Council recommends rezoning 9-acre parcel for higher density in SE Olympia

OlympianJanuary 7, 2014 

Medela Group LLC wants to rezone a 9-acre parcel of land located south of Pacific Avenue and east of Boulevard Road in an unincorporated "island" that's surrounded by the City of Olympia.

OLYMPIAN STAFF

The Olympia City Council recommended that the county allow the rezoning of a 9-acre parcel that has some residents concerned about potential traffic impacts.

The land is located south of Pacific Avenue and east of Boulevard Road in an unincorporated county “island.” Since 2009, landowner Medela Group LLC has been trying to rezone the site for higher density housing.

On Tuesday, the council voted 4-2 to back the rezoning. However, Thurston County has jurisdiction over the property. The Thurston County Board of Commissioners is expected to revisit the rezoning issue in February.

The area is currently zoned to allow four to eight residential units per acre. If rezoned, the property would allow up to 18 residences per acre. The land contains nine single-family rental houses, with two of those houses unoccupied. No plans have been made for the land beyond rezoning, said Medela co-owner Mel Armstrong.

A group of residents, including the director of the adjacent Forest Funeral Home and Cemetery, adamantly oppose the rezoning and fear that a developer could build apartment complexes that will increase congestion in the area.

Associate city planner Amy Buckler told the council Tuesday that the narrow roads leading into the neighborhood, especially 9th Avenue, would need to be upgraded to a “neighborhood collector” status to handle high-density housing.

This means widening the street to accommodate an estimated 900 additional vehicle trips per day that would result from such development.

Other streets that would be considered for widening are 7th Avenue and Chambers Street. The responsibility for widening the streets would fall on a developer, Buckler said.

The area is outside Olympia’s city limits but is located in the city’s Urban Growth Area, which is the area targeted for higher density housing and increased public transit near arterial roads.

Councilwomen Jill Hankins and Jeannine Roe both opposed the rezoning recommendation. They expressed concerns about the effect on residents in the Boulevard Road area.

“It feels like we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” Hankins said. “While I’m a huge proponent of density, we have to do it correctly.”

Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones supports the rezoning because of the long-term potential for higher density development in this part of the city.

“Whoever tries to develop this site has some real challenges on their hands,” Jones said, noting that the permit process could be difficult. “We’re looking at an area that has great opportunity for more compact development.”

Swearing-in ceremonies

Also at Tuesday’s council meeting, four council members were officially sworn in following their election victories in November. Jim Cooper, Julie Hankins, Jeannine Roe and Cheryl Selby took their oaths of office. Selby, a local business owner, is the newcomer to the council.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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