Olympia calls on public for discourse on code enforcement, other issues

OLYMPIA - Neighborhood issues will take center stage at two upcoming public meetings as the city works to update its comprehensive plan.

The topic will be tackled in two parts, Jan. 8 and Feb. 11. The first meeting will focus on general neighborhood issues such as code enforcement and sidewalks, said Jennifer Kenny, an associate planner for the city’s planning department. The second will explore bigger-picture issues about how the city’s neighborhood association program works.

“I really do encourage people to come and talk about the future of the community and try to make Olympia something special,” said Roger Horn, chairman of the Olympia Planning Commission.

The planning commission is sponsoring the meetings and is overseeing the comprehensive plan rewrite, the first since 1994.

Meetings already have been held on downtown and high-density corridors, and upcoming meetings also will consider environmental stewardship. The goal is to have the Olympia City Council pass a final plan by the end of the year.

Before then, there are many opportunities for public comment.

Those who can’t attend the Jan. 8 meeting can fill out a survey at www.olympiawa.gov.

Horn said the commission is looking at some bigger-picture issues, such as density and transportation, including whether residents want to promote more non-automobile transportation.

The commission also wants to study zoning residential neighborhoods to allow small retail, similar to the San Francisco Street Bakery or the Olympia Food Co-Op on the west side.

Discussions also will include neighborhood planning, “how neighborhoods get their views heard by City Council,” Horn said.

Olympia started its system of recognizing neighborhood associations in 1989 and hasn’t changed the process much since, Kenny said. Individual associations are voluntary and are initiated by residents, who also draw the boundaries. Being part of a recognized association allows residents to apply for grants to improve their neighborhood.

But the system had ended up a patchwork of 41 registered associations, some large and some small, as of early 2010. Five were inactive, and much of the city wasn’t part of any association.

Northeast Neighborhood Association President Peter Guttchen said it’s time to look at changing the 1989 ordinance that established the neighborhood system.

“If we were going to start again, I think we’d be looking at dividing the city up so that there aren’t these sorts of voids and identifying community leaders and providing support to those folks to build associations that don’t result in this patchwork,” he said.

Guttchen said the city could allow neighborhood associations to do more, as it has had to cut staffing because of bad economic times. For example, volunteers aren’t allowed to use heavy, motorized equipment.

Better mapping of public land and developments are some of Guttchen’s other suggestions.

“I think the update of the comprehensive plan is a tremendous opportunity to review whether that particular ordinance is still helpful and relevant,” he said. “There are, I think, extraordinary opportunities going forward for neighborhoods to collaborate more fully and to partner with the city to address, to seize opportunities to make our community a better place to live.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com