Group not sure Larida fits in with isthmus

OLYMPIA - For the second consecutive week, the city's Design Review Board grappled with whether to make a design recommendation for a mixed-use project on the isthmus. On Thursday, board members said they liked the project design but didn't care for the project in that location.

At issue the past two weeks has been Larida Passage, the two-building mixed-use project proposed for downtown Olympia by Triway Enterprises. It would include a 90-foot building with space for retail shops, structured parking and room for 141 condominiums. The other structure is a 35-foot office/retail building. Earlier, Triway had proposed two buildings, but one would have measured between 42 and 65 feet.

A week ago, the city’s Design Review Board heard public testimony about the project, then postponed making a recommendation until Thursday night to give the board more time to absorb public comments and to consider the project.

On Thursday, the board, a citizen advisory group that makes only recommendations to the Olympia hearing examiner, voted to make three recommendations. Members voted 4-3 to recommend the preliminary building plan for Larida Passage and also 5-2 to recommend the preliminary site and landscaping plan for the project. Both decisions also included city planning staff recommendations that the board largely agreed to recommend, with some modifications and additions.

The biggest hurdle of the nearly three-hour meeting Thursday night was whether to recommend that the project design for Larida Passage was in context with other development on the isthmus. That discussion dominated most of the meeting with the board finally voting 5-2 to revisit the “contextual” plan for Larida Passage at a later date.

“It just doesn’t appear to be in context with the adjoining property,” said board member Jane Laclergue about Larida Passage. Laclergue was one of seven members in attendance Thursday night; members Bob Findlay and Joan “Katie” Cox were absent.

“I think it’s everything the city needs, it just doesn’t fit with everything else around it,” board member Tom Muller added.

Although the board voted to postpone a recommendation on the contextual plan, a date for that discussion was not set. Board chairman Tom Carver said the board will meet on Jan. 14 and 28, although it wasn’t clear if the contextual plan will be discussed on those dates.

The decision also to “table” the recommendation on the contextual plan led to some confusion among the board members. Some questioned how they could support the building design without voting on the plan in context with other development on the isthmus.

“So we’re saying yes to the building design but not necessarily saying yes to the whole thing,” Muller said at one point as he sought further clarification.

No public testimony was heard Thursday night, but about 20 people attended the meeting, including Jerry Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, a group concerned about protecting views on the isthmus. They also would like to see a park on that site.

Although the board voted to postpone discussion of the contextual plan, Reilly still called it a victory for opponents. “It’s the first time an official organ of the government has stood with the people,” he said.

About 19 people testified about Larida Passage at last week’s meeting, all but two of whom voiced their opposition to the project. Among those opposed to the project was Steve Segall of Olympia, who called the project “Stalinesque.” But two former Olympia City Council members, Joan Machlis and Holly Gadbaw, spoke in support of the project.

Machlis, who voted to rezone the isthmus property to allow a project such as Larida Passage, pointed out that the project achieves a city density goal because it occupies only a little more than 2 acres of downtown property. Gadbaw was enthused about the structured parking the project would offer, saying it would replace “the ugly sea of surface parking” downtown.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403