Olympia seems to back shoreline visualization

Council purchase of software would cost $16,250, may delay plan process after 3 years, mayor says

Staff writerFebruary 7, 2013 

A majority of Olympia City Council members favor spending $16,250 to add a computer visualization to the Shoreline Master Program process, a move Mayor Stephen Buxbaum warned will mean more time spent on process.

Councilman Steve Langer proposed the city move forward with the visualization process late into Tuesday’s City Council meeting, saying it will help people understand changes in the shoreline plan. The plan, which the council is updating, restricts development along major city shorelines, notably Budd Inlet.

“I would like concurrence … that we proceed with this,” he said. Comments were taken from a meeting video.

The council didn’t take a vote, but most all other council members either verbally agreed with Langer’s idea or didn’t object. Councilwoman Karen Rogers was absent.

The money would go to Mithun, a Seattle architecture firm, which would do the visualization. In an interview, Councilman Nathaniel Jones said the city approved paying the firm $44,000 last year for a visualization of downtown Olympia. The further visualization would show the latest Shoreline Master Program draft.

“It’s my hope that this is a tool that is helpful to the public and that the public will take advantage of it,” Jones said.

But Buxbaum balked at adding to a process that has lasted for more than three years.

“I’m very concerned about putting our shoreline master process, or inserting our shoreline master plan process into a pilot test of a piece of software,” he told the council. “We don’t know if the software is going to work or not.”

City Attorney Tom Morrill said adding the computer model is likely to extend the process, and he thinks it would require additional public comment. The council had been aiming to approve the plan on March 19 and send it to the state Department of Ecology, which requires the plan and will have the final say. It could take up to a year for the state to tweak the plan and send it back to the council to implement it.

Keith Stahley, Olympia director of Community Planning and Development, said the proposal is that the visualization model be finished by Feb. 26. “The timeline is extremely tight,” he said.

The shoreline plan has been the subject of much debate between those who think the requirements for setting buildings back from Budd Inlet are too strict, to those who think they’re not strict enough. More than 70 people came to a public hearing on the plan last month.

Here are some examples of the new plan’s requirements, from a recent draft:

 • The northern portion of the West Bay shoreline would be an urban intensity zone, requiring buildings to be set back 30 feet. A small section near the northern city limits would be an urban conservancy zone, with a setback of 100 feet.

 • The southern portion of West Bay, which is largely developed, would be in a waterfront recreation zone, with a minimum setback of 150 feet.

 • The Budd Inlet shoreline of the isthmus, the Percival Landing area and the southern area of East Bay would be in an urban intensity zone, allowing development 30 feet from the shoreline.

 • The northern portion of East Bay, representing the Swantown Marina area and the northern point of the Port of Olympia peninsula, would be designated for marine recreation, with setbacks as low as 30 feet if certain vegetation requirements are met.

Langer said the visualization is not adding anything to the shoreline data, rather it’s “simply a way of seeing it.”

Jones called the $16,250 expenditure for the software a “good investment.” He said he understands the need to conclude the shoreline plan but that the city needs to do its due diligence.

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said she was excited that the model would allow her to see things from a different angle and was particularly eager to see West Bay modeled.

“I think it’s going to give everybody a much more clear image and pictures of what the setbacks are,” she said.

Buxbaum replied, “I just have a different perspective.” He said the model, which would place virtual building blocks indicating where buildings could be placed near the shoreline, is subjective. “We could find ourselves arguing about blocks on property,” he said.

“I’m not concealing my anxiousness around this. … I’m looking forward to having none of my fears realized.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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