By Janine Gates
In late April, SPEECH board members met a grant deadline to address an issue that could seriously influence the immediate future of downtown Olympia: the proposed Urban Waterfront Rezone and Height Amendment. SPEECH, as an environmental education and information center, is maintaining a neutral position on the issue.
SPEECH received the $500 grant from the Community Sustaining Fund of Thurston County and will produce a forum entitled, "Envision Downtown Olympia." The forum will be held Thursday, June 19, 6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church, 1224 Legion Way SE. Thank you Community Sustaining Fund for your support!
The City of Olympia Planning Commission will hold its first public hearing on the proposed rezone amendment on June 24 at 6:30 p.m. at The Olympia Center, so our forum on June 19 is well timed.
Our forum will be moderated by Eve Johnson, former president of the League of Women Voters. Confirmed speakers include Rich Hoey, Water Resources Director at City of Olympia Public Works who will give a presentation on predicted sea-level rise in downtown Olympia, Barbara Gooding, former director of the Washington State Department of Community Development and former planning commissioner for the City of Olympia, who will offer a brief history on Olympia's current downtown zoning issues, Steve Cooper, downtown property owner, investor, and concerned citizen, and Bob Jacobs, former mayor of Olympia, who currently leads the organization Friends of the Waterfront. Other speakers and organizations have been invited and have yet to be confirmed at press time.
A major portion of our program will promote community dialogue about the application to the city by Triway Enterprises to rezone building heights to 90 feet. For an understanding of how high 90 feet is, the vacant Capitol Center Building (which is not part of this project and will remain standing) is 108 feet high. The area in question is immediately across from Bayview Thriftway as you come in and out of downtown via the 4th and 5th Avenue bridges.
On this area of land, Triway intends to build five and seven story buildings, which will include high-end retail shops and 141 condos that will sell for $800,000 - $1 million each. The proposed rezone also includes the area further up the block currently occupied by Traditions Fair Trade and other local businesses.
There are environmental issues related to the proposed project such as expected sea-level rise and how the development may impede current and future proposals for restoration of the Deschutes Estuary by removing the Fifth Avenue dam.
Another portion of our forum on June 19th will encourage participants to brainstorm what is needed downtown and how we can make that happen by understanding how our local city government operates. What city and citizen boards and committees exist? How can the broader Olympia community be involved at the ground level of conversations as they arise, instead of having decisions hit us like a brick after the fact?
Triway Enterprises was invited to participate at our forum, but the opportunity was declined. SPEECH is very disappointed. It will be a missed opportunity for the community to see and hear the project's vision directly from the developer and his staff. We look forward to their presentation at the Planning Commission public hearing on June 24. Please plan to attend that meeting and arrive early.
I've lived here 25 years and although I consider myself to be an informed and mildly involved community citizen, I addressed the city council for the very first time a couple of weeks ago. I was scared stiff but had practiced my comments in front of my kids so they could time me. City council rules allow citizens to comment on issues for a maximum of three minutes.
Practicing worked, and I gave my statement with nine seconds to spare. It felt good to go on public record about something that I care about: the future of this community. I'll probably do it again, and I invite you to do the same.
There should be no fear of personal attack or future reprisal, no matter what one's position is on the issue. And our community, with such talented and smart members, is small enough that we should strive to learn how we can work and play together to come up with a common vision.
If you would like to help SPEECH with upcoming community outreach opportunities, please let me know.
Janine Gates is the President of SPEECH. She can be reached at www.janinegatesphotography.com.
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