After a six-year battle between a landowner and neighbors, a 9-acre parcel has been rezoned for high-density housing on Olympia’s east side.
The Olympia City Council approved the rezoning Tuesday with a 4-2 vote. Belfair-based Medela Group LLC, the property’s owner, still has an interest in selling the land for a multi-family development.
The higher density allows up to 18 residences per acre, compared with the former zoning of four to eight residences per acre.
“We’re obviously pleased with the outcome,” said Ron Niemi, a representative for Medela. “It’s been a long road.”
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The site is located east of Boulevard Road and south of Pacific Avenue behind the Forest Funeral Home Cremation and Cemetery. For years, the rezoning proposal has drawn opposition from neighbors who have concerns about congestion and more on the otherwise quiet residential streets.
Another concern is that any multi-story buildings will invade the privacy for Muslim burials at the adjacent cemetery, which contains the only Muslim burial site in the county.
Representatives from the cemetery have challenged the rezoning from the start. They also point to inconsistencies in the boundary lines and have criticized the rezoning process, including the requirements for public communication and notification.
“We feel like the process is really flawed,” said Kathleen Blanchette, whose family owns the cemetery and will continue to fight the rezoning. “If we hadn’t said anything, fewer people would know about it.”
The council approved the rezoning based on a hearing examiner’s recommendations that were issued in August. In this case, the council acted in a quasi-judicial capacity, similar to a judge. It was this quasi-judicial capacity that restricted public comment about the Medela proposal, frustrating opponents who attempted to address the council about it during meetings. Public comment was only allowed during officially designated public hearings for the rezoning.
Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones recused himself from Tuesday night’s rezoning vote because he had given testimony about the site in 2014. Council members Julie Hankins and Jeannine Roe voted against the rezoning, citing concerns about the potential impact on the adjoining Eastside Neighborhood.
Property owner Mel Armstrong and his family first initiated rezoning efforts in 2009, when the land was still part of unincorporated Thurston County. County commissioners denied the proposal in 2014. However, the city of Olympia annexed the property that same year, and the Medela Group submitted another application in January.
As part of the approval, Ninth Avenue has been designated as a “neighborhood collector street.” The street will need to be expanded to support up to 3,000 daily vehicle trips, with two lanes of traffic and a parking lane, according to the hearing examiner.
Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869