Capital Mall Triangle Subarea update plans include increasing street connections, affordable housing


Olympia Community Planning and Development senior planner David Ginther outlined key recommendations in the proposed Capital Mall Triangle Subarea Plan, focusing on various aspects of transportation, housing, and supporting businesses.

Ginther spoke at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, March 18, and provided an overview of the subarea planning process and draft recommendations.

Ginther presented the subarea plan map showing a large circle, roughly in the Kenyon vicinity, that is a proposed focal location for investment and implementation of the plan. However, he clarified that this does not exclude other possible developments or actions in the broader subarea.

Some of the main focus on transportation recommendations include increasing grid connectivity through new roadway connections constructed gradually as properties redevelop in the Capital Mall triangle subarea.

Ginther compared the public street grids between downtown Olympia and the Capital Mall triangle area, saying there are significant differences in connection.

Ginther said downtown's well-connected street network makes it easier for people walking, biking, or driving to access their destinations. He added that it is more of a challenge for people to get where they need to go in the triangle area.

"The significant lack of connections forces everybody out on those arterial roads, which causes many traffic backups," the senior planner noted.

Ginther presented a map from the draft plan showing potential locations for a street grid pattern within the Capital Mall triangle. He stressed that these were only potential areas, not definitive placements, as implementing new connections would depend on property owner redevelopment schedules.

Commissioner Carole Richmond suggested putting alleys between mixed-use developments to make the frontage more pedestrian-oriented. 

Other focus on transportation in the proposed subarea plan include:

  • Enhancing crosswalks in several locations.
  • Upgrading the low-stress bike network.
  • Coordinating with Intercity Transit on future planning to better serve the subarea.
  • Conducting corridor studies on major roads like Black Lake Boulevard and Harrison Avenue to make them more multi-modal friendly through sidewalks, traffic calming, and other improvements.
  • Adding more roundabouts at select locations would enable easier bus turns and support Intercity Transit operations.

Housing and economic development recommendations

The senior planner discussed the incentive of allowing taller buildings in the core areas if the development is 100% affordable housing. He mentioned that projects utilizing the incentive must dedicate all units to those earning 80% of the area median income or below.

Specifically, Ginther mentioned that taller buildings of up to 12 stories are proposed to be allowed south of Harrison Avenue and north of Mall Loop Drive – between the two major arterials.

Ginther emphasized that this provision aimed to attract dedicated affordable housing developers – nonprofits partnering with the city rather than private developers who make a few units to gain an extra story or two.

The proposed subarea plan included several recommendations to support continued economic development in the area:

  • Corridor planning for Harrison Avenue to address challenges facing local businesses in the area.
  • Building and façade improvement program.
  • Investigating Economic Development District designation to help fund projects.
  • Support for cooperative businesses like Northwest Co-op Development Center.
  • Exploring using ground floor commercial financing program to incentivize retail/commercial space.

In developing the subarea plan, Ginther highlighted the public engagement they conducted. They received 277 written public comments throughout the process. In addition, five community meetings and five stakeholder workgroup meetings were held to gather input.

They also conduct specific outreach to three business-focused meetings and presentations given to 19 community organizations. The city staff also conducted 17 interviews with property owners, business owners, residents, and neighborhood leaders.

Based on the community feedback through the engagement process, Ginther said there was emphasis on maintaining a "healthy, diverse regional commercial center." There was a request for safe transportation options for all modes of travel through the subarea.

Underutilized large parking lots in the area were also brought up due to changes like online shopping. Ginther said there was an opportunity to redevelop some parking lot locations.

There were also requests from the community for public amenities or gathering space in the subarea. Some suggestions include a park plaza, performing area, or other community locations where people can congregate.


8 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • TheVirtualOne

    Very concerned about what the city is allowing to happen with this area. All avenues point to creating a haven for crime and further degradation of our community. No faith in what the city is doing.

    Tuesday, March 19 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    This is a good plan. Community hubs are the way of the future, better transportation, walkable, building up not out, etc. The end result will be more diversity in income, people, and housing, with easy access to amenities.

    Wednesday, March 20 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    The more the city tries to study and plan, the worse the end product.

    Wednesday, March 20 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    It's about time the city planners seriously thought about the traffic and pedestrians in West Olympia's major shopping area. Instead of ignoring this huge commercial development in the city, we need a focus on more reasonable traffic control, pedestrian safety, and rational development. It can easily become a lovely area as well as a destination shopping draw. Downtown would benefit from a traffic-free pedestrian zone in its core center to draw shoppers and tourists. All we'd need is a nearby free parking or low-cost parking area within walking distance. Downtown has great shops, but parking is a nightmare. I believe that's what sends so many drivers out to West Olympia instead.

    Wednesday, March 20 Report this

  • mtndancer

    I hope that planners will try this exercise:

    Park somewhere in my neighborhood, near Capital High School (right beside the Triangle) and walk to Target to pick up something. Then go pick up a bottle of wine at Total Wine. Then walk from there, carrying your goods, to the Post Office branch to get your mail. Then walk back to your car.

    You will see what a TOTAL NIGHTMARE the whole area is for pedestrians--and all of these places are close enough that a person should be able to walk. I haven't seen a plan that solves this.

    Wednesday, March 20 Report this

  • BobJacobs

    Sorry to say, as a former councilmember and mayor, the city of Olympia's planning efforts consistently fall short of what we need.

    1) Note that the plan does not include any parks to serve this huge increase in population. This kind of housing density requires even more park areas than traditional neighborhoods. None planned.

    2) Staff seems always to trumpet its recommended requirements for "affordable housing" but falls short in two very important ways:

    Thursday, March 21 Report this

  • BobJacobs

    The JOLT comment system is fighting me. Here's the full message:

    Sorry to say, as a former councilmember and mayor, the city of Olympia's planning efforts consistently fall short of what we need.

    1) Note that the plan does not include any parks to serve this huge increase in population. This kind of housing density requires even more park areas than traditional neighborhoods. None planned.

    2) Staff seems always to trumpet its recommended requirements for "affordable housing" but falls short in two very important ways:

    a) they don't say whether the affordable housing requirements are for permanent or temporary affordable housing. Temporary affordable housing is more common, and obviously it's not very helpful. We need permanent affordability.

    b) they talk in terms of serving people up to 80% of AMI (area median income), but don't tell us how much income that is. Currently it's 82 thousand for a family of 4 and 65 thousand for a family of two. That's not very affordable and doesn't help most poor people.

    Bob Jacobs

    Thursday, March 21 Report this

  • MikePelly

    We need truly affordable housing. 80 percent of AMI is Not this. We also need housing that are owned by those who actually live in them and building up their personal equity while becoming Olympia citizens with a stake in Olympia's future. Instead of rental units owned by Wall Street investment firms who continue to receive sweet heart real estate property tax give aways from the city. Keep this neighborhood pedestrian and bike friendly and follow suggestion from Ginny Ann for a downtown traffic free pedestrian zone to entice people and shoppers back downtown.

    Thursday, March 21 Report this