Olympia’s Newest Housing Developments

A few of my initial posts here discussed a theory of spacio-temporal development in Olympia. Essentially, the owners and developers of land erect structures on land where they can recover the greatest financial benefit. The factors of development are demand for housing, costs of the development, and price of acquisition of the development rights. Where those factors turn into aligning incentives, we see development.

From my earliest moments in Olympia, I’ve heard countless politician and civic activist preach that they can somehow reverse these market forces in order to develop housing downtown (where development is more expensive and where I believe, there is insufficient demand). That hasn’t really happened downtown over the last five years, but land development is happening all over Olympia.

The August 1, 2012 Site Plan Review meeting is a good example of two projects that no one is talking about—partly at least because there is little to say about the banal. We’ve seen it before, and unfortunately we’ll see it again.

Exhibit 1.

Scroll to page four for a site plan.

This is another ordinary apartment complex along Highway 101 behind the Auto-Mall. A lot of people could potentially move into these places where they will need to get in their cars to get anywhere except another gas station. In our myopic community the gas station may have become the center of life for all of us trapped in our various obscure corners of the land use map. On the other hand it, gives us our over-sized dwellings, covered parking, and inwardly focused lives with no unexpected social interaction except the opportunity to like another’s Facebook posts. (I’m particularly fond of those fun little posters that everyone is sharing these days.)

Exhibit 2.

Senior Housing. Again in a relatively isolated area (or at least not a very walkable one) because there’s no better place to fritter away the last years of one’s life, trapped in the same suburban form that trapped us during our wonder years.

I’m not sure what to make of the location of this one. The August 1 Meeting Agenda says here:

But the Design Review Board Staff report from March 22, 2012 says here:

I think either way, my general criticism applies.

See here and here for checklists that ensure some kind of compliance with the comprehensive plan. Each were carefully met or deemed inapplicable here even though of course, the development itself seems to miss the point of undergoing these kinds of analyses in the first place. I don’t care how walkable or beautiful a building is if it itself is not accessible by foot and there isn’t much else around except a hospital which I suppose is fitting, but sad.

These types of uses compartmentalize our demographic segments so effectively that we have little possibility of experiencing anything other than what we are experiencing. Thurston County holds excellent examples of introverted land uses where not only uses are segregated but the consumers of those uses are generally for one single slice of the demographic pie. Our newer neighborhoods have the same young families, luxury condos for the empty nesters, etc etc. There are no new neighborhoods or even developments that I can think of in which the occurrence of a diversity of consumers is happenstance.

A major benefit of a city is our ability to interact unexpectedly with others—whether it’s at the post office, grocery store, or tavern. That’s sorta what makes a city interesting and a lack of it makes a suburb boring. Of course, getting perspective of others even if we only observe rather than  interact with them has the potential to broaden our horizons.

Until the land is consumed in completely uninspiring developments exactly like these, the market forces governing land use will not make it rational for profit-seeking parties to develop downtown.  Long term, we’ll still hopefully see the kind of urbanization that occurs with steady jobs, demand for housing, and a declining stock of land. However, in the shorter long term (or near term), we’ll see more of the same. Unfortunately, this means we’ll start noticing more problems typically associated with excess traffic at intersections like Cooper Point and Black Lake and other overtaxed suburban forms. Likewise, these types of car dependent land uses (where literally doing anything outside the home requires owning and using a car) will continue to put a strain on the municipal finances because maintenance is expensive and will get more so as more cars are on the road.

These two actions support my conclusion that land use in Olympia (and all of Thurston County for that matter) is a disastrous patchwork of nonsense with few a bright spot here and there. That is not going to change with the Comprehensive Plan Update. Those of you holding your breath for major developments downtown best take a deep one.

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Local Economy | 4 Comments

Olympia Planning Commission Meetings Broadcast Online!

Audio anyway.

You’ll notice that the format is eerily similar to that of the city council meetings. Soon enough–I imagine–one will be able to listen to the meetings and jump around to those sections of it that one cares to see/hear just like one can currently do with the city council meetings.

Like I said earlier, the July 23, 2012 meeting was a public hearing on the July Draft of the comprehensive plan.



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OPC: July Draft Open House and Public Hearing July 23, 2012

Tonight is the public hearing on the July Draft, following an open house at City Hall. Agenda here.

The staff report is here.

The Comprehensive Plan’s July Draft is here.

What do you think?

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Regular Olympia Planning Commission Meeting 7.9.2012

Tonight’s planning commission meeting (agenda here) will revisit the Permanent Quixote Village (QV) in light of recent litigation by contiguous parcel owners to stop it.

It appears that staff believes the  adoption of an amendment will remedy the Growth Management Hearing Board’s concerns about the implementation of QV:

The Planning Commission’s responsibility is to timely formulate and forward to the City Council recommendations on proposed

Comprehensive Plan amendments that:

• Clarify that a permanent homeless encampment can be allowed within the Light Industrial Zoning District;

• Are consistent with the Growth Management Act and the rest of the Comprehensive Plan; and

• The current zoning regulations implement this comprehensive plan amendment.

City staff believes that the proposed amendments (Attachment 1) address a GMHB Decision and encourage the Planning Commission to concur and forward your recommendation to the City Council for further consideration.

As you can probably imagine by now, the amendments make exceptions for a permanent homeless encampment.

Ain’t comprehensive plans great? 🙂

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Land Use Blunders in Thurston County

Whenever I end up near Israel Road and Capitol Boulevard I can’t help but get upset. There’s a bunch of state office buildings privately-owned buildings currently leased to state agencies, in the middle of huge parking lots. There are very few residences, but a few coffee places, and some restaurants that probably are unable to stay in business because potential customers get in their cars and drive away about the time dinner comes around.

This “campus” of state office buildings privately-owned buildings currently leased to state agencies and infrastructure cost a huge amount of money and could have brought loads of other benefits (aside from office space for state employees) to Thurston County.

Can you think of any?

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Local Economy | 4 Comments

Downtown Olympia’s Urban Living Options

I’m always curious about the amenities some of these older apartment buildings downtown offer. Craigslist has one right now. (I’m not affiliated with this apartment building or its owner in any way.)

$920 a month for a 2 bedroom, while the 1 bedroom is $760. Both have some initial lease incentives like free rent.

This appears to be the place, right across from Sylvester Park:

How does this compare to other urban options you’ve seen in Olympia? Craigslist has a long list though not many are in multi-family buildings.

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Committee, Local Economy, Public Participation | 1 Comment

Special Olympia Planning Commission Meeting 6.20.2012

This Wednesday the Comprehensive Plan Update subcommittee, chaired by Rob Richards will hold a meeting to discuss the public involvement in the review of the July Draft (as they are now calling the second version of the comprehensive plan draft).

The staff report details the evolving plan that the OPC and staff are formulating.

At the June 4 Planning Commission meeting, Commissioners discussed options brought forward by staff, as well as a proposal developed separately by Commissioner Ingman. Commissioner Ingman’s framework for public participation incorporated the following elements:
• Informal kick-off workshop
• Initial Commission deliberation phase with public testimony taken at multiple meetings
• Second public hearing
Commissioners opted to accept Commissioner Ingman’s proposal; however, chose to replace the “Informal kick-off workshop” element with the public hearing proposal that incorporates multiple evenings of a combination staff open house and time for public testimony. Testimony can be provided individually, or in groups of two, three, or four. Specific groups or experts within the community will also be encouraged and invited to participate in the public hearings.

WEEEEEEEE! See you at 6:30 in room 207 of City Hall.

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Olympia Planning Commission, Public Hearings, Public Participation | 1 Comment

Regular Olympia Planning Commission Meeting 6.18.2012

Tonight the OPC will take in a briefing for their review of the comprehensive plan review. Staff report on this item is here.

(The meeting’s agenda is here.)

Otherwise, it’s looking like the first hour of the meeting could be spent on the review and adoption of minutes from previous meetings. I always loathed the OPC’s labored effort to correct minutes from meetings that took place during the first Bush administration.

See you at 6:30 in room 207 of the Olympia City Hall.

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Olympia: Q&A Friday

Where do think we have the most underutilized, underdeveloped, or otherwise greatest missed opportunity in Olympia’s use of its land? What do you wish was there instead?

This question makes me think parking lots, but there are lots of possibilities.

Talk to me and then get out in the sun! (Or talk to me via your mobile devices that allow you to enjoy the sun and talk to me at the same time.)

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Public Participation | 2 Comments

Convention Center in Olympia

How often have you heard that Olympia needs a convention center? I typically hear these kinds of comments from prominent and well-connected members of our dear business or tourist community. The problems associated with convention centers are detailed in this Article in the Atlantic Cities:

The reason for all this bustle is entirely economic: cities believe that convention centers are key to bringing in those coveted tourism dollars. The promise of huge groups of visitors descending, in need of places to sleep, eat, shop, perhaps catch a show, is an alluring one, especially for cities that struggle to get residents downtown.

But there’s a problem with this building bonanza, and it’s a doozy: There aren’t really enough conventions to go around. The actual number of conventions hosted in the U.S. has fallen over the last decade. Attendance at the 200 largest conventions peaked at about 5 million in the mid-1990s and has fallen steadily since then.

While I suppose there are reasons to believe that Olympia might be a reasonable destination for a convention center, I personally don’t find any of them compelling enough to justify the public expense. Olympia is nowhere near the airport, its tourist infrastructure is pathetic (e.g. very few hotels, though we may be adding one far enough away to dismiss it as an addition to the tourist infrastructure and “higher scale”—palatable to the convention attendees at least—restaurants are spread thin in the downtown core. Finally, aside from the state capital, currently slumbering music scene, and a beer that has not been produced here in a decade, Olympia has no national cachet.) I’ll come right out and say it, I don’t know why a convention center should ever be considered here.

The conclusion to the piece is eye opening:

And convention center market over-saturation means that reeling those visitors in has become harder and harder. Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and former partner at an international real estate consulting firm, says that too many cities bought into the same dream at the same time.

“So many were saying, ‘all you have to do is get one percent of the national market and you’ll do just fine,'” he says. “Three hundred cities bought the same logic.”

As a result, too many convention centers struggle to provide the economic benefit they initially promised. “You need to look very carefully before building another convention center in this country,” Leinberger says. These centers require huge investments, money that could be better used “to bolster the quality of life, the parks, the retailing, the homeless situation.”

The piece is a very interesting example of the problems associated with municipal competition within a limited spatial configuration (even if we’re talking about the entire U.S.). There simply is a limited number of conventions—more destinations than conventions which means there will be plenty of underutilized convention space in the country. That makes the participants in this game akin to nighthawks sitting at the poker table except that their first hand is only one they get regardless of how many times they try to play. (I don’t gamble and don’t know its references.) Does this make sense? If so, why would Olympia want to deal itself in, and what could we be doing instead?

What say ye?

Posted in Comprehensive Plan, Local Economy | 1 Comment