Residents alarmed by Green Cove housing plan; city officials say process just starting

Residents show concern after proposal for housing development in Olympia

A proposal for Green Cove Park, an 181-unit single-family subdivision is at the site of a former sand and gravel pit once owned by Theodore Sundberg, public records show. Residents are showing concern about building on the site.
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A proposal for Green Cove Park, an 181-unit single-family subdivision is at the site of a former sand and gravel pit once owned by Theodore Sundberg, public records show. Residents are showing concern about building on the site.

West Olympia residents are calling the city and firing off emails, eager to raise concerns about Green Cove Park, an 181-unit single-family subdivision that Puyallup-based developer Jerry Mahan would like to develop in the 2200 block of Cooper Point Road Northwest.

The site used to be a sand and gravel pit owned by Theodore Sundberg, public records show.

Mahan’s 50-acre housing proposal was submitted in January, and the application was deemed complete in mid-February. A neighborhood meeting, attended by about 50 people, was held late last month.

But several residents already have shown up before the City Council to air their concerns during public comment.

Keith Stahley, the city’s community planning and development director, was called on to allay some of their fears.

“This process has only just begun,” he said at the Feb. 26 meeting. He said it could take as long as six months before the subdivision proposal comes before the Olympia hearings examiner. And before that happens, the city will continue to accept public comment, as well as comment from other agencies.

Based on that input, plus the city’s own analysis, the city could request that the developer revise his original proposal, said Leonard Bauer, deputy director of community planning and development. There’s also a parallel process in which the proposal is examined in the context of the state Environmental Policy Act.

The city’s SEPA decision can be appealed and so can the decision made by the hearings examiner. Barring any appeal, Bauer thinks it will take 18 months before the proposal comes before City Council for final approval. If it’s appealed, then it could take longer.

If the hearings examiner approves the proposal, then the developer can move forward and begin to install roads and other infrastructure. That’s something the developer has to do to get final subdivision approval from the city, Bauer said.

The proposal also could be withdrawn. Mahan has done that before, according to city information.

The developer

When The Olympian contacted Mahan, he deferred comment to his engineering consultants, who either declined to comment or didn’t return a phone call.

Public information shows that Mahan paid $1.5 million for the northwest Olympia site in 2005 under the company name Westbrook Investments, later to become Green Cove Park LLC.

Around the time of his purchase, he submitted a land-use application that he later withdrew, possibly because of the Great Recession.

The property was annexed into the city in 2006, according to city information.

Mahan returned in 2015 with a proposal for Sundberg Estates, a 157-home subdivision that also was eventually withdrawn.

Now he has returned again, possibly enticed by some low-impact development standards the city adopted, said Cari Horbein, a senior planner with the city. Those standards require a smaller lot size — 4,000 square feet — which allowed him to increase his density to 181 units from 157.

The opposition

Some residents have shared their concerns about Green Cove Park with The Olympian, while others have sent their comments to the city. Those comments are being posted to a city page dedicated to the housing proposal.

There is concern about the idea of developing a former gravel pit into housing. There also is anecdotal concern — stories that people have heard about other activities that may have taken place on the property.

Esther Kronenberg, a member of the League of Women Voters of Thurston County, learned about the property as she worked on a water lecture series for the league. She met longtime resident Jim Elliott, who used to live near the gravel pit. He recalls seeing old creosote-covered logs being dumped on the property, she said.

Kronenberg can’t imagine families living on the site and is also worried about potential impacts to stormwater and groundwater in Green Cove Basin.

“It’s reckless,” she said about the development proposal.

Kronenberg said she plans to petition the state Department of Ecology to do more tests of the site.

Whether creosote-soaked logs were dumped on the property could not be immediately confirmed by The Olympian, but the developer’s own geotechnical report for Sundberg Estates, which is posted on the city’s website, does mention the presence of a variety of fill on the site, including logs.

Mahan also says in an environmental assessment of the property, which was completed when he pitched Sundberg Estates in 2015, that the gravel pit was still in operation when he bought the property in 2005. It has since ceased operations.

It’s not clear how long the property was operated as a sand and gravel pit. Thurston County Assessor’s Office data didn’t provide a clear picture and a contact at the state Department of Natural Resources, which likely had some oversight, could not be reached.

The environmental assessment notes: “Diesel fuels or oil smells were delineated in two test pit locations on the site.”

The SEPA process

Bauer said the city will make one of the following decisions regarding SEPA: a determination of non-significance, a mitigated determination of non-significance, or require an environmental impact statement, which would subject the proposal to the highest level of environmental scrutiny.

Paul Cereghino, another concerned resident, is urging the city to do a full EIS.

“I strongly encourage you to make the morally and legally correct choice to apply the greatest possible scrutiny to the proposal,” he said in comments to the city.

Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.