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No adverse impact seen at Lacey site

No adverse impact seen at Lacey site LACEY – The city released this week for public comment a report that discloses the significant effects on the community and environment stemming from the development of a mixed-use town center in Hawks Prairie.

Hawks Prairie LLC, the property owner led by prominent South Sound developer Tri Vo, proposes transforming about 250 acres of forested land along Interstate 5 a short distance west of Marvin Road into a town center.

The first phase of the development, known as Lacey Gateway Town Center, would include more than 1.2 million square feet of commercial, retail and office space, and 500 dwellings on about half that acreage. Its hub would consist of retail blocks situated around a public plaza or open space with offices or housing on the upper floors, accessed by streets featuring on-street parking and lined with storefronts.

Residents could have a new place to shop, work and recreate but at the cost of more congested roads, loss of the area’s natural beauty and increased demands for fire and police protection and water, among the numerous effects. With various mitigation, however, the report concludes there are no “unavoidable significant adverse impacts” as a result of the proposed project.

The public can comment on the report, called a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, until July 16. A city hearing examiner will hear public testimony July 1; he is acting as a facilitator and has no decision-making role in the process.

An environmental impact statement examines the effects of a proposed development and outlines ways to mitigate them. This report supplements a document the city prepared in 1994 to comply with new state growth management policies that envisioned this type of development for the area.

Once finalized, city leaders will use the information as they weigh whether to give the project land-use approval.

“This is the first step of our review, and it can evolve even through our review,” Community Development director Rick Walk said.

Jeff Pantier, the developer’s project manager and principal with Hatton Godat Pantier, a Tumwater engineering firm, said the document’s release is a “major milestone” in its development but more work is ahead.

Aside from land-use approval, the other major project is for tenants to agree to buy or lease land. Pantier said there had been discussions with potential tenants but declined to provide details, citing the confidential nature of those negotiations.

Vo’s development company, Triway Enterprises, notes on its Web site that completion of the first phase is scheduled for 2011, but Pantier said, “The timing of the project will be a little later with some of the economic downturns we’ve seen.”

He added: “I think we’re all hearing the positive signs that are happening in the economy right now. What we’ll want to see is that the retail community is seeing those positive signals as we come out of the economic downtown. Some of that is starting to occur now.”

The project’s main anchor tenant, the Cabela’s retail outdoors store, opened in November 2007 on more than 27 acres the company purchased for $19 million, according to the county assessor’s office. Residents will access the entire site, including Cabela’s, on major arterials constructed from nearly $10 million in state grant funding secured by the city.

The alignment of a road has led to a disagreement between the city and the developer. The conceptual site plan provided by the developer features a “ring road” around the hub development to access two large retailers located along Britton Parkway and Interstate 5. City leaders envisioned a major east-west arterial going through the property to give the development a downtown feel.

City Council members expressed their unhappiness about the ring road during a work session earlier this month. Pantier said Friday that the issue was about road connectivity to adjoining properties, but Councilman Tom Nelson said that’s not the case

“It didn’t lend itself to the future,” he said of the road plan presented by the developers.

TRAILS

Nearly the entire site, which features sparsely to heavily forested areas, would be clear-cut and graded; some of the work has already occurred. New trees would be planted. Tree buffers would be preserved along I-5 and Britton Parkway. A greenway at least 50 feet wide and featuring trails will run through the southwestern part of the first-phase development. Twenty-eight acres, or 11 percent of the site, would be green space, 3 acres more than the city required.

Six wetlands – four in the first phase – would be filled, and new ones would be established elsewhere. A consultant’s review noted in the report said the wetlands scored low in terms of function and value.

The entire project would include 17,870 parking spaces. More than half of the acreage will be developed with roads and parking lots, with the resulting stormwater captured on-site.

Terms of a 2006 agreement between the city and the developer included the city guaranteeing water to serve the project’s first phase, specified in the report as a maximum of 227,300 gallons a day. Hawks Prairie LLC agreed to sell 5 acres to the city and extended an option for another 5-acre parcel for civic use, likely construction of a second city library, performance hall or farmers market.

The City of Olympia could indirectly supply water to the development. The City of Lacey is running out of available water it is authorized to pump out of the ground and is buying water from its neighbor to stay within the limit set by the state Department of Ecology. The city has requested to raise that limit, and headway has been made. Ecology has yet to approve the city’s applications for new water rights, although some approvals could come this year. The developer would need secure water for the future development of the project through the use of reclaimed water or purchase of additional water rights.

The first phase is estimated to generate 2,622 jobs; 7 out of every 10 positions filled will be for retail positions, which typically pay low wages. At completion, Lacey Gateway Town Center is projected to have an equal number (4,000) of retail and higher-paying office jobs.

The project’s first phase is projected to generate 2,874 trips – one vehicle coming or going – during the evening rush hour, increasing traffic on local roads. Congestion would significantly increase at three already busy intersections: Martin Way and Carpenter Road, Marvin Road and the southbound I-5 ramps, and Martin Way and Marvin Road. The city has identified road projects to alleviate congestion at these intersections. The effects on local roads from the project’s full construction is unknown at this time.

The developer could have to pay to improve two of these intersections, and the city will require it to construct projects to improve other affected intersections. At other intersections, the developer would be required to pay only if the improvements aren’t already built before development of Lacey Gateway Town Center. The developer will pay for roadways within the project site.

It is projected to pay $2.3 million in traffic mitigation fees to the city.

The project will increase demand for police and fire services and schools. Traffic congestion will delay police response into the area without a police substation, according to the report. Demands on firefighters and emergency medical technicians also will increase at a time when operation of a new city Fire Department has begun. The city is scheduled to end its contract with the Lacey Fire District and strike out on its own starting in January 2011.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427

chill@theolympian.com

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