Olympia fine-tunes policies on streets, alleys, views and Capitol Lake

The Olympia City Council and staff continue to slog away at a revised comprehensive plan, which outlines the city’s vision and goals for the next 20 years.

At a study session Tuesday, the council discussed policies related to street connections, alleys, scenic views and Capital Lake. No official decisions were made.

Street connections — which refers to linking small roads to larger arterials — have been on the South West Olympia Neighborhood Association’s radar for some time. The concept is seen as a tool for alleviating congestion on main thoroughfares.

The neighborhood and council want to remove the proposed connections for Decatur Street and 16th Avenue. These connections would increase vehicle traffic from the Olympia Auto Mall and negatively affect the area’s walkability, according to neighbors.

“This is a challenging policy area,” said Rich Hoey, public works director. “Street connections must be balanced for adverse effects despite their usefulness to the city.”

However, the city must still address congestion and hospital access on the west side, specifically along Black Lake Boulevard and Cooper Point Road. Hoey said freeway ramps at U.S. 101 are needed regardless of street connections within neighborhoods.

Several council members cited a need to preserve neighborhoods, but also asked that the comprehensive plan provide more guidance on when street connectivity makes sense.

“Roads are here to serve people, not the other way around,” said Councilman Steve Langer, adding that non-motorized street connections are also important.

Other highlights from Tuesday’s study session:

Alleys: The council discussed policy language pertaining to alleys in neighborhoods. The debate comes down to whether the city should encourage alleys or require alleys, when practical, for new developments that face arterial and collector streets. With vehicles accessing properties from behind, city planners said alleys can help “reduce points of conflict” with pedestrians and traffic along the main road.

Scenic views: Staff has proposed a revision of city policy by emphasizing public “viewpoints” and not “corridors,” which had been interpreted as views from streets. Revising this language can help clarify limitations with development when it comes to protecting scenic views. Current city regulations include protection of viewpoints from which Budd Inlet, Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains can be seen. One suggested revision is to remove specific examples of scenic views.

Capitol Lake: Mayor Stephen Buxbaum referred to management of Capitol Lake as “an enormously frustrating issue,” and said the city “is paying the price for stagnation in the Legislature and the lake.” The lake is owned and maintained by the state. However, the council plans to further explore how to define the city’s involvement with the lake. Councilman Langer said the lake has turned into a fresh-water marsh, and the city wants more involvement in discussions about problems such as flooding.

The city has been working on updating the comprehensive plan since 2009, and council approval of the plan is months away. The next regular Olympia City Council business meeting will be 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at City Hall.