A member of the Olympia Planning Commission said two recent off-the-record meetings should have been open to the public.
The nine-member commission advises the City Council about growth and development in Olympia. Two commissioners had requested informational meetings for Jan. 31 and March 3 with members of the development community.
Commissioner Judy Bardin raised an objection to the meetings because one of the participants was developer M-Five Family Limited Partnership, which has an interest in a proposed zoning amendment that is under consideration by the planning commission.
The amendment, which targets the Kaiser Road-Harrison Avenue intersection on Olympia’s west side, would increase the maximum size of commercial buildings in that area to 50,000 square feet.
In a letter Thursday to the commission, city planner Leonard Bauer said the proposed amendment was not discussed at the two meetings. No quorum of commissioners existed at either meeting.
Bardin said the private meetings have compromised the planning commission’s integrity. She said she was invited to the March 3 meeting but did not attend because the public was excluded. In her letter to the commission, Bardin recommends tabling the proposed zoning amendment indefinitely.
“The commissioners need to examine whether they want to do the public’s business in the public’s eye,” she told The Olympian. “I just had concerns about the planning commission being able to make a good decision on this.”
Planning commissioner Max Brown, who attended part of the Jan. 31 meeting, was surprised by the complaint. He said the meeting began with a warning to not discuss the commission’s current projects and issues. The developer was interested in learning about the planning process, he said.
“It was really just a candid conversation about the culture of planning and the culture of development,” Brown said. “People were comfortable with doing this, and didn’t think it was a problem. I thought it was a good conversation.”
Olympia resident Bob Shirley also filed a letter to the planning commission about the two meetings. He said the commission is one of the state’s best and has long been a model of transparency. The commission cannot afford to risk negative perceptions about the way it conducts business, he said, because of the long-term effect of its decisions.
“Planning commission members are public servants. You should serve the public in view of the public,” he told The Olympian. “When you’re talking about zoning and planning, the consequences can last 50 years or more.”
The commission will discuss this issue during its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, Room 207.