Politics & Government

Office project clears final obstacle

OLYMPIA – The state Department of Information Services and the South Capitol Neighborhood Association have reached an agreement ending the lone remaining challenge to a major new $255 million office project on the east edge of the Capitol Campus.

The two parties reached an agreement Friday in which the neighbors agreed to drop their appeal of a State Environmental Policy Act finding that the state had adequately met concerns about traffic and other impacts.

The agreement calls on the state to expand its study of traffic and other impacts and to set up a hot line that neighbors can call to learn about the project or complain about noise and other project impacts. The 25-month project is expected to begin in August and finish roughly in September 2011.

“This reduces any resemblance of a slight cloud” on the horizon for the project, Department of Information Services spokeswoman Joanne Todd said Monday about the agreement.

“Our neighborhood is a gem. With our status as a nationally recognized historic district comes a great responsibility for stewardship. We are delighted that the state has become our partner in preserving this irreplaceable historic and residential resource,” Jeanne Marie Thomas, one of two appellants, said in a joint statement by the state and South Capitol Neighborhood Association.

The one-stop hot line is a first for state projects locally and grew out of talks initiated by state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, Todd said. DIS deputy director Jim Albert came up with the hot line idea patterned after his agency’s service desk that helps state workers with computer problems.

The state already planned to widen Jefferson Street and put in a roundabout at the intersection with 14th Avenue to accommodate traffic concerns at the building, expected to eventually house 900 people. Todd said the state has listened all along to neighbors whose suggestions have improved the project.

As part of its agreement, the state will expand its study of traffic impacts from the DIS facility, and it commits long-term to creating parking for visitors and users of the DASH shuttle run by Intercity Transit. The state also must make sure that sidewalks and the roundabout are safe for pedestrians and cyclists. And it will reimburse the neighborhood group up to $7,500 for signs to mark the historic area.

A state hearings judge in April had rejected neighbors’ claims that the project did not plan adequately for traffic, noise and parking impacts on the residential area or for cycling and pedestrian safety. Thomas and the neighborhood association’s president, Greg Klein, then filed their appeal to Superior Court.

The project on the so-called Wheeler lot at Jefferson Street and 14th Avenue kept moving ahead while talks between the agency and neighbors continued ahead of the court challenge.

The State Finance Committee plans a vote today to authorize a sale of bonds for the project. Once bonds are sold, demolition of buildings on the site can begin, likely in August, along with work to prepare the site for a foundation, Todd said.

DIS also plans to hold the first of three to five workshops for residents at the end of the month or in early August, Todd said. One will deal with parking, another with landscaping and others with other specific issues.

Additionally, the state plans to continue quarterly meetings with all the neighbors. “We want to be as transparent as we possibly can,’’ Todd said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688