West Bay Welcomes Reprieve from Height Amendment Request
by Janine Gates
Whatever the reason, in an email dated December 26, 2008 to Olympia Community Planning and Development Director Keith Stahley, Triway Enterprises withdrew its proposed zoning amendment for an additonal 25 feet in height for its property on West Bay Drive. The parcel of land was formerly occupied by Reliable Steel and Hardel Lumber Company. Triway previously proposed approximately 150 condominium units on the site, and needed the additional 25 feet in height to do so, resulting in a total height of 90 feet.
The December 26 email says in part, "In response to concerns and comments raised at neighborhood meetings, including the one... on December 3rd, Triway has decided to withdraw one of its two text amendments, specifically the proposal to allow for an additional 25 foot height bonus for residential development." About 20 concerned citizens and seven Triway Enterprises project staff were in attendance at that meeting.
At that meeting, Triway representatives took an active role in explaining the project. Triway staff said they didn't have a specific proposal in mind, but offered complete-looking pictures of possible mixed-use scenarios that obscured views of the Capitol and Mt. Rainier from West Bay Drive. Triway architect Mort James explained, "We put some other buildings (four) on that site just to see what that would do... From the Hearthstone restaurant, you can see the spacing between the buildings. That was something we chose to do. Really, there's not much difference between 65 feet and 90 feet of what's blocked out," he said. "The parking lots preserve views... we'll have a walkway, and a trail..."
At one point, a Triway staff member said it could be assumed that a "lodging facility" of some sort would also be built on the site. This assumption was not elaborated upon at the meeting.
The development plan features 45,000 square feet of office space, and 16,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. If built at the 65 foot height, Triway would be required to include a shoreline park and a trail to connect to the 17 acre West Bay Park immediately south, which is currently being developed by the City of Olympia.
Triway's attorney said that, according to their own studies, the project could double the transportation impact on West Bay Drive, resulting in about 8,400 - 9,000 more car trips per day. Someone asked if Intercity Transit has any plans to expand service to include West Bay Drive, but the answer by Stahley was no.
West Bay Drive residents in attendance were not impressed with the peek-a-boo view options and were largely opposed to the project. "This is very exclusive and elite housing. I don't want to hear the argument about packing people in... this site is Mt. Rainier all the way. Let's face it, you are selling the view," said Patricia Pyle, a West Bay Drive resident. Another, John Zyrkowski, asked many questions and summed up his concerns early on in the meeting by saying, "Well, I'm just going to have to sue you guys if this goes through."
Charlie Kirry, vice president of the West Bay Neighborhood Association, noted his group's opposition to the proposal and read a statement explaining their position. In part, it states, "We do not have the transportation and other infrastructure on West Bay to be the housing district for downtown. We are a neighborhood, not the downtown, nor a high-density corridor... We support a coordinated review of shoreline land use regulations on West Bay's urban shoreline that meets several criteria..."
Kirry said that further traffic impact studies need to be conducted before a decision can be made under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). "The old studies... when (the) comprehensive plan amendments were done over 20 years ago is not sufficient," says the statement by the association.
Near the end of the meeting, a Triway staff member asked the group, "Forget about height for a moment, do people here want more residential or are you interested in seeing just an office building?" The group hemmed and hawed until one woman piped up saying, "I don't trust you enough to answer your question!" The impromptu outburst was met with relieved chuckles and heads nodding in agreement that the question was not as simple as presented.
The developer, Tri Vo, was in attendance throughout the meeting and actively participated in the discussion. He explained that he wants height so he can have flexibility with the design. "We have three things to consider: 1) do it to code; 2) work with the neighborhood and 3) we have to make the project work financially. All we're asking for is flexibility in the design," said Vo.
Withdrawal of the 90 foot request is welcome by most residents on West Bay Drive but it is debatable whether the neighborhood meetings with Triway representatives was instrumental in Triway's decision.
Attorney Sarah Smyth McIntosh took part in an appeal against Triway's application last July. Her office building, Smyth Landing, is on West Bay Drive. "It took a SEPA appeal and many long meetings and conversations with Triway representatives to get our points across... and in the end I don't know what made the difference or if they are just withdrawing to find a better approach," says Smyth McIntosh. "But hopefully, Triway won't keep pushing for 90 feet all along West Bay... (Tri Vo) did this because he wanted in on Reliable but couldn't just ask for greater heights on Reliable or else it would be a spot zone..." she added.
"We still have the shoreline master program updates coming up... and they need to finally address the issues that Triway's applications, both on west bay and the isthmus, brought to light. Our development regulations and our regional shoreline master program regulations are not consistent, and need to be coordinated to provide greater certainty for redevelopment along our urban shoreline," says Smyth McIntosh.
"At the very least, the traffic infrastructure capacity has to be considered," she concluded.
Kirry, speaking for his association, welcomes the retraction of Triway's 90 foot request. "Protected views of West Bay neighbors were clearly in jeopardy with 90 foot buildings... West Bay is not a major thoroughfare, its width has natural barriers to expansion, and its capacity to serve the neighborhood would have become oversaturated. I think that sense finally was realized by Mr. Vo, and the record that would have been created by public testimony would prove detrimental..."
Some on West Bay are still not happy with the proposal. Barbara Kaiser, owner of Sunset Insurance Agency, works in her historical building along West Bay Drive. She expressed concerns about the project from the beginning. Her view of Budd Inlet and Mt. Rainier will be obstructed by the proposed development, even at 65 feet.
"I also think that the traffic would be more than West Bay could handle without certain mitigations and the roundabout at West Bay and Harrison would be gridlocked... at certain peak times of the day, right now it takes 15-20 minutes to get off West Bay, particularly if a person is headed toward downtown Olympia. This (recent) snow has emphasized the fact that there are only three ways to exit West Bay and two of them were closed off due to the weather."
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