Height limits seen as key to races

Primary: Voters see chance to judge actions

August 2, 2009 

OLYMPIA – The Aug. 18 primary for the Olympia City Council is being viewed by some in the community as a referendum on the city’s decision last year to raise building-height limits on the downtown isthmus to allow mixed-use buildings that include condominiums.

It’s “very much like that,” said Olympia Planning Commissioner Amy Tousley, a candidate for City Council Position 4. As a planning commissioner, Tousley voted to recommend that the council raise building-height limits on the isthmus. Opponents of the taller buildings have argued that the council ignored residents by not listening to their concerns.

“I see this election as a referendum of the council not listening,” candidate Karen Rogers said.

Not everyone agrees it’s a referendum.

“When I decided to run for council, it wasn’t the only issue and it’s not the only issue for me,” said Karen Veldheer, who opposed the isthmus development.

Councilman Jeff Kingsbury said the election isn’t really a referendum on the isthmus, but on “the overall direction that the city is to go.” He supported the isthmus development.

There are four council races this fall; two of the incumbents voted for the taller buildings and two voted against.

Two of those races have drawn three candidates and therefore will be contested in the primary election. Primary ballots have been mailed to residents.

Council members elected this year will earn $16,640 a year.

Campaign donations are flowing in from people for and against the council’s decision. Filings from the state Public Disclosure Commission show that more than $82,000 has been raised in the four races.

The council voted 5-2 late last year to raise building-height limits for housing from 35 feet to 42, 70 and 90 feet on the strip of land between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake. The council acted at the request of local developer Triway Enterprises, which plans five- and seven-story mixed-use buildings with 141 high-end condominiums.

Supporters said the condominiums would revitalize downtown, bringing much-needed market-rate housing that hasn’t been attracted in great numbers in the past 30 years. Opponents say the buildings will mar views of the Capitol dome and Budd Inlet.

Janine Gates, a caregiver for the elderly, and Evergreen faculty member Stephen Buxbaum both oppose taller buildings on the isthmus. They are running against incumbent Jeff Kingsbury, who voted for raising building heights.

Rogers, a state worker, and Veldheer, an entrepreneur, are running against Tousley, for an open seat on the council.

Both candidates who favor taller buildings on the isthmus have received more money from building and development interests.


Kingsbury has far outpaced his opponents’ fundraising, raising $15,360 and spending $13,543. A sizeable chunk of that came from developers.

His largest donation, $2,000, came from the Affordable Housing Council, the political action committee of the Olympia Master Builders, a building-industry group.

Kingsbury also received $750 from J.A. Morris Construction LLC, $750 from MPH Holdings LLC, $250 from Olympia developer Ron Rants and $100 from Pat Rants of the Rants Group.

Kingsbury received $125 from former city council member Jeanette Hawkins, the project manager for Larida Passage, the five- and seven-story mixed-use condo buildings that Triway has proposed. Neither Triway nor its principal, Tri Vo, has donated.

Current and former local elected leaders also gave to Kingsbury — City Councilwoman Rhenda Strub ($500), Councilman Joe Hyer ($100), Councilman Craig Ottavelli ($50) and Mayor Doug Mah ($50).

Thurston County commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Karen Valenzuela gave him $100 and $40, respectively.

It wasn’t just along isthmus issue lines; Hyer donated to Kingsbury but voted against raising height limits.

A $500 contribution came from City Councilwoman Rhenda Strub. Enid Layes, a member of the group Olympia 2012, which supports the Triway project and downtown housing, gave $50.

Buxbaum and Gates have each gathered supporters who are against taller buildings on the isthmus, including some of the same people.

Buxbaum raised $9,811. His top donors: Joyce Kilmer, public administrator with the state Department of Early Learning ($500), The Evergreen State College professor Cheryl King ($250) and Lisa Vatske of what’s now called the state Department of Commerce ($250).

Thad Curtz, who helped organize candidates to run against supporters of raising height limits on the isthmus, gave Buxbaum $231.57. Other opponents of taller buildings on the isthmus are Walt Jorgensen ($100), Steven Segall ($100) and Friends of the Waterfront members Bob and Bonnie Jacobs ($37.50 each).

Gates has raised $7,245. Her top donors are John Bates of Olympia ($1,300), Daniel Leahy of Olympia ($250) and Bethany Weidner of Olympia ($250).

Some of her donors who oppose taller buildings are Curtz ($50), Jorgensen ($25) and isthmus park advocate Jeff Jaksich ($50).


Tousley leads in the fundraising for Position 4. She received several donations from developers as well: the Affordable Housing Council ($500), J.A. Morris Co. LLC of Olympia ($250) and Evergreen Olympic Properties Inc. of Olympia ($200).

She also received $50 from Hawkins.

Her top donors are Boeing flight instructor Paul A. Groven of Olympia ($250), retired nurse Betty H. Bailey of Spokane ($200) and Jay A. Goldstein of Olympia ($200).

Council member Joan Machlis gave $50.

Veldheer has raised $4,359, including money from some of the most visible opponents of the isthmus project, such as Curtz, who gave $100. Bob and Bonnie Jacobs gave $37.50 each, and isthmus park advocate Jaksich gave $75.

Her top three donors are Phillip Shulte of Olympia’s PJ Homes ($500), Mary Anderson of Olympia ($440.74) and attorney Clydia Cuykendall of Olympia ($300).

Rogers has raised $2,576, the least of any candidate. She listed eight donors, five of whom were from out of state. Her top donors: Jim Fox of Tumwater, a state recreation and conservation officer ($200), Lewis “Tim” Rogers of Olympia, a management consultant with J. Addison Group LLC ($125) and Annette Cheltenham of Ashburn, Va. ($100).

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869



TODAY: Development on the isthmus downtown looms as an issue in Olympia City Council races

Monday: Profiles of the Olympia City Council position four race and two proposals to create regional fire authorities

Tuesday: Profile of the Olympia City Council Position 5 race

Wednesday: Profile of the Port of Olympia district three commission race

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