Olympia 'urban corridors' planners expect 26,000 newcomers

The city will need enough new businesses over the next 20 years to serve them; density and transit are issues

Staff writerApril 9, 2014 

Caption: Offering a large new and used selection Orca Books has been a downtown Olympia fixture for over 20 years.

STEVE BLOOM; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Olympia is addressing “urban corridors” in anticipation of projected population growth.

Urban corridors refer to major arterial streets and the use of land that surrounds these streets. Aspects taken into consideration include commercial development, housing density, “walkability” and public transit in these corridors.

The Olympia City Council hosted a study session on the topic Tuesday with members of the city’s planning commission. The commission offered recommendations for urban corridor policies as part of the upcoming comprehensive plan revisions. The comprehensive plan outlines the city’s goals and vision for the next 20 years, and the council is slated to adopt the revised plan by June.

The city will focus on three primary corridors that were identified in 1993’s regional transportation plan: State Street, Fourth Street and Harrison Avenue. These corridors connect three main “nodes” where most development and population growth are expected: downtown Olympia, the area near Boulevard Road and Pacific Avenue, and the area near Capital mall.

According to planning commissioners, the city could grow by 26,000 residents in the next 20 years. The commission suggested a density that allows enough businesses in these corridors to support 3,500 residential units within a half-mile radius.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said Tuesday’s discussion focused more on density than mobility, but said the two go hand-in-hand.

“We’re talking about connectivity in our region,” Buxbaum said. “An urban corridor is the necklace you string the beads on.”

After reviewing maps of the corridors, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones said his interest is in reducing the land area for high-density commercial development. Jones warned about changing these areas with a “broad brush” approach, and said the downtown area has the most potential for new investment.

“We need to be very intentional about what we’re creating out there,” Jones said.

Melissa Allen of the Bigelow Highlands Neighborhood attended Tuesday’s discussion to learn more about urban corridors and their potential effects. Allen’s neighborhood is north of State Avenue between Puget and Fir streets. She understands the need to focus on current business hubs, such as the one located at the Y intersection near Boulevard Road and Pacific Avenue. However, she questions whether high-density development along Fourth and State avenues will help her neighborhood.

“I just don’t see the Fourth Avenue corridor as conducive to walking and shopping,” said Allen, who has lived in her home for 12 years. “I’m not sure I’d walk downhill six blocks to get to something.”

To learn more about the city’s comprehensive plan, visit imagineolympia.com.

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

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