More than 200 people turned out for a public hearing Tuesday evening on a proposal to remake what may be the most controversial building in downtown Olympia.
The development known as Views on Fifth would transform the nine-story Capitol Center Building on Fifth Avenue Southwest — known to many as the “Mistake on the Lake” and vacant for more than a decade — into a mixed-use building with 140 residential units, a ground-floor restaurant and retail space. Developer Ken Brogan, who owns the property, plans to reconstruct the nine-story tower, tear down a one-story building on the lot and build two more buildings with apartments and parking.
The hearing, which went past midnight, was a chance for the public to weigh in prior to a hearing examiner deciding whether to approve project. Many talked about the risk for flooding and earthquake damage on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and West Bay, and how the building spoils views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from the Capitol Campus.
“The Capitol Center Building needs to come down,” said Ralph Munro, a former Washington secretary of state whose grandfather helped build Capitol Campus buildings. “Allowing it to be reconstructed will set us back decades. It’s like a wart on the queen’s face — it has to go.”
If the development goes through, Bonnie Jacobs said, “It will just be Mistake on the Lake No. 2.”
The Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and Olympia Downtown Association have endorsed Views on Fifth; the latter said in an email newsletter it “redevelops what has long been a blighted, unused, and unsightly” building. It also would add much-needed housing since the city projects that 5,000 people will move into downtown over the next two decades.
Others at the hearing said Views on Fifth would help create a more vibrant downtown.
“This building will help move us in that direction,” said Bob Van Schoorl, a former Port of Olympia commissioner who lives within walking distance of the site.
The current 100-foot, mid-century modern tower was built in 1966. The city has since implemented a 35-foot limit on buildings in the area, but city staff determined the tower can stay as long as it doesn’t get any taller.
There have long been calls for the city to tear down the building to make room for a park on the isthmus. That would cost about $30 million, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the city in 2009.
Last month, city staff determined Brogan’s project does not fall under the state’s Shoreline Management Act and would not require an environmental impact statement to move forward.
A group represented by Olympia attorney Allen Miller, who opposed the project when he ran for Olympia City Council unsuccessfully in the fall, has appealed that decision based on “adverse effects” from building in an area susceptible to floods and earthquakes damage and with existing soil and groundwater pollution. In its appeal, the group called the building of the Capitol Center Building “the greatest land use error in the history of Olympia.”
That appeal will be heard later, after which the hearing examiner will issue a decision. Public comment about the project can be submitted until noon Friday to City Planner Nicole Floyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submissions can be made until noon Friday by City Planner Nicole Floyd at email@example.com