OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday night to send the case of Trillium, a proposed 500-unit subdivision, back to the city's hearing examiner after neighbors said the planning process was unfair.
The council moved for city staff members to report back at next Tuesday’s meeting after hearing from seven people who had concerns about the process, as well as an attorney for the applicant. The decision took place after the council went into closed session for 20 minutes.
Developer D.R. Horton proposes building 500 dwelling units, including 300 single-family and 200 multi-family units, on 79 acres at 3355 Morse Merryman Road S.E. About 1,500 people would live in the development once it is built out and occupied, according to the hearing examiner’s October decision.
The master plan proposal, submitted in 2005, is controversial for a number of reasons – concerns over drainage and flooding, traffic and transit access and the effect on area schools. But residents’ latest concerns centered on the planning process.
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Olympia Hearing Examiner Thomas Bjorgen recommended to the City Council on Oct. 28 that the Trillium master plan proposal be denied. He reconsidered portions of his decision in another opinion Dec. 6, after queries from the city’s planning department and the applicant, but still recommended denial.
That sparked a flurry of letters of complaint from residents, with these concerns about the process:
• Did the hearing examiner have the authority to reconsider?
• Should he have accepted new information in the reconsideration?
• Should the city’s planning department have petitioned for reconsideration, and is it objective?
“I think that there’s really no evidence that CP&D (the planning department) is neutral in this matter,” said John Cusick, who lives in the Wilderness development that abuts the land where Trillium would be built.
D.R. Horton attorney Duana Kolouskova maintains that Bjorgen did not act improperly, though the developer strongly disagrees with his recommendation of denying the Trillium proposal.
Residents also said they didn’t have enough time to respond with their concerns during Bjorgen’s reconsideration process.
The council has the final say on the master plan proposal. It includes 202 single-family houses and 98 townhouses. The multi-family units would include 174 multiplex units and 26 duplex units.
There would be a 1.3-acre commercial area with a 1-acre village green, as well as stormwater areas, open space and many new streets. A total of 24.59 acres of open space is proposed.
The proposed subdivision is in a busy area. The site is bounded to the north by Morse-Merryman Road, and McKenny Elementary School sits a short distance to the west. It’s bounded on the east by single-family homes on large lots and on the south by the Wilderness neighborhood of single-family homes. LBA Park abuts the northern section of the lot, and to the south lies the 71.8-acre Bentridge Neighborhood Village, where a 501-unit subdivision/village has been approved but not built.
In his Oct. 28 decision, Bjorgen said the Trillium plan violates parts of the city’s development code and is inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan concerning transit, according to the decision.
Bjorgen found that all residents would live substantially more than a quarter-mile from an existing transit stop, and a fixed transit route likely wouldn’t serve the area until Log Cabin Road is built between Trillium and Wiggins Road.
Bjorgen found that the elementary, middle and high schools serving the project site are over capacity – McKenny Elementary, Washington Middle and Olympia High. Two elementary schools outside the project area also are over capacity. If the project were built, students would have to be bused to other schools, including to the west side.
“The City Council should scrutinize whether a land use decision setting the precedent of busing students to portable facilities for an undetermined period of time is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” he wrote. If it’s not, the plan should be denied, he wrote in the October decision.
Bjorgen also found issues with pedestrian and bicycle connections.
Bjorgen found in October that the proposal does not comply with street spacing and block-size requirements but rescinded that in his December reconsideration. That drew objections from the Olympia Safe Streets Campaign, a community group.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org