Panel on blight to interview advisers

Staff writerMarch 1, 2013 

An Olympia City Council committee is moving forward with plans to declare parts of Olympia blighted under a state law to acquire and revitalize properties.

The committee will meet at 1 p.m. today at City Hall Room 207, 601 Fourth Ave., to interview two consultants competing to work on the blight issue, ECONorthwest of Portland and the National Development Council of New York. The committee — Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, Councilman Steve Langer and Councilman Nathaniel Jones — is expected to pick one consultant to recommend to the full council, which will make the final decision.

State law allows cities to declare what’s called a Community Renewal Area, in which cities can acquire property and sell to the private sector for redevelopment.

Olympia has $80,000 budgeted to spend on the Community Renewal Area issue and a state grant worth $25,000 if downtown is included in the renewal area, city planning director Keith Stahley said. The process to declare an area blighted requires public process and could take a year, he said.

No boundaries for the renewal area or areas have been set; that will be part of the consultant’s work. Buxbaum has suggested several areas: downtown, the isthmus, the burnt-out Griswold’s building on Fourth Avenue, the area of Harrison Avenue and Division Street, Martin Way and the old city dump, next to Top Foods off Cooper Point Drive.

Buxbaum has pushed the idea of a Community Renewal Area for the past year and a half, saying it would give the city powers for redevelopment, which it doesn’t now have. Typically, cities can only purchase property for public uses, not resale to the private sector, he has said. That would change with a Community Renewal Area.

The state community-renewal law defines a blighted area as one that “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality” or limits “the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability, and/or is detrimental or constitutes a menace, to the public health, safety, welfare and morals in its present condition and use.”

But the matter has sat on the council’s back burner as the council has been consumed with major planning efforts such as updates to the Shoreline Master Program and the city’s comprehensive plan.

City Manager Steve Hall recommended last year that the city pick the National Development Corporation as its consultant. But Buxbaum indicated in August that he wasn’t ready for that step. Rather, he wanted to engage with the Thurston County Economic Development Council, the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Thurston Regional Planning Council.

The committee since met with Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston Economic Development Council and George Sharp, executive director of the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau.

mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com

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