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Olympians for People-Oriented Places focuses on city’s future growth

The Thurston First Bank Building is a former state office that now is home to the bank and Three Magnets Brewing Co. after a massive renovation project. Local architect Ron Thomas will share his experiences with the bank building Thursday at a meeting of Olympians for People-Oriented Places.
The Thurston First Bank Building is a former state office that now is home to the bank and Three Magnets Brewing Co. after a massive renovation project. Local architect Ron Thomas will share his experiences with the bank building Thursday at a meeting of Olympians for People-Oriented Places. Staff photographer

A new group called Olympians for People-Oriented Places is keeping an eye on urban growth, especially with the anticipated influx of 20,000 new residents in the next 20 years.

The group was co-founded last year by Janae Huber after she became frustrated with the lack of community conversation about Olympia’s future. Around that time, Olympia officials were finalizing a new comprehensive plan that outlines the city’s goals and vision for the next two decades.

Indeed, the conversational void is understandable to Huber, whose peers typically run short on free time because they work full-time jobs while raising children.

Huber said the goal is to advocate for the comprehensive plan’s urban density goals, identify a vision for a well-planned city and avoid passive sprawl. Topics can include open space, walkable neighborhoods, affordable housing and transportation.

Ultimately, the group is intended to bridge the divide between opposing viewpoints and educate people about thoughtful land use.

“The initial impetus for me was, how do I get my peers to have a voice at the table?” said Huber, who also is president of the Wildwood Neighborhood Association. “We love urban parks. We love these dynamic places. But none of us are participating in the conversation at the city level.”

Also referred to as O-POP, the group has about 60 people on its email list and has hosted five meetings so far. The core group is represented by a range of ages and experiences, Huber said.

O-POP invites the public to attend the next gathering at 7 p.m. Thursday at Coach House, 211 21st Ave. SW.

The guest speaker will be Ron Thomas of Thomas Architecture Studio, who has been involved with a number of high-profile projects in downtown Olympia including the Thurston First Bank Building, the 321 Lofts and the Thurston County Courthouse feasibility study.

At the O-POP meeting, Thomas will share insights on the anatomy of a development project in Olympia such as planning, financing and all the challenges in between. He also wants to dispel some notions about “wealthy developers” and call attention to developers who suffered severe losses during the recession.

As a downtown business owner and Olympia native, Thomas wants to see the quality of the city improve as it grows. Every new development project in Olympia, he said, makes it easier for future projects to find financing because “you’re proving the market with every new renter.”

“Anybody that is passionate about urban redevelopment, specifically in our community, I want to encourage that,” Thomas said of the O-POP’s formation. “In Olympia, we have so much natural beauty and a wonderful historic downtown. We need people. We need density.”

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