Citizens group clashes with Olympia council over waterfront

Friends of the Waterfront wants City Council to be more transparent with plans for shoreline

mbatcheldor@theolympian.comJuly 7, 2013 

Nearly 6,000 households in Olympia received a postcard from the citizens group Friends of the Waterfront in the past two weeks warning that the Olympia City Council was considering “buildings right to the water’s edge for just about any use — all along Olympia’s waterfront!”

The group is trying to get people to show up Tuesday to the council’s public hearing on the draft Shoreline Master Program, a state-mandated plan that regulates development on state shorelines. The city has been considering the plan for more than three years.

“What prompted us to send those out was that the City Council has done such an abysmal job informing the public of what their plans are,” said Bob Jacobs, a former mayor and member of Friends of the Waterfront. “They have refused to publish one picture. Not one. And people don’t understand what is about to happen to them.”

Jacobs said the group spent several thousand dollars on the postcards, which went to registered voters with a record of voting.

But Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the postcard is a distortion of what is actually in the plan.

“The tone of the flier is accusatory, and I find that very discouraging,” he said.

“Rather than being constructive criticism, it’s more of an attack.”

According to city planning director Keith Stahley, the draft plan would allow development up to the water only on certain parts of the Budd Inlet shoreline: the area of the Port of Olympia’s Marine Terminal, Percival Landing, the isthmus and about the northernmost half of West Bay up to West Bay Marina.

With the exception of the marine terminal, development would be allowed next to the water only under certain conditions. First, it would have to be “water-oriented,” including restaurants or marinas, as well as industrial marine uses such as log booming. But to get to build right on the water, developers would have to meet certain conditions, including a walking path, physical access to the shoreline, shoreline restoration and bulkhead removal.

Otherwise, buildings would be required to be 30 to 150 feet back from the water, depending on the location on Budd Inlet, the building use and other amenities.

The postcard is not that specific. It says the city’s draft plan calls for “development up to the water’s edge,” a “public trail IN the buildings,” “no planting or restoration” and “no room to protect against sea level rise.”

The postcard promotes “inviting public trails,” “development set back 50-60 feet,” “planting and restoration” and “room to protect against sea level rise.”

Jacobs acknowledged that the 0-foot setbacks wouldn’t be for the whole waterfront but would be for areas “that have been in contention.” He’s concerned about having a trail along the waterfront, which the city has stated as a goal. That should mean a trail right on the waterfront, not inside or behind buildings, he said.

Stahley said it would be possible to have buildings with a trail inside them, or behind them, that would meet the qualifications for a 0-foot setback. Councilman Nathaniel Jones has raised the issue at council meetings, pointing to the Vancouver, B.C., convention center as an example.

But Stahley said Vancouver is a “different scale of development.”

Buxbaum said the idea of trails inside buildings is “hard for me to imagine” and “I don’t believe our design review process would allow it.”

Jacobs said the point is that the city would allow trails inside or behind buildings. “That’s not a waterfront trail,” he said. “I don’t know what you call it.”

Planting and restoration are some of the things required of a development to qualify for a 0-foot setback, Stahley said, though he pointed out that a developer could do the restoration on a different part of the shoreline.

Jacobs objects to the possibility of doing mitigation elsewhere, saying it should be done on-site.

As for sea level rise, he said the city needs to address that with a systematic approach. “We’re not going to be able to solve sea level rise on a parcel-by-parcel basis using our regulatory tool,” he said.

Buxbaum agreed.

“I don’t think the shoreline master plan is the document or the process that we should be using to determine what our sea level rise strategy is going to be,” he said.

But Jacobs said to plan for sea level rise, the city needs space next to the waterfront for a berm or seawall, and a 0-foot setback wouldn’t allow for that.

Buxbaum said the photo illustrations on the postcard are misleading. One picture representing the “City Council’s proposal for Zero Setbacks” shows a couple walking through a covered walkway right on the water where Percival Landing sits, with a vending machine next to them. A photo next to it, labeled, “A Better Approach,” shows the couple walking on a dirt path surrounded by grass, trees and other vegetation where Percival Landing is now, with buildings set farther back from the water.

“So what is interesting and what I find to be very misleading is that they seem to be presenting a hypothetical case where everything’s going to be rebuilt there, and pretty much all of that ground is already built up,” Buxbaum said.

“I think it’s very much a stretch of an interpretation of the current draft to assume that you could build what was depicted in the pictures on the flier.”

But Jacobs said the photo illustrations were generic and weren’t meant to be applied strictly to Percival Landing. He said the city should show its own renderings to depict how the plan would affect the waterfront, and his pictures were an attempt to do that.

“We’re hoping that the postcard … mostly providing conceptual illustrations will get people talking about what kind of waterfront they want,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The Olympia City Council will hold a public hearing on its draft Shoreline Master Program at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E. Written comments about the plan are being accepted until 5 p.m. July 23. They can be emailed to shorelineupdate@ci.olympia.wa.us, hand-delivered to City Hall or mailed to Shoreline Master Program, City of Olympia Community Planning & Development, P.O. Box 1967, Olympia, WA 98507-1967. A copy of the draft plan can be viewed at olympiawa.gov/smp.

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

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