Isthmus dispute returns to House

View of the isthmus in downtown Olympia from the Capitol Campus.  (The Olympian file)
View of the isthmus in downtown Olympia from the Capitol Campus. (The Olympian file) The Olympian

Olympia’s isthmus-development dispute returns to the Legislature on Thursday - to the House Local Government Committee that killed an isthmus height-limit measure last year.

Democratic Rep. Geoff Simpson of Covington objected to proposals to thwart high-rise developments on the ribbon of land that separates Budd Inlet from Capitol Lake. He also says he lacked votes last year to pass Sen. Karen Fraser’s Senate Bill 5800, which then sought to overturn a controversial Olympia City Council rezone vote.

Things are different now — after the November elections replaced some City Council members who favored taller buildings. Simpson says he has an open mind this time around when his committee takes up House Bill 2082 at 8 a.m. Thursday, and the city now supports last year’s proposals.

But Simpson expressed concern a zoning limit might interfere with the vested rights of developer Triway Enterprises, which has an application on file with the city to build its mixed-use development at taller heights than the 35 feet that Fraser and Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia favor.

Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, opposed Fraser’s effort last year but has changed his view in light of the city’s elections, and says he might offer an amendment to protect the state against any liability — if the builder is found to have vested rights that are “taken” by government action.

Hunt is sponsor of House Bill 2082, which seeks to create a height district over much of the isthmus area, limiting buildings to 35 feet. City manager Steve Hall wrote Fraser on Jan. 8 to ask for support for ESSB 5800 and HB 2081, which had sought to declare the isthmus a shoreline of statewide significance.

Activist Jerry Reilly, who has led efforts to build a park on large parts of the isthmus while leaving a supermarket and other existing businesses in place, says he is hopeful activists can get around House objections this time.

But Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said he intends to fight the move. Despite Olympia’s change of view, he said the state should not “usurp” local government’s power in the issue.