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Olympia residents weigh in on comprehensive plan’s impact on zoning and neighborhoods

The Olympia City Council listened to feedback from several residents Tuesday regarding the comprehensive plan, which outlines the city’s vision and goals for the next 20 years.

The city has been working on a comprehensive plan update since 2009. The plan considers challenges such as projected growth, environment, downtown revitalization, urban density, sea level rise and more.

The city is projecting 20,000 new residents and 18,000 new jobs in the next 20 years, said Leonard Bauer, deputy director of community planning and development.

"It’s the city’s business plan," Bauer told the council, noting that the projected growth mirrors the city’s growth trends for the past 20 years.

At Tuesday’s meeting, at least 24 people addressed the council with concerns about the proposed plan, which weighs in at roughly 300 pages. Many comments targeted the plan’s language for zoning requirements as well as urban corridors, which refer to major arterial streets and their surrounding land. These urban corridors connect three major areas of population growth in the city: downtown Olympia, the area near Capital Mall and the area near the Pacific Avenue-Martin Way triangle.

Some residents in the Bigelow Historic Neighborhood are concerned about zoning densities and heights along State Avenue. John Bay and Jay Elder both said taller buildings along that corridor east of downtown will have a negative impact on nearby views for residents — and could discourage development downtown where it’s needed. Elder also said he is concerned about too much proposed flexibility in zoning changes.

Adam Frank of the Olympia Master Builders said a lot of language in the comprehensive plan is too prescriptive with terms such as “must” and “shall.” This language could limit developers in the housing industry, which is vital to the local economy, he said.

“I urge you to make the document less prescriptive and protect the flexibility of the people I represent to adapt to the needs of the market,” Frank told the council.

Bethany Weidner of the South Westside Olympia Neighborhood Association reiterated her neighborhood’s opposition to a proposed street connectivity project that identifies Decatur Street and 16th Avenue as major traffic connectors. The projects, she said, would reduce walkability in the neighborhood while increasing vehicle traffic.

The public may submit written comment to the city by Aug. 5, and the council will revisit the topic at its Aug. 12 meeting. To learn more about the proposed plan, visit imagineolympia.com.

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