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Council likes development study

OLYMPIA – The Olympia City Council voted Tuesday to accept the results of a $75,000 study from Barney and Worth of Olympia that tried to assimilate 20 different downtown plans done over the past several decades into one comprehensive concept.

The council directed city staff members to come up with a timeline to implement the study’s results.

The study concluded, as did a number of the downtown plans it incorporated, that the city needs more market-rate housing, which has been in short supply over the past 30 years.

The prime conclusion was that the city partner with the private sector on a project – a mixed-use development to jump-start development downtown. The consultant’s preferred location is Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street near the new City Hall, and the suggested development is a seven-story, $27 million structure with 120 units of market-rate housing.

But Jason Robertson, project manager for Barney and Worth, emphasized that the proposed building was just an idea, which also could be developed elsewhere downtown.

“These are examples of what’s possible and how things could play out for us,” Councilwoman Karen Messmer said.

An artesian well would be integrated into a fountain near the corner of the building. The building would have sustainable features such as, potentially, rooftop garden boxes, secure bike parking and electric car charging stations. Rainwater could be used to flush toilets and irrigate.

The report aimed to develop a strategy for more housing, suggesting a menu of incentives the city can use to lure private development. The study was funded by a grant from the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

Among the possible incentives, the city could:

 • Buy selected properties in a targeted area, then sell them to the private sector for redevelopment.

 • Provide no- or low-cost architectural design, cost estimating and business/real estate financing services to the private sector.

 • Give loans and grants for facade improvement.

 • Improve the “streetscape” – sidewalks, lights and signs.

Council members generally liked the report.

“This really is pretty much perfect,” Mayor Doug Mah said.

Councilman Jeff Kingsbury asked Robertson if he considered putting affordable housing in the proposed mixed-use project.

Kingsbury noted that affordable housing, or subsidized housing, qualifies the residential parts of the property for a 12-year property tax break, instead of an eight-year break for market-rate housing.

“The short answer is no,” Robertson said, indicating that subsidized housing doesn’t significantly help such a project pencil out financially.

Councilman Joe Hyer liked the work, but added “there’s no one silver bullet that’s going to change and dramatically save downtown.”

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