One small adjustment may finally open the door for retail businesses at Briggs Village in Olympia.
Located at Henderson Boulevard and Yelm Highway, the site has never fulfilled its original vision as an “urban village” with residential and commercial developments including a grocery store. The site broke ground in 2005.
On a map, the 137-acre site resembles a backward “P” with an empty center for retail space surrounded by houses and condos. The Briggs YMCA flanks the southern end.
Property owner and developer Gordie Gill said he has been courting businesses such as Starbucks and Bartell Drugs, but the restriction on drive-thru lanes at the site has been a deal-breaker.
To increase his luck and lure businesses to Briggs Village, Gill is betting on a zoning code amendment that was approved Monday by the Olympia City Council. The new design criteria will allow drive-thru lanes for businesses that primarily rely on walk-in customers. Previously, only banks were permitted to build a drive-thru lane on the site.
This criteria would still fit the community’s pedestrian-friendly plan while limiting the size of any future businesses, which means no fast-food restaurants, he said.
“I can only do what there’s a demand for,” said Gill, who is based near Vancouver, B.C., and is operating under the name Briggs Re-Development One LLC.
Gill does expect to break ground this spring on three apartment buildings with a total of 33 units. Slated for a vacant lot just north of the Briggs YMCA, the apartment project is going through the permit process. The units will range from one-bedroom to three-bedroom apartments.
Gill said Olympia has a strong rental market that brims with development potential, citing factors such as its stable government employment base, an educated workforce and waterfront real estate that’s more affordable than Seattle’s. His company is active in the Vancouver housing market, where a 500-square-foot condo can fetch more than $500,000.
“From a value and dollar point of view, you can’t beat Olympia,” he said. “Eventually people will recognize Olympia and go there.”
For Briggs Village to become the urban village it was intended to be, Gill believes the answer comes down to density, which only comes when an influx of jobs and residents creates a demand for it. He observed that Briggs Village is mainly surrounded by single-family homes and is more than three miles from Interstate 5.
Another obstacle is Americans’ reliance on cars, he said, noting that Briggs Village would have been successful in Vancouver, where high-rises and public transportation create more walkable neighborhoods.
“If we had that development here, it would be very successful,” he said. “We would have people lined up to rent space.”
Meanwhile, a Thriftway grocery store that had been planned for Briggs Village fizzled in 2015, following the recession and evolving market conditions.
“It just got to the point where it didn’t make sense anymore,” said Kevin Stormans, co-owner of Stormans Inc., which operates Bayview and Ralph’s Thriftway stores. “The economy kind of knocked everybody backward.”
Stormans acknowledged that a business with a drive-thru lane is better suited for the Briggs Village site than a full-service grocery store.
“Drive-thrus these days are heavily used,” said Stormans, noting that a significant number of his pharmacy customers prefer to stay in their vehicles and use Ralph’s drive-thru. “It’s a customer service issue that’s important to some people who feel like they can make an easier trip.”