OPC: November 14, 2011 Special Planning Commission Meeting (CPU)

Tonight’s meeting agenda is here, and the meeting will begin atypically at 7:00. Tonight’s comprehensive plan briefing topics are:

I think this document is good summary of the status quo and the city’s options to protect the views. It includes a list of existing overlays on page 3 and Page 4 considers our options. The city staff recommends Option 2 which is a nice middle ground I suppose, but obviously, they seem to concede that Option 3 would be the most desirable even though probably less practical. (Cities that are wonderful now often underwent ambitious and painful processes like this one 30 years ago.) As I’ve said often, views are an amenity–even those that include structures as opposed to water and mountains often give reasons for people to live in dwelling units that are smaller and closer to an urban core. It’s another consideration in the urban amenities vs. suburban space paradigm. I don’t need to tell Olympians how important views are so make sure you tell the city what you think.

The problem as articulated, is that the parcels downtown are too small to be developed and some kind of consolidation would need to occur for development to work. Olympia’s downtown certainly suffers from this issue, but so did every other town founded before widespread auto use. This issue strikes me as a red herring. If there were a market for downtown housing–and I’ve argued elsewhere that there is not–we would not be hearing about this issue at all.

The options start on Page 5 and continue. Its pro and con lists such that it is unimaginable to me that the city will suggest purchasing and dealing with small lots in order to reach some of the comprehensive plan targets. The only downside to doing nothing is the “community’s goals will be slower to realize, while the other side warns of risks of increased liability, potential risk on wasting money that isn’t there and still no guarantee of success.

The city is also exploring a Community Renewal Area (scroll down about a third of the page for an explanation) which could be used to assist new development. My question is: who is going to buy/rent the new housing? I believe that the city’s money could be far better spent getting to understand market dynamics before assuming that downtown is a new development away from urban vitality (and yes, I think the comprehensive plan should be a little more realistic about this).

***

By way of repetition, here is a description of these meetings in their context of the overall comprehensive plan update:

These are briefing topics only; they may or may not result in a revision to the comprehensive plan. The primary consideration for updating the comprehensive plan is compliance with the GMA, not the topics that get the most attention in public comments although these considerations would complement each other in an ideal scenario.

The Olympia Planning Commission (OPC) is working with the city staff on the update for the Olympia Comprehensive Plan. The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires that the comprehensive plan contain a public involvement through which the desires of the public in the jurisdiction in question are discovered. The OPC and the city staff decided that the Imagine Olympia meetings and the ten focus meetings that followed would serve as the initial thrust of involving the public in the comprehensive plan’s update. Through these meetings, hundreds of people responded to specific and general questions about their dear Olympia. After these meetings were concluded the city staff reviewed the responses, analyzed and compressed them, and finally published them in large document. That document is (caution huge .pdf) here, but a more manageable summary is here. You  really need to read both if you want a basic comprehension of the responses that the city is working from. If you only read the summary, you will only get a…summary. This is particularly important because the larger document contains the city’s methodology in how they came to terms with the huge amount of data they received from this process.

The city’s analysis of the data from these meetings led them to the conclusion that they should concentrate their efforts into several larger topics that may or may not transcend specific chapters that the GMA mandates in the plan.  Over the summer, the OPC Comprehensive Plan Update Subcommittee (CPU) worked with the city staff coordinated by Stacey Ray and the Subcommittee Chair*, Jeanne Marie Thomas to organize a series of briefings (i.e. the city staff giving white papers to the CPU) on these topics. There were at least two meetings during which the CPU decided which topics should be considered, when the briefings should occur, and how much time should be allotted to each particular topic.

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