9-acre rezone proposal resurfaces in southeast Olympia

A 9-acre parcel in southeast Olympia could be rezoned for higher density housing later this year, and at least one resident plans to fight it until the end.

Referred to as the Medela property, the land is part of a larger 205-acre area near Boulevard Road and Pacific Avenue that the city annexed last April. Property owner Medela Group LLC has been trying to rezone it since 2009, when the site was part of unincorporated Thurston County.

The county had denied the request last year, but Medela submitted a new and similar proposal to the city in January.

The area is zoned to allow four to eight residences per acre, but if rezoned, the property would allow up to 18 residences per acre.

The higher density zoning would open the door for developments such as apartment buildings, and that’s what has some residents fired up. The city is reviewing the proposal, which is slated for a public hearing by a hearing examiner, tentatively in June, according to city planners.

One resident against the rezoning is Joe Hanna, who lives on Chambers Street Southeast on the site’s western edge. Hanna said apartments would generate too much traffic in the area, clash with surrounding historic houses and have a negative impact on nearby wetlands.

City planners have reported that the neighborhood’s narrow roads, including Ninth Avenue, would need to be upgraded to handle an estimated 900 additional daily vehicle trips.

Another point of contention involves the county’s lone Muslim burial site at Forest Cemetery, which borders the north side of the Medela property. Concerns have been expressed that a multistory apartment building would violate the privacy of Muslim families .

“Apartments don’t fit in this neighborhood,” Hanna told The Olympian.

Hanna attempted to voice his concerns Tuesday during the public comment portion of the Olympia City Council meeting. However, he was prohibited from commenting about the Medela site and the related intergovernmental agreement between the city and county.

City Attorney Mark Barber told the council that comments about the issue, either for or against, would need to be made at a designated public hearing in order to comply with the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine. This legal issue ensures the council acts fair and impartially, especially with the issue due to come back before the council at a later date, Barber said.

Hanna said he plans to return to the next council meeting May 5 with fellow supporters for a silent protest, and will also have an attorney review the legality of Tuesday’s public comment denial.

A neighborhood meeting about the proposed rezoning was held Thursday at the Olympia Regional Learning Academy. Public comments can be emailed to cpdinfo@ci.olympia.wa.us through May 4.