A petition with 100 signatures, letters and public testimony have come raining down on a proposed rezoning of property in Lacey that would allow the Panorama retirement community to construct a building as tall as 80 feet.
But a Panorama official said Friday that the nonprofit senior community has no near-term plans for the property, and any future development would be designed with the neighborhood in mind.
The parcel in the 1500 block of Golf Club Road Southeast was once home to a mobile home park, but it has been cleared.
"We don't want to see the neighborhood affected," said Matthew Murry, president and chief operating officer of Panorama.
It's also not clear whether Panorama wants to build to 80 feet, but they could if the rezoning is approved. It was approved by the Lacey Planning Commission 4-2 on June 19 and will now be forwarded to the City Council, likely later this summer, for an official vote, said Ryan Andrews, planning manager for the city.
The Planning Commission has nine members, but two were absent and one chose not to participate because they live at Panorama, Andrews said. The two commission members who voted against the rezone agreed with neighbors, saying there was a compatibility problem.
The public process so far has caught the attention of neighbors who are unhappy on several fronts: They are concerned about how property values might be affected, that the project would be out of character for nearby residential neighborhoods, and the increased traffic an apartment building would create.
Some, such as Scott McLain, also expressed frustration about how they learned of the proposal from the city.
"This isn't how you handle public process," said McLain, who owns a nearby rental property on Willow Street Southeast.
A Lacey Planning Commission public hearing was held on the proposal May 15, but McLain learned of the hearing just days before and felt he didn't have enough time to adequately respond.
Still, McLain has managed to submit letters to the city about his concerns, and he and others collected 100 signatures that were submitted to the city.
"We urge the Lacey Planning Commission and the Lacey City Council to deny Panorama's request and to leave the zoning of this parcel unchanged," the petition reads.
Panorama purchased the land because it wants to put a dent in a long waiting list of people who want to live there.
When the rezoning first came before the city in January, Panorama had a waiting list of 400 people, said Howard Burton, Panorama's director of marketing. Since then, it has grown to 550, said President Murry.
The land currently is zoned moderate-density residential, but to increase the size and number of units, it needs to be rezoned to high-density residential.
Murry wants to make clear that Panorama's existing 140-acre campus is zoned high-density residential, so in one sense the rezoning request would keep the zoning uniform with the rest of the campus, he said.
Murry also said that Panorama has no intention of building an 8-10-story apartment complex on the property. And it is not even sure it would be apartments. It might become single-family residences, a multiplex-type development or apartments. One idea is to build a four-story building with 40-50 units, he said.
"Apartments are becoming more in demand and it meets the needs of our demographic," Murry said.
Andrews defended the city's public process and said if the project is built, the city's design requirements will not allow it to become a monolith.
Before the May 15 public hearing, property owners who live within 300 feet of the development were notified by mail about the hearing, and the city also published a legal notice in the paper about it. Information about the hearing also was posted on the property itself, and Lacey Planning Commission agendas and minutes can be found on the city's website.
Andrews also said that property owners are notified, not renters.
If Panorama decides to build an apartment building, what could it look like?
Panorama already has a five-story building, the Quinault building, that stands about 70 feet tall, Andrews said. Panorama also has two smaller apartment buildings: The Chalet and Chinook.
Still, there's one other thing that bothers property owner McLain. He grew up in Lacey and said it used to be a "diamond in the rough."
Now, he said, he's frustrated by a city that appears to pursue "growth at any cost."
Andrews said if residents want to be notified about when the rezoning comes before the City Council, they should send their contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.