Building a bad fit for historic Olympia neighborhood, critics complain

ahobbs@theolympian.comMay 17, 2014 

To show the contrast with surrounding buildings, the Bigelow Historic Neighborhood is circulating pictures with the Tanasse Building's concept drawing superimposed on the site.

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An Olympia chiropractor is under pressure from future neighbors to change the design of a building that some say looks too modern and out of place.

John Tanasse wants to build his new office with three residential units on a vacant lot at 924 State Ave. NE. Some residents of the adjacent Bigelow Historic Neighborhood have objected to the three-story building’s size, boxy design and red-and-gray color scheme. To show the juxtaposition with surrounding buildings, the neighborhood is circulating pictures with the concept drawing superimposed on the site.

“I like the design of the building,” Tanasse said. “Contrast can be interesting.”

For 14 years, Tanasse has operated Tanasse Chiropractic in an old house a few blocks away, at 1303 Fourth Ave. E. Tanasse said the business has outgrown the historic house, which was built in 1889.

Aside from relocating the business, Tanasse and his family — including his in-laws — will also live at the new building. As a self-described urbanist, Tanasse said he looks forward to a more urbanized lifestyle. The families will give up two cars, he said, noting that the goal is to start construction this summer.

After buying the vacant lot last year and stepping up with a plan for development, the last thing Tanasse expected was backlash over the design.

“Even if I wanted to change my design, I feel a little bit trapped,” he told The Olympian, noting the financial challenges of redesigning the project at this stage.

John Bay lives about a block away from the site and also owns a Victorian-style triplex next to the lot. Bay said the Bigelow Historic Neighborhood has undergone much-needed revitalization over the past few decades, and longtime residents are protective of the neighborhood’s historic character. He planned to join other residents at the city’s Design Review Board meeting Thursday to speak about the Tanasse building.

“It just doesn’t fit,” Bay said. “That building might be just fine somewhere else.”

According to city documents, the building has drawn some positive public comments from residents who see it as an example of urban development that can energize downtown Olympia. State Avenue is also one of three primary “urban corridors” that city planners are targeting for higher density as Olympia’s population grows.

Despite the design’s contrast with the surrounding structures, Tanasse said his building will bring much-needed color and character to the State Avenue corridor.

In hindsight, Tanasse said he would have reached out to more neighbors about the design. He realizes that people’s tastes vary, and he is willing to provide concessions in areas where “it doesn’t take the spirit away from the project.”

City planners have recommended approval of the design, according to a staff report, which lists a handful of architectural conditions for the building to meet. One of the conditions is to provide additional options to the proposed color scheme.

Olympia resident Jeff Jaksich, who lives in the nearby East Bay Drive Neighborhood, said the building clashes with city design standards as well as long-held visions for preserving the community’s character. Long active in city affairs, Jaksich said the design review process was intended to settle issues like this one.

“I’m not against it. It just has to be appropriate,” Jaksich said of the Tanasse building. “For what he wants to do on the site, it’s just too much.”

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

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