Olympia hires firm that will identify blight

Staff writerApril 10, 2013 

Several vacant buildings in the 300 block of Fourth Avenue stand in an area that the Olympia City Council is considering declaring as blighted under a state law. The designation would enable the creation of a $2 million loan program to help clean up the location.

STEVE BLOOM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Olympia City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to hire a consultant to identify blighted areas that could benefit from a state designation that would allow the city to acquire and sell those properties for redevelopment.

The council selected ECONorthwest of Portland to create a plan by January and authorized spending up to $105,000.

The consultant was selected by an ad-hoc council committee of Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and councilmen Nathaniel Jones and Steve Langer, but the full council had to approve the pick.

Buxbaum, the key advocate for the project, had placed the item on the council’s consent agenda, where noncontroversial items generally appear. But councilwomen Jeannine Roe and Karen Rogers moved that the item be removed from the consent agenda to allow for discussion.

“I feel like there’s a missing step in the full council’s involvement in the decision,” Roe said. “To me, it seems like it should be a full council decision.”

Roe suggested holding another meeting on the subject. But after a 45-minute discussion Tuesday night, she was satisfied and voted for the ECONorthwest contract.

Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development, urged the council to approve the contract, saying that it risked forfeiting a $25,000 state grant for the work if the city misses a May 16 deadline. The state money would be paired with $80,000 from the city.

Rogers cast the lone vote against the contract. She said the council needed a presentation from Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston County Economic Development Council, before making a decision. She cautioned that the $105,000 was “just the start” and “we’re going to be dumping in a lot more money.”

Rogers also expressed reservations about the process to declare a Community Renewal Area.

Now that ECONorthwest is hired, it has two tasks: Identify opportunities for redevelopment and identify a Community Renewal area or areas by analyzing the market and holding meetings with property owners and the public.

No area has been formally identified for renewal, but Buxbaum has suggested downtown, the isthmus, the burned-out Griswold’s building on Fourth Avenue, the area of Harrison Avenue and Division Street, Martin Way and the old city dump off Cooper Point Drive.

State law requires the city to make a finding of blight before it can create a Community Renewal Area. Blight is something 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.”

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