OLYMPIA - Proponents of a park on the downtown isthmus are trying to get city leaders to include it in the city's new Parks, Arts and Recreation Plan.
The item wasn’t in an initial draft of the parks plan, which is being revamped this year. But after a flurry of comments, the latest draft supports an isthmus park that would not be funded by the city. But, it’s not enough for proponents, who don’t want to preclude the possibility of city financial support.
“This is probably the single most important land use issue that this council may have a chance to affect,” said Gerald Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation. His group is raising money that it hopes to combine with local, state and federal funding to make the park a reality.
The Olympia City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue tonight, the last of several chances for the public to comment on the plan. The council is expected to adopt it in August or September.
The isthmus park movement formed in opposition to a request from South Sound developer Triway Enterprises in 2007 to raise building height limits from 35 feet to as high as 90 feet, for a 141-unit condominium-mixed use development. The council granted the rezoning in 2008, but reverted height limits to 35 feet on an interim basis in January, after three new council members were elected. The move will likely become permanent at the end of the year.
Triway maintains the project is vested, meaning the taller buildings can proceed. Opponents disagree.
Triway project manager Jeanette Dickison said the plan for the condominiums is proceeding. Triway is answering technical questions from the city, due by September. The item would then go to the city’s hearing examiner for review, she said.
The property on which Triway wants to build, at 505 and 529 Fourth Ave. W., is owned by Capitol Shores Investments LLC, a corporation with ties to Triway and its principal, Tri Vo. Capitol Shores owes $60,562.04 in back taxes, interest and penalties on the parcels, according to the Thurston County Treasurer’s Office.
Dickison declined to comment on the back taxes.
“It would be a mistake for people to underestimate Tri Vo,” she said.
Reilly’s isthmus park group wants to acquire not only the Triway/Capitol Shores parcels but also the Capitol Center building and nearby parcels. A 2009 study showed the cost of acquiring land and developing a park to be between $28 million and $32 million.
But the costs might have gone down with the weak real estate market. A recent appraisal suggested the Triway parcels could be had for between $1.9 million and $2.9 million, Reilly said, depending on whether the project was considered vested under the taller height limits.
“One can argue that there’s never a better time to acquire them,” he said. “There’s zero economic benefit right now. They simply sit there.”
Dickison said an isthmus park could bury other priorities. “Things are tough, and it’s an unusual time to be creating a whole new, very expensive initiative for the city,” she said.
The language supporting an isthmus park plan was added to the plan after the city “heard a lot of interest,” said Jonathon Turlove, an associate planner with the parks department. Language supporting a public plaza on the west side also was added to the plan after advocates for that expressed support. The plaza, proposed for a property on Harrison Avenue just west of Cooper Point Road, could have an amphitheater, an environmental learning center, a bell tower and a dog park.
Both the isthmus park and the plaza are supported in the draft, though the city says it can’t pay for them.
“They’re both fairly expensive projects that a lot of people in the community are supportive of but that we don’t have current funding to do,” he said. “Both of them have community groups that are advocating for them and that have organized around them.”
Though the isthmus and the plaza may loom large in tonight’s hearing, they are a small part of the parks plan – which is sort of a master plan that looks out 10 years, identifying the location of future parks and trails, maintaining facilities, and directing programs and services.
Participants at a public input workshop were asked an open-ended question during the plan process: “What program would you like to see Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation offer?” Most responses – 25 people – said trails, followed by 20 people who identified a dog park and 16 people who wanted community gardens. The isthmus came in fourth with 12 responses.
The draft 10-year plan proposes a new swimming beach at Ward Lake, two new 40-acre community parks, community gardens throughout the parks, and a new dog park at the city’s Chambers Lake parcel at 4808 Herman Road.
The city hasn’t updated its parks plan since 2002. The plan is being updated in part so the city is eligible for state grants, which it can’t get now.
And Turlove said time is running out. “Here’s your last chance if you think we missed anything,” he said.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org