No isthmus park vote yet

OLYMPIA – The Olympia City Council agreed Tuesday night not to put a potential $33 million tax increase to fund an isthmus park on the ballot in August.

Rather, Mayor Doug Mah formed a committee with council members Joan Machlis and Joe Hyer to discuss whether to put it on the ballot in November.

The clock is ticking. The city has an Aug. 11 deadline to get a resolution with the proposed ballot language to Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman.

A little more than a month ago, Mah proposed asking voters whether they would raise their property taxes for 20 years to raise up to $33 million to create an isthmus park and rebuild Percival Landing.

The ballot would be what’s called an excess levy, meaning that 60 percent of people voting would have to vote for it to pass the measure. It also requires the total number of people voting to be at least 40 percent of city residents who voted in the most recent general election in November.

Mah proposes spending:

$16.5 million to acquire and demolish buildings, and put a park on the Capital Center building blocks. The owners, including Seattle developer Jim Potter, offered to sell them to the city for $16.5 million, plus a $1.1 million set-aside for environmental cleanup. The amount would include the cost of demolishing the buildings to their foundations, Potter has said.

$13.5 million to rebuild Percival Landing.

$3 million to complete acquisition for a full-block park around the Heritage Park Fountain block.

Mah’s proposal does not include the acquisition of the parcels owned by Triway Enterprises, a local developer whose proposal for five- and seven-story buildings on the isthmus generated the talk of an isthmus park. The council approved taller height limits to allow the buildings in a controversial vote in December.

Besides Mah, council members Machlis, Rhenda Strub and Craig Ottavelli expressed support for the measure. Hyer expressed concerns, and Karen Messmer said she didn’t support it.

Messmer said she didn’t see popular support behind the measure, and that it doesn’t deal with the big issue of the council raising building-height limits on the isthmus.

Hyer was concerned the fountain block was included because it also was part of a pitch in 2004 for voters to raise their utility taxes for parks and sidewalks. He also expressed concern about voters’ ability to pay for the tax increase, and suggested other governments pitch in for the park.

“I think Thurston County ought to be a partner,” he said. He also expressed concern about the cost of the Capital Center building.

Opponents of the Triway proposal are split on Mah’s idea.

Thad Curtz, a resident who expressed his disapproval for Mah’s plan, said the better vision would be to buy Triway’s parcels. He was content to wait until later – perhaps much later – for the Capitol Center building to be acquired.

But Gerald Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, has expressed support for the mayor’s proposal as a building block toward acquiring much of the isthmus, including the Triway parcels.

Machlis threw her full support behind Mah’s plan. She said, “I am quite enthusiastic about this proposal.”

Ottavelli said the isthmus park effort shouldn’t be a “backdoor” attempt to revisit last year’s zoning decision. “I feel like we’ve settled the zoning issue,” he said.