Hearing examiner will decide fate of 9-acre rezoning proposal in SE Olympia

The six-year saga between landowners and neighbors over the rezoning of 9 acres in southeast Olympia will reach a tipping point this summer.

The 9-acre Medela property and its owners have been tangled up in legal red tape for six years. Several neighbors oppose the rezoning and the potential development it could attract, such as multistory apartment buildings filled with car-driving tenants.

The matter will go before the city’s hearing examiner July 20 at Olympia City Hall. If approved, the proposed rezoning would likely increase the property’s value, co-owner Mel Armstrong said.

Despite the nearby opposition, Armstrong said he is reasonably confident the hearing examiner will find in his favor.

“We want to rezone it and see what the market will bear,” he said. “It’s a nice location and it’s underutilized.”

The higher density would allow up to 18 residences per acre, compared with the current four to eight residences per acre. Armstrong said his goal for the property falls in line with Olympia’s comprehensive plan, which calls for more density in the area to prepare for population growth.

Owners of the adjacent Forest Funeral Home Cremation and Cemetery, which borders the site to the north, have opposed the rezoning from the start.

In that time, the Armstrong family’s unincorporated county land was annexed by the city in 2014, and the rezoning had to go through Olympia’s process.

Cemetery co-owner Teresa Goen-Burgman said the rezoning is riddled with discrepancies. Her family will urge the hearing examiner to deny the request.

One concern is a small strip of property on the southern edge of the historic cemetery that appears to overlap the proposed rezoned area, according to at least one map. That piece of land includes burials. Cemetery owners are calling for an accurate survey that will clear up the boundaries.

“I don’t know if the line is here, I don’t know if the line is there,” said Burgman, pointing to the fence that has long divided the cemetery from the Medela property. “They’re lying on all the maps.”

Another past effort to block the rezone includes an appeal of an environmental evaluation over concern for nearby wetlands and wildlife. The local Muslim community and the cemetery have raised objections over possible invasion of privacy that would result from multistory apartment buildings overlooking the county’s only Muslim burial site.

Cemetery owners have attempted to buy the Medela property in the past, but no deal was ever reached.

The Armstrong family bought the land in 1942. They own all nine single-family houses on the land, two of which are unoccupied because of their condition.