Isthmus heights hearing set

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 - The Olympia City Council will hold another public hearing about the downtown isthmus Tuesday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts - this time about whether the city should make permanent an interim decision to drop height limits to 35 feet.

The council will hold its regular weekly meeting at the center, 512 Washington St. S.E. This time, however, the public hearing is the only item on the agenda. The council has set aside four hours to hear testimony.

Doors open at 5 p.m., and the meeting will begin at 6. At 7 p.m., the city will stop signing in people for testimony. If the meeting continues past 10 p.m., council members will decide whether to extend the hearing, city spokeswoman Cathie Butler said.

The council last held a public hearing at the arts center in September 2008, when the council hadn’t yet decided whether to raise height limits on part of the isthmus from 35 feet to 42, 65 and 90 feet. Nearly 100 people testified in the emotional, five-hour hearing.

Later that year, the council decided to raise the height limits. Flash forward to January 2010, and a council with three new members voted to revert height limits to 35 feet. But such a move requires another public hearing – the one that will be held Tuesday.

“This is a public hearing that’s on that action of adopting the interim ordinance and whether or not that ordinance should continue to be in effect,” Butler said.

She said the city chose The Washington Center as the venue because more room was needed than council chambers could accommodate. She said The Olympia Center, which is larger than council chambers but smaller than The Washington Center, was not available.

Butler doesn’t expect as big a crowd as in September 2008. The balcony areas of the center will be closed, she said, unless the size of the crowd demands that they be opened.

But she added, “We don’t know how many people to expect at this time.”

There are some other new twists with this year’s hearing. People who want to testify will sign cards available in the lobby so they won’t have to stand in line. There will be two microphones.

“The mayor will call … four to six people in front of the microphone” at a time, Butler said. “They will be generally in the order in which they signed in.”

Speakers will get two minutes to address the council – less than the three minutes the council has allowed.

Written comments can be submitted to City Hall until noon next Friday, Butler said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869