After an hour of heated discussion late Tuesday night, the Olympia City Council voted against a proposal to reduce building height limits from 65 feet to 35 feet on parts of East Bay.
Councilman Nathaniel Jones proposed that the area, along Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue south of the Swantown Marina to the eastern banks of East Bay, be limited to buildings of 35 feet tall within 50 feet of the shoreline. Within 50 to 150 feet, buildings could be 45 feet tall and beyond that they could be 65 feet tall, which is the present height limit. The area includes the Port Plaza and the Hands On Children’s Museum, and includes a site the Port of Olympia had considered for a hotel.
Jones said he is concerned about the prospect of 65-foot buildings “snugged up to the sidewalk” south of Olympia Avenue.
“In my mind, that is not the sort of urban form we’re trying to create here,” he said.
But a majority of other council members disagreed with putting the height limits in the state-controlled plan, which they said would limit flexibility. Rather, they prefer handling height limits in the city-controlled planning and zoning rules.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he was concerned that Jones’ proposal would result in wide, squat buildings rather than narrow, taller buildings that might be more suited to the area.
Jones’ motion to change the height limits failed 4-3. Voting for them were Jones, Councilwoman Jeannine Roe and Councilman Jim Cooper. Voting against were Buxbaum and Council members Julie Hankins, Steve Langer and Karen Rogers.
After that debate, council members generally agreed with several of Jones’ other suggestions for how parts of the Budd Inlet shoreline should look, including a “full-sized urban pathway” 12 feet or wider with 24-hour public access and a softened or more natural shoreline.
Tuesday night’s discussion was part of about 12 hours of deliberations on the state-mandated Shoreline Master Program since the council took up the latest draft of the plan in late February. The plan now goes back to city staffers, who will incorporate the council’s suggestions into a new draft.
That draft is scheduled to go back before the council on May 14, when it will be released and the public will have another chance to send written comments. Another public hearing will also be scheduled, said city planning manager Keith Stahley.
It’s unclear when the council will approve the plan and send it to the state Department of Ecology, which has the final say and could reverse the council. Stahley proposed a tentative schedule Tuesday that would send the plan to the council in July. But that was before Jones proposed adding one to two weeks to the public comment period and adding a public hearing. The council is now expected to send the plan to the state in September.Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor