OLYMPIA — Tonight is the night Olympia residents will tell the Planning Commission what they think of a proposal to raise building height limits on the downtown isthmus.
Hundreds are expected to attend, and Planning Commission Chairwoman Amy Tousley gave some ground rules:
• Doors to the Olympia Center open at 5:30 p.m. Seating is limited to about 225, and the capacity of the building is about 271. "We will be mindful of that," Tousley said.
"We hope folks that when they give the testimony, maybe they'll leave a seat open."
• Opponents and proponents of the proposal will take turns; speakers shouldn't expect to be called in the order they signed up for testimony.
• Each speaker will be limited to three minutes; speakers can't transfer their time to somebody else.
• About three hours of total testimony will be allowed.
"I hope that I don't have to gavel a lot," Tousley said.
The hearing was prompted by a proposal by Triway Enterprises, a local developer, to raise building-height limits on about 5 acres on the narrow strip of land between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake from 35 feet to between 65 and 90 feet. Triway says it wants to build one five-story and one seven-story mixed-use building, containing a total of 141 high-end condominiums and parking, office and retail spaces.
Triway's project would cover 2.3 acres; the remainder is held by others who haven't indicated what they want to build.
Supporters say raising height limits will allow much-needed market-rate housing downtown, which hasn't been added in any significant number in the past 30 years. Residents living downtown would support local merchants and revitalize downtown.
Opponents say the taller buildings would block views of the state Capitol Dome and Budd Inlet and should go elsewhere.
City planning staff recommend a compromise: Raise building-height limits on 3.92 acres, allowing Triway's project, but drop two lots north of Fourth Avenue and two lots next to the Heritage Park fountain, which the city sees as park space.
A citizens' group called Olympia 2012, which vowed to bring its members to the hearing, suggests increasing building heights just on Triway's 2.3 acres, allowing its condo project to proceed but leaving building heights as they are in the rest of the area. The group also calls for demolishing the Capitol Center building.
Another citizens' group, Friends of the Waterfront, is also expected to bring people against raising height limits.
Tonight's planning commission meeting will not be televised live, city spokeswoman Cathie Butler said, but will be taped and played at noon Friday on TCTV. That's because the Olympia City Council meeting will be shown live tonight, as usual.
Butler said the planning commission meeting was scheduled for tonight because that's when the Olympia Center was available.
Matt Batcheldor covers the city of Olympia for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-704-6869 or firstname.lastname@example.org.