Senator eyes isthmus fight again

AMENDMENT: Fraser calls for temporary freeze on high-rise development

April 23, 2009 

The Legislature poked its nose into Olympia’s isthmus land-use dispute again Wednesday.

Sen. Karen Fraser attached another amendment to a House bill that would declare a moratorium that could last until 2011 on high-rise developments on the land between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet.

House Speaker Frank Chopp rejected a previous amendment to House Bill 1379 on Saturday, saying it was too far behind the “scope and object” of the bill. Fraser’s newest amendment is on the same bill, which deals with local governments’ right to impose moratoriums on shoreline development.

“This is clearly a temporary moratorium” on the isthmus, Fraser said in a floor speech. Her proposal says the moratorium would run up to six months or until the city of Olympia’s comprehensive shoreline plan amendment is completed during the summer.

The underlying bill was aimed at giving local governments clearer authority to impose as many as four moratoriums, each lasting six months, after a Supreme Court ruling in a city of Bainbridge Island case. But it was unclear what will happen to HB 1379 now, and its sponsor, Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said he’s unsure.

Fraser contends that the project proposed by Triway Enterprises for high-end condos and commercial space of up to 65 and 90 feet in height will mar the Capitol Campus view of the Olympic Mountains, Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake. The isthmus separates the inlet and lake.

The Olympia City Council has contended, despite much testimony against the project in lengthy hearings last year, that it needs the development to kick-start economic activity downtown and spur development of higher-value residences. The council voted last year to allow taller buildings on the isthmus.

“I still feel this is a hostage situation. You Olympia guys are having this civil war down here,” Seaquist said Wednesday. “All we’re doing is trying to keep our heads down and try not to get shot.”

The Senate voted 30-19 on Wednesday to approve Fraser’s amendment to HB 1379.

It remains to be seen whether Fraser’s amendment can get around Chopp’s ruling about the underlying bill. The roll call record shows that two Democrats – Sens. Brian Hatfield of Raymond and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch – voted against the new bill. Republican Sens. Curtis King of Yakima crossed over to vote with majority Democrats in favor. Among South Sound lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers Sheldon and Fraser split their votes, and Republican Sens. Dan Swecker of Rochester and Randi Becker of Eatonville both voted against.

Sunday is the expected day of adjournment for the 105-day session.

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