Hearing Examiner observes slower development pace in Olympia compared to other jurisdictions


Olympia appeared to be progressing slower than other regional jurisdictions, according to an observation shared by Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmeir before the city council on Tuesday.

Based on the types of projects coming before him, Scheibmeir noted less development in Olympia while some cities were experiencing rapid expansion. The hearing examiner said his perspective was from overseeing development applications across jurisdictions.

Scheibmeir also serves as the hearing examiner for various cities, including Lakewood, Gig Harbor, Longview, Tumwater, Yelm, Buckley, Black Diamond, and other jurisdictions. He reviews applications for subdivisions, mixed-use developments, and other larger projects.

The hearing examiner commented that the pace of development coming before him from Olympia, based on the projects submitted to his office, has been dramatically less than what he has seen from other cities in the region.

However, Scheibmeir said that his observation might differ from the real telltale of a city's development. "Many types of developments don't come to me. New apartment complexes almost never come to me unless they are part of a mixed-use facility."

"I only see bits and pieces of what is happening in cities," Scheibmeir admitted. "It can be misleading… take what you know. I am simply seeing a lot less development in Olympia than I have seen in all my other jurisdictions."

Cause unknown

CP&D Deputy Director Tim Smith discussed the financial considerations developers face, particularly in development standards that sometimes are costly.
CP&D Deputy Director Tim Smith discussed the financial considerations developers face, particularly in development standards that sometimes are …

Although Scheibmeir said he does not know the causes of slow-paced development, he acknowledged that Olympia faces more constraints in pursuing denser infill development within existing boundaries, which he said is favorable to the Growth Management Act (GMA) that wants the city to develop internally.

"But when we do so, we find challenges," Scheibmeir said, adding that many developers would prefer less restriction.

Scheibmeir added that it finds Olympia faces conflicts with issues of equity and environmental protections as the city works to increase the housing supply through redevelopment.

Another observation Scheibmeir noted is that Olympia takes a unique approach to development review that is more neighborhood-focused than other jurisdictions.

"It also means that projects take longer, and it also invites challenges to projects,” Scheibmeir said. “Olympia takes a more thoughtful, somewhat slower process to absorb all information and hear fully from its constituents before it acts."

In addition to Scheibmeir's observation, Nicole Floyd, Community Planning and Development (CP&D) principal planner, provided insight into the city's development review process. She explained that approximately 25% of proposed projects do not move forward past initial pre-submission conferences, as developers determine the proposals are not viable based on feedback from city staff.

Floyd added that the site plan review committee works with applicants to identify code compliance issues upfront.

CP&D Deputy Director Tim Smith discussed the financial considerations developers face, particularly in development standards that sometimes are costly.

Smith mentioned the recent changes in the city's Engineering Development and Design Standards (EDDS), which allow for exemptions from certain frontage improvements for smaller projects.

Meanwhile, CP&D Director Leonard Bauer offered the city's perspective on development. He pointed out that Olympia is experiencing significant housing production. He said the city has seen "quite a bit of development" in single-apartment and mixed-use buildings that typically do not require review by a hearing examiner.


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  • BobJacobs

    One has to ask what the point of this briefing is. Non-comparable data and no conclusions. Looks like a waste of time.

    Bob Jacobs

    Thursday, February 29 Report this

  • Olywelcomesall

    Mr Bauer is correct, the City is experiencing quite the housing boom. The story should have led with that rather than the Hearings Examiners fragment of development projects comments. It is an odd way to frame development trends in Olympia. As Mr. Jacobs notes, the information provided is not comparable. The HE only sees a few of the projects, so his numbers are not close to the total projects being reviewed and approved. Plus, development projects are often “delayed” by the developers consultant attorney submitting incomplete information. Often the developers projects are “self delayed” by not addressing storm water, traffic and landscape requirements. These requirements are clearly flagged by the City staff during presubmission meetings. Some developers and their consultants proceed to ignore these directives. Maybe a follow up meeting on “common ways developers delay their project reviews and approval”.

    Thursday, February 29 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    While the city is moving in the right direction when it comes to easing the burdens on development, it is at a slower pace than many. This is likely do to reputation built over the last decade that builders have interpreted as a jurisdiction that is unfriendly to growth. Credit is due to staff and their efforts to change this perception. This is occurring at a significantly important time, as we need more housing than ever. The last report I saw suggest ed that Olympia added around 350 doors in 2022. The pace needs to be closer to 750 per year through 2045. Eliminate inefficiencies and delay, and redundant or ineffective policy. Then we will see the growth we need.

    Thursday, February 29 Report this