Plan to erect 7-story building downtown attracts opposition

ahobbs@theolympian.comMarch 14, 2014 

The Columbia Heights project is slated for 123 Fourth Ave. W. in a parking lot that borders Columbia Street and extends to Fifth Avenue. The project would include 138 market-rate residential apartments, along with 7,600 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a parking garage for 121 vehicles.

ANDY HOBBS; STAFF WRITER

A proposed seven-story apartment building in downtown Olympia has drawn opposition from residents and business owners.

The Columbia Heights project is slated for 123 Fourth Ave. W. in a parking lot that borders Columbia Street and extends to Fifth Avenue. The project would include 138 market-rate residential apartments, along with 7,600 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a parking garage for 121 vehicles.

An online petition had gathered 128 signatures as of Wednesday. The petition cites a flawed process in public notification - including an error in the project's address - and asks the city to delay action for the sake of further discussion.

Simon Gorbaty, a co-owner of New Moon Cafe, said the business community wants more information and more input. He expressed concerns about the potential negative effects of construction, such as street closures.

"For now, we just don't know. With any small business, unknowns are about the worst thing we could have," said Gorbaty, whose cafe borders the project site. "We are just asking for more time and are trying to grapple with the situation."

Olympia resident Elana Freeland supports the petition and is concerned that construction-related detours will hurt downtown businesses. She suggested that The Washington Center for the Performing Arts' recent renovations, for example, helped put a nearby toy store out of business because of street closures.

"It's not that we don't want housing downtown," she said of the project. "There are just too many questions."

The developer, Columbia Heights Partners LLC, applied for a land-use permit Feb. 7. The property formerly belonged to Colpitts Development Co., which had planned a similar project. The new development, however, will feature 11 more apartment units, with commercial retail facing three frontage streets instead of one street.

Steven Lou, a principal partner with Columbia Heights Partners LLC, said construction will begin early this summer with completion expected in early 2016. The developer is a U.S. company with some Chinese individual shareholders, Lou said.

The developer has begun relocating the property's sewer lines so that the city's public works department can widen the sidewalks along the property on Fifth Avenue, city planner Steve Friddle said.

The developer still needs permits for building and land use. Columbia Heights will also be responsible for cleaning any contaminated soil on the site, which at one time contained underground fuel tanks from two gasoline stations, Friddle said.

One of the city’s long-term goals is to increase market-value housing downtown and provide an economic boost from residents. Ideally, the additional residents would stimulate growth of nearby businesses to meet the demand for more services and amenities.

“From a business perspective, it is so vital to have people living in a downtown core if you want to have sustainable businesses,” said David Schaffert, Thurston County Chamber CEO, who called the Columbia Heights project an asset. “More people within your downtown core will create more opportunities.”

To raise awareness of the project, an informational meeting for the public is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 26 in Olympia City Hall's Conference Room 112. The city's Design Review Board will also meet at 6 p.m. March 27 in Conference Room 207 in City Hall.

The deadline to submit written public comment is 5 p.m. March 28. The Site Plan Review Committee will have a public meeting at 9 a.m. April 2 in Conference Room 207 in City Hall.

Public comments are accepted at all meetings.

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Note: The story has since been revised to note that Colpitts Development Company LLC is still in business and has not gone bankrupt.

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

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