Oly council hears opinions about proposed 478-apartment development on West Bay Drive

Project would include privately paid shoreline improvements

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A public hearing at the Olympia City Council meeting last night drew a crowd of opposition and proponents of a potential project that would bring large development along West Bay Drive.

At the next Olympia City Council meeting, next Tuesday, March 30, the council is scheduled to vote on a development agreement between the city and developers of West Bay Yards. The project would lock into place current land-use regulations on the site for the next 15 years.

The project as currently planned includes 478 market-rate rental housing units in five mixed-use buildings and 20,500 square-feet of business and recreational space located at 1210 West Bay Drive. Included in the plans are shoreline restoration efforts.

During the public hearing, 25 people spoke. Seventeen of them expressed opposition to the project while eight spoke in favor.

A common refrain among those opposed to the agreement have called the 15-year timeframe irresponsible — especially during a time when the city recently signed onto the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan. The development is sure to have large impact on Budd Inlet, the local ecosystem and traffic, opponents say. Budd Inlet is a sensitive part of the ecosystem after being historically exposed to contamination.

Additionally, some were concerned about the apartments being market-rate, and said creating more housing that citizens with low incomes can’t afford could exacerbate Olympia’s housing crisis.

Some of those in favor of the project included members of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, who argued the project is in-line with Olympia’s goals and vision for the future, including dense housing options and a shoreline improvement project that has been needed for years.

Ron Thomas, president of Thomas Architecture Studio, spoke for the project development team.

“I have never in all my career, 46 years, had a private developer offer to do this many public amenities at this high a cost. We are talking millions and millions of dollars to do this in water restoration and nearshore restoration … in all other projects that is public money,” said Thomas.

Thomas said this is the reason the housing at the area is planned to be market rate and not affordable.

“Something needs to pay for all these amenities,” he said.

Yet a counterpoint from the opposition is the fact that there has yet to be an environmental survey on how the project as a whole may affect the area. In preparation for the project, a city staff member filed a determination of non-significance — essentially saying the risks of environmental impacts are low, and an environmental impact statement (EIS), was not necessary at this point.

Olympia Coalition for Ecosystem Preservation opposed that decision, saying state law is clear that a project must have an EIS as soon as possible. A hearing examiner ruled in favor of the city but noted the law around this specific issue is not particularly clear.

Councilperson Clark Gilman released a statement ahead of next week’s vote, saying he plans to vote against the agreement.

“I agree with the many people who wrote to say that we don’t have enough certainty about the impacts of the project to carefully consider granting the developer a 15-year window to develop under today’s Land Use regulations,” Gilman wrote in the statement.

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