foot sidewalk requirement along Henderson and Yelm Highway and reduce this to a six foot wide sidewalk and support a waiver to reduce the ten foot building setback and landscaping requirement so the grange does not need to be moved.

Regarding a drive thru, city code prohibits the placement of a drive thru window between a building and the street. Kmet said the city would not support a variance from this requirement. 

“With acquisition of the Farm’s parcel, it appears possible to achieve sufficient queuing to enable provision of a drive thru window on the west side of either the existing or a new building, he wrote. 

The rezone of The Farm parcel and vacation of a portion of the right of way on Henderson Boulevard are dependent on city council approval. Similarly, any variances depend on a hearing examiner decision.

Schrader is thrilled with the negotiations with the city, and if he gets the rezone, says his intent is to combine the properties and provide full service access points with left and right ingress and egress on both Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard.

“This is huge - now the entrance and exit for this corner is much easier for everyone….Things sometimes have a way of coming back around for the good. I will be keeping the grange, and buying the extra property…I can now go back to doing what I had always hoped for, and that is to restore and keep the grange,” Schrader said.

For more photos and information about the Chambers Prairie Grange and its history, and Tom Schrader, and go to Little Hollywood, and type keywords into the search engine.