Residents invited to Imagine Olympia

OLYMPIA – City planners will officially kick off an exhaustive, two-year effort to update Olympia’s comprehensive plan at an open house Saturday at The Olympia Center, and the public is invited.

City Council members, city planners and others will be available to answer questions about the process to redo the city’s main land-use and planning document.

Incremental rezonings can happen each year. But this effort marks the first time the city will make large-scale changes in its comprehensive plan since 1994.

Planners are looking to the public for “their thoughts and hopes and dreams for the community,” said Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development.

Saturday’s event is sort of an orientation to the public input process to come, Stahley said.

“It’s a great opportunity to come in and get a sense of what the current comprehensive plan has in it, what their opportunities for participation are,” he said.

In addition to traditional public hearings, the public comment opportunities include interviews, booths at community events, “meeting kits” for home meetings, Internet surveys and a phone survey with a 400-person sample.

The process will continue until the new plan is drafted and adopted in November or December 2011.

Saturday’s event is an open house, said Senior Planner Jan Weydemeyer. But, in true Olympia style, it also includes some musical entertainment – from Vince Brown and the Grizzle Grazzle Tune Snugglers. Displays will be set up around the room, and residents can mingle with city staff members.

“Saturday’s going to be fun,” said Councilwoman Karen Messmer, who chairs the council’s Land Use and Environment Committee.

“This is the start of the process,” she said. “It’s not the only time to get involved.”

The next will be a series of community workshops at six city elementary schools in January, Stahley said.

The comprehensive plan update process, dubbed Imagine Olympia, is budgeted for $30,000 and will be done in-house by city staff, Stahley said. He expects a state grant for about the same amount of money.

While the city’s master plan is under review, city staff members have encouraged the City Council not to undertake any limited changes to the comprehensive plan, Stahley said, especially those that might be controversial and time-consuming.

“We’ve got fairly limited resources,” he said.

Olympia has had a comprehensive plan since as early as 1950, Stahley said. With the passage of the state Growth Management Act in 1990, the state put requirements on the cities’ comprehensive plans to control growth. It requires the plan to include land use, housing, capital facilities, transportation, utilities and the Shoreline Master Program.

Olympia’s plan goes farther, incorporating its ideals for topics, such as urban forestry and public safety.

Updating the plan is both about what citizens want Olympia to be and what the current plan hasn’t accomplished. Considering emerging problems is also part of the process — such as how sea level rise could affect downtown.

“One of the things we’re discussing is there are some policies that we haven’t made good process towards,” Stahley said.

For example, the city has zoned major transportation corridors for higher-density development, but hasn’t seen much of it. “Why not?” Stahley asked.

The plan has also encouraged the development of downtown housing, but not much has been built, Stahley said.

“Why not?” Stahley asked.

Messmer said she hoped people would find a way to be involved in the planning process.

“I just really want to encourage people to come and explore this process and join in on the process coming in with a very … open mind and optimistic attitude if they can,” she said. “This is the time to sort of launch into a very positive discussion.”

imagine Olympia

The process to update the city’s comprehensive plan, dubbed Imagine Olympia, will have a kickoff open house Saturday. The event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. To learn more about the comprehensive plan process, or to leave comments, go to www.imagineolympia.com.