Summary of August 29, 2011 Olympia Planning Commission Meeting

Disclaimer: These are not official meeting minutes. Official minutes are adopted by the planning commission at its next properly noticed meeting of the whole. Just as my recollections may contradict the official record, so may the official record contradict my recollections. Therefore, you should only read these at your own risk!

The planning commission with three commissioners absent deliberated over these three agenda items.

Ken Lake Drainage Basin. The commission voted to approve the recommendation to rezone the Ken Lake Drainage Basin area from interim Residential Low Impact (RLI), to permanent RLI. The commission was concerned about the geology of the Ken Lake Drainage Basin which necessitated the change. That area has been the subject of much attention given that it is one of the few greenfield development possibilities in the City of Olympia limits, but current and long term residents in the basin are concerned with flooding and stormwater management. (The geographic development within a specific jurisdiction and its temporal and spatial patterns are critical in the examination and understanding of this issue. I can’t get into it here and it will require several posts, but file that one away because you’ll see it as soon as I can get it done.) With more impervious surfaces like roads, roofs, sidewalks, and driveways, there will be that many fewer areas in which the water can be absorbed so it runs down the drainage basin and doesn’t typically stop for unsuspecting homeowners. The city’s response has been to zone the area RLI, complete a Ken Lake Drainage Basin Study, and figure out how best to deal with it once the geology is better understood. A second motion was introduced to encourage the city council to consider a moratorium on development which failed. It should be noted that at least one landowner has applied to develop at least some of the parcels under the RLI zoning and development regulations. Commissioner Tousley remarked that the study should be included in the next Capital Facilities Plan and funded so it will be completed. While that point was not formally recommended, most commissioners seemed to agree with it.    

Electronic Sign Ordinance. The owner of the Walgreen’s Shopping Center on Black Lake and Cooper Point applied a text amendment to the city’s sign ordinance that would have permitted electronic reader signs in all commercial areas except HDC-1. The applicant wanted the sign to be able to update no fewer than 20 seconds and most of those who spoke for the amendment at the public hearing argued in favor of updates of three seconds. Lacey does not permit these signs and Tumwater allows them with a three minute update (I believe—but correct me). The commission voted against the update 6-2 (again with three members absent).

Commissioner Muller explained that Tacoma refused to allow these signs, and that they are not useful as a competitive advantage for any particular business or center because once allowed, many centers would likely use them. Furthermore, since they are not allowed in most municipalities in Thurston County, most businesses and centers are at an equal disadvantage (if the lack of a sign is actually a disadvantage). Commissioner Richards said that the comprehensive plan stresses a pedestrian infrastructure, the antithesis of these kinds of signs. I also voted against allowing signs because I don’t believe but for one provision that these signs are consistent with the comprehensive plan, which is LU Policy 13.1 to help commercial areas attract and retain customers and competitive with other commercial areas in the trade area. Commissioner Muller is exactly right in his analysis of the second prong of competition with other trade areas. These signs are largely absent in the area so the argument that Olympia is lagging in its policies and therefore putting businesses at a disadvantage seems a bit hollow to me. However the larger question, and what I brought up at the meeting, is that the city (as in the collection of people who comprise the various residents of the geographic area, not just the government) needs to have a serious conversation about what assisting businesses in attracting and retaining customers actually means and what they are willing to do to further that objective. Does that mean allowing the businesses to do exactly what they think is in their best interest even if the citizens might disagree with it? Does it mean that people need to make greater efforts to patronize local businesses? What is the role of the city government here both at the execution and policy-making levels? The comprehensive plan does consider some of these issues and there was no shortage of comments in the Imagine Olympia and its subsequent focus meetings.  The people of Olympia who attended those meetings (and responded to survey questions) certainly desire a sustainable local business infrastructure. Business owners agree. How does that happen and what role does the city, through the comprehensive plan or otherwise have in it? These are some of the issues to explore in later posts.  

Shoreline Master Program. The final deliberation from the August 29, 2011 meeting concerned uses in various designations adopted under the Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The commission considered commercial uses in the Port Property designation, and whether parking lots and roads should be allowed in the Natural designation of which the only area so designated is in Priest Point Park. The commission voted preliminarily to allow commercial uses such as a fueling station in the Port’s designation and restricted road and parking lots in the Natural designation. The commission also considered water related, dependent, enjoyment, and non-water-oriented uses in the Urban Conservancy designation which they agreed should be a permitted use with some exceptions. I may or perhaps may not have more about the SMP deliberation process given that it has long ago passed from turgid to stale in a fascinating demonstration of the unique potential of all public processes. For now, anyone interested in this issue (as indeed all should be), are encouraged to read about it on the Department of Ecology’s materials.

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