After 5 years of work, Olympia finally approves new comprehensive plan

At its last meeting of 2014, the Olympia City Council officially approved a new comprehensive plan that outlines the city’s goals and vision for the next 20 years.

This is the first major update of the plan since 1994, and the city has been working on revisions since 2009.

“We now have an up-to-date business plan that’s literally informed by thousands of shareholders — the citizens,” said Leonard Bauer, deputy director for community planning and development, at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The plan’s revisions target policy language in areas such as projected population growth, zoning requirements, downtown revitalization, streets and alleys, speed limits, disaster preparedness, park maintenance funding, urban density and sea levels.

Some of the more notable changes included policies that provided more guidance for street connectivity, which refers to the linking of small streets with larger arterial roads. Residents in southwest Olympia successfully lobbied the city to remove two proposed connections from the plan: one between Decatur Street and Caton Way and one from 16th Avenue to Fern Street. Residents feared the connections would increase vehicle traffic from the Olympia Auto Mall and reduce the area’s walkability.

Another debated item, at least among council members, involved the regulations for alleys — specifically whether to require alleys with new home construction or simply encourage alleys when feasible. Discussion also included thoughts on whether alleys discouraged community conversation and interaction because of their locations behind homes, rather than out front. The council ended up approving the term “require” to ensure that alleys are built whenever possible.

Keith Stahley, director of community planning and development, said the comprehensive plan represents a career highlight not just because of the plan’s complexity, but because the city took the time to do it right.

The process has included multiple public meetings over the past five years as well as participation from nearly every city employee, as well as the City Council and the Planning Commission. Implementation of the plan comes next, Stahley said.

“People showed up consistently,” Stahley said Tuesday, praising the public’s involvement. “This feels very much like we’ve been on a roller coaster, slowly climbing up to the top. We’re finally there.”

The council took a 10-minute recess at Tuesday’s meeting to celebrate the plan’s passage with cake and pie. A final draft of the plan can be viewed online at imagineolympia.com.

Also Tuesday, the council received an update on construction highlights and more from 2014. According to city engineer Fran Eide, the year’s projects included: