Community members ask for specifics re Capital Mall Triangle subarea plan


Traffic, parks, and affordable housing took center stage as the Olympia Planning Commission heard public testimony on proposals to redevelop the Capital Mall Triangle subarea into a more urban neighborhood.

At its Monday meeting, the commission held a public hearing on the Capital Mall Triangle plan, which Olympia envisions gradually converting into a complete urban neighborhood while maintaining its important business focus as an economic driver for the city.

According to David Ginther, Olympia's senior planner with the Community Planning and Development (CP&D), the primary goal of the project is to implement the community's vision in the city's adopted Comprehensive Plan:

  • To continue to support the business community and maintain the area as a regional shopping destination.
  • To facilitate high-density residential and mixed-use development.

Details needed

The public hearing drew concerns from several residents about specific elements of the plan, such as the need for specifics about affordable housing, parks, and mitigation of increased traffic from new development.

Judy Bardin, a member of the Westside community group that provided input into the plan's visions and principles for the triangle development, expressed disappointment, saying that she needed to see elements like affordable housing targets and preservation of green space represented in the subarea plan.

Bardin said the plan provided many provisions to increase density, such as increasing heights and raising the step-back limit from three to six stories. "However, I don't see any real concrete plans to build affordable housing outside of giving additional density bonuses, using the existing [Multi Family Tax Exemption] program, and limiting impact and hookup fees."

She pointed out that most of these provisions will shift costs from developers to existing homeowners and renters through higher rents.

Bardin questioned the plan about the seeming lack of certainty or concrete plans for parks, saying that only a half-acre park is currently planned, with the possibility of two smaller nodal parks. She quoted a park representative saying that building even a half-acre park would require coordination between multiple developers and the city.

Tax financing

Bob Jacobs, a former mayor of Olympia, also participated in the public hearing to air his concern about tax increment financing. Jacobs said Ginther mentioned that such is being considered for the development of the triangle area.

He heard the discussion about the tax increment financing when Ginther presented at the recent Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting.

"Tax Increment Financing is a way of subsidizing developers and guaranteeing that we all will pay more taxes in the future," Jacobs commented. "It can work out if all goes well, but it's risky, and governments are supposed to avoid this risk."

"I hope you will make a point to oppose this financing method," the former Olympia mayor told the commissioners.

Jacobs described the triangle plan for recreational facilities as vague.

He criticized the plan for not having a park in it -- instead the plan proposes only a half-acre public plaza.  The neighborhood park standard would include four to six acres of parks, he said. 

Jacobs asks the commission to consider adding one or more parks to the area. "Adding so many new residents without this basic quality of life feature is questionable," he said.  

Jacobs also noted that while some parks are within a half mile, existing residents may need help accessing them across major streets, especially when accompanied by children.

Jacobs urged the commission to recommend that the plan specify adequate recreational facilities for the expected population size and density.

Traffic concerns

Community member Gus expressed concerns about the potential impact of increased traffic on his neighborhood if streets like Decatur Street and 16th Avenue were opened up as connections through the area. He noted that currently, around 2,000 cars pass by his house each day, and opening these streets would make traffic "crazy."

Gus asked how the city plans to deal with increased traffic and whether they would consider a Kaiser bridge to help relieve congestion off the end of Capitol Mall Boulevard. He said he needed more information from the presentation about how people will get in and out of the area.

The Planning Commission set the deliberation of the Capital Mall Triangle area plan on April 15.


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  • BobJacobs

    It is disappointing that the city of Olympia seems to have so little concern about driving up our property taxes.

    The Multi-family Property Tax Exemption forces all property owners to pay the taxes of wealthy developers for the first eight (or more) years of their buildings' existence, all the while the owners collect rents and their property values increase.

    Reductions in development impact fees and utility connection fees force all of us to pay more taxes to build public facilities like streets, roads, and parks.

    What ever happened to the concept that "growth should pay for growth"?

    If these issues were put to a public vote, I'm sure that wealthy developers would be paying their own way.

    Bob Jacobs

    Tuesday, April 2 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Tax Increment Financing needs to be explained. The government spends tax money not yet collected from businesses not yet created by pretending the upzoning will inspire those future businesses to make the decision to invest. In other words: government arrogance running up debt.

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    The City is attempting to placate residents who want affordable housing with allowing the MFTE or Multi Family Tax Exemption. The suggested Capital Mall Sub Area Plan has a proposal to allow the MFTE for developers who will build 12 story buildings with affordable housing. This will not work. The City Planner stated in the past that anything over 7 stories is not cost effective. In other words, developers will not build 12 story buildings. Also all the new apartments in Downtown Olympia do not house families. The apartments are too small and too expensive for families. The Multi Family Tax Exemption should only apply to affordable housing. The Olympia City Council wants suggestions. My suggestion is to stop all MFTE tax exemptions except for affordable housing. If the City Council wants affordable housing, then build affordable housing. Quit blaming higher rents on a system the city is a party too. Previous City Council has claimed that if you build then "they" will come. Well people with money are coming and families are leaving.

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    The "growth should pay for growth" mantra is total crap. From Sightline Institute:

    1. Buildings don't ****, picnic in parks, ride buses, or spawn school age kids. Homebuilders are not sorcerers that spawn humans to fill their buildings. They build because existing humans need housing and will pay for it.

    2. Yes, adding costs to development raises the cost of housing. Things like impact fees put most of the burden on first-time buyers and renters.

    3. Creating exclusionary zones through policy isn't a good look. When a city imposes rules, fees, and zoning that inflate housing prices, incumbent homeowners win, while renters, and newcomers hoping to buy, lose.

    4. You don’t get a free pass just for being early and hanging around. Operations, maintenance, and repair comprise the lion’s share of the public outlays for many services. large capital investments—a new sewage treatment plant, for example—are usually funded by 30 to 40 year bonds. Spreading out the payback over decades minimizes the rate hikes, which shrink as more customers arrive and start using the service. Payback periods for different capital improvements often overlap. All told, when the costs of ongoing expansion are so smeared out over time, the length of residency becomes irrelevant. On average the cost for the service usually ends up roughly proportional to the number of people it serves.

    5. Adding housing to cities is the world’s biggest urban planning no-brainer. Perhaps the most agreed upon idea in the contemporary field of urban planning is the importance of concentrating new growth in urban areas. On the environmental side, compact development cuts climate pollution and preserves our forests and farms by curtailing sprawl. On the economic side, clustering jobs turbocharges innovation and productivity. On the equity side, abundant housing in prosperous neighborhoods is an escalator for upward mobility. Imposing impact fees on new homes in urban centers flies in the face of these immensely valuable, large-scale, long-term benefits.

    6. Impact fees are ossified relics of stale, suburb-centric thinking.

    For expansion into undeveloped “greenfield” areas, policymakers have a legitimate case for impact fees. In that scenario, land may be worth next to nothing until a municipality extends basic infrastructure—roads, power, water, sewer—so that functioning homes can be built. If the public foots the bill, it’s a direct subsidy to the owners of the property served—and worse, a subsidy that encourages unsustainable sprawling growth. Impact fees justifiably recapture some of that subsidy from the property owners, while at the same time chilling the incentive to sprawl. In built-out urban places, however, the situation is different. There, new homes rarely need targeted new public investment to be viable. And besides, governments from the local through federal levels widely agree that housing should be directed to urbanized areas. Washington State’s Growth Management Act authorized impact fees over two decades ago but made no distinction between built-out urban centers and exurban greenfields. It’s past due for an update.

    7. It’s fun to believe that someone else will pay… until it backfires.

    Utility bills are regressive. Rising property taxes can put homeowners on fixed incomes in the red. Meanwhile, many municipal budgets are cash-strapped. Together, these factors make impact fees politically tempting: someone else pays (or so it seems). It’s akin to the rising popularity of forcing homebuilders to pay for affordable housing through inclusionary zoning (IZ), but just like IZ, impact fees precipitate adverse unintended consequences. To avoid doing more harm than good with impact fees, cities can instead fund infrastructure through taxes and utility charges that spread the burden equitably across all residents, businesses, and property owners. And to protect those who can least afford it, they can provide breaks or exemptions to low-income people, as local governments currently offer to Seattleites on property taxes and electricity and water bills.

    8. If you’re trying to mitigate an affordable housing crisis caused by a shortage of homes, talking about new housing as if it’s toxic waste may not be the best messaging strategy.

    Impact fees hinder equity and sustainability not only in concrete ways. Hitting homebuilders with impact fees also reinforces the public perception that the job of adding homes in city neighborhoods is a noxious activity, and that those who do it are trying to get away with something. Today, kneejerk cultural enmity for developers may be the most chronically powerful obstacle to rule changes that would help cities achieve the housing abundance necessary for equitable growth. Grandstanding about impact fees feeds the toxic narrative that homebuilding is the problem, rather than a critical part of the solution for affordability. The inimical words perpetuate flawed policy. You don’t have to love developers (or capitalism) to recognize that they are a necessary means to a shared goal: more homes for people who need them, lower prices, greener cities, more equity.

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Abolish zoning; end centralized planning.

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this

  • DeaneTR

    Only thing that's going to get the city council to stop ignoring the people who live here while giving away massive tax breaks to wealthy developers who don't live here at our expense is a lawsuit forbidding them to do so. Their level of public disengagement and lack of basic accountability as "elected representatives" is absurd. How much longer are we going to put up with it? Will we ever have a city council that represents citizen interests again, rather than solely representing the interest of oligarchs who don't live here?

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this

  • JW

    The old fogies come out of the woodwork like usual to whine about wanting more parks. We have so many parks around here already. Do we really need another one for transients to camp in and shoot up?

    Wednesday, April 3 Report this