Olympia’s hearing examiner has dismissed a challenge to proposed changes to the zoning code that would make it easier to build different types of housing in more parts the city.
The challenge was brought by the group Olympians for Smart Development and Livable Neighborhoods, as well as three Olympia residents and a Tumwater resident who owns property in Olympia. They contended the changes would hurt their property in various ways, including clogging parking, taxing stormwater management, hurting the aesthetics and destroying privacy.
The city said the concerns were “highly speculative,” according to the hearing examiner's decision released Friday.
The City Council last year asked the planning commission to review the city’s zoning and development codes and look for ways to add duplexes, triplexes, cottages, apartments with courtyards, and tiny homes. City officials have dubbed these the “missing middle” housing, meaning they fall between apartment living and single-family homes.
Because of current zoning, there are not many of these options being built in Olympia.
City staff came up with more than 40 changes to zoning districts, parking requirements, design review procedures and fees. The planning commission is considering the changes now. It will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will have the final say.
As part of the process, staff in February issued a determination of nonsignificance under the State Environmental Policy Act, saying the changes were unlikely to have significant adverse environmental impacts.
The group appealing that decision argued the changes would lead to “exponential growth and development” in low-density areas that currently have mostly single-family homes. It also raised concerns that historic homes and districts could be altered or demolished and wildlife habitat could be lost, according to appeal documents.
The group said the city failed to consider relevant environmental factors and should be required to do an environmental impact statement.
The city argued these concerns were “highly speculative,” that development that is currently allowed could have the same impacts, and existing environmental regulations and protections for historic properties and neighborhoods would not change.
The hearing examiner agreed.
“The concerns expressed by the Appellants do not arise solely from the Missing Middle proposals but from any allowed development under the City's regulations. Again, the Missing Middle proposals do not increase densities but merely alter the means by which they are accomplished, while maintaining environmental, historical and other safeguards,” he wrote.
Walter Jorgensen was one of the appellants. He said the group is now considering appealing the hearing examiner’s decision in Thurston County Superior Court.
“We still feel strongly that citizen residents of Olympia deserve a say in how their neighborhoods are developed," he said. "Development won't just happen on vacant lots. Demolitions will happen."
The planning commission will meet next at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E.