Olympia committee accepts Plum Street drive-through proposals; lengthens the proposed area to 5th Avenue


After deliberating on the environmental concerns, pedestrian and bicycle safety investments, and housing needs, Olympia's Land Use and Environment Committee accepted the Planning Commission's recommendations regarding drive-through proposals on Plum Street.

At the Wednesday, February 21 committee meeting, members reverted the original recommendations from the city staff to extend the area where drive-throughs would be allowed with a conditional use permit from Union Avenue to Fifth Avenue.

The committee will send the recommendations to the city council for consideration.

The Planning Commission recommended allowing drive-throughs on properties on Plum Street between Union Avenue and 8th Avenue SE.

Olympia's assistant planner, Casey Schaufler, provided details of the Planning Commission's deliberations, which he said centered around the bike corridor at Plum Street and 7th Avenue.

At the Planning Commission's deliberations on the drive-through proposal on January 22, Chair Zainab Nejati raised concern over allowing drive-throughs close to bike infrastructure. As a result, the commission decided to move the southern boundary of the permitted area further to the south, past 7th Avenue, to avoid the vicinity of the bike corridor at the intersection.

Corridors and safety

The Land Use and Environment Committee reverts the original recommendations from the city staff to extend the permitted drive-through area from Union Avenue to Fifth Avenue.
The Land Use and Environment Committee reverts the original recommendations from the city staff to extend the permitted drive-through area from Union …

In considering the text amendment to allow drive-throughs as a conditional use, Land Use Committee member Jim Cooper admitted it was challenging to discuss the corridor's policy without any specific proposed projects.

Cooper viewed Plum Street as a significant thoroughfare extending from the freeway to State Avenue. He noted that within the corridor between Stated Avenue and I-5, there are already five drive-throughs and several businesses, which are auto-oriented services catering to "coming and going" traffic.

The committee member said freight corridors are suitable places for auto-dependent businesses, specifically Plum Street, which has a concentration of such establishments and is adjacent to the freeway.

While acknowledging pedestrian safety should be prioritized in the design, Cooper said balancing pedestrian safety and automobile needs can be addressed through project-specific design by reviewing a proposed development.

Cooper added that he had not seen increased collisions from the permitted drive-throughs. He said potential impacts could be mitigated through conditional use approval and site planning for individual applications.

Housing vs. Environment/health concerns

The Planning Commission recommended that any new drive-through should be coupled with at least two stories of residential use to encourage multifamily and mixed-used development along Plum Street.

One of the dissenting opinions in the Planning recommendations was about the health of residents living above a potential drive-through location due to added vehicle traffic and engine idling. While design aspects like proper ingress/egress and ventilation could help address some issues, the two commissioners – Greg Quetin and Carole Richmond – thought these mitigation efforts would not be sufficient to outweigh the negative impacts of drive-throughs for residents in the new housing units above. They felt the costs to public health would outweigh the benefits of additional housing density.

When weighing the housing development and environmental concerns, Cooper said that he values the environmental impact as he specifically mentioned that he does not like idling cars, and the emissions are not good for anyone.

"It is a 'big values' conflict…If we want to get good dense housing development, sometimes we have to compromise a little to have the housing we need in our community," Cooper said. He said the current housing demand is much higher in this debate.

Cooper believes that as the city moves towards more electric vehicles and anti-idling regulations, environmental concerns from drive-throughs will lessen over time.

Committee member Robert Vanderpool outrightly opposed the text amendment proposal. He did not believe allowing drive-through development along Plum Street would be a good outcome.

"My hesitancy is that if we continue to build auto-centric development, people will continue to drive. We have to plan for the future, and I don't see allowing any of this to go through it would be a good thing," Vanderpool said, adding they should prioritize walkability along the corridor.

Vanderpool added that they also noted the quality of life for residents who might live in an apartment with a drive-through underneath. "The idea of having a street road hybrid, where you don't have the amenities of the safety of the street but with the capacity of a county road, is not good urban fabric. It breaks up the community in many ways."

Madrone acknowledged environmental concerns related to idling. However, she agreed with Cooper that it would lessen as the number of electric vehicles increases.

The chair's biggest concern is the city's investments in pedestrian and bicycle safety and making sure that they do not erode those investments by any changes to code that they make.

While agreeing with Vanderpool about not leading to auto-centric development and the challenge the people who live above a drive-through may encounter, Madrone pointed out that the city is facing a significant housing crisis.

"If people do not have the option to live close to downtown, then they will likely find themselves in an auto-centric situation," she said.

By "parsing through the trade-offs", Madrone said she aimed to identify a solution that best meet overall community goals around issues on housing, transportation, safety, and the environment.


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

  • johnvaneenwyk

    Greg Quetin and Carole Richmond are absolutely correct in opposing drive-throughs in Olympia. As if the Port's spewing of dirty exhaust from its log movers and the bunker fuel from the visiting ships weren't enough, drive-throughs will greatly increase exhaust emissions, including particulate matter that is known to activate cancer genes in our bodies. Jim Cooper, who does care about the health and safety of Olympia residents and visitors, is way off the mark on this one. There simply is no way to mitigate the exhaust from drive-throughs. Just ask those municipalities that have banned them completely.

    I find it very interesting that the pop-up advertisement at the bottom of this page (at present) is for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We'll need them if drive-throughs are allowed.

    Thursday, February 22 Report this

  • KarenM

    I oppose increasing drive through businesses because they endanger people who are walking and cycling. The emissions and pollution from the idling lines of cars are also a problem. And what irony that this new regulation would include a requirement that there be residential units in the building in order to allow the drive through. So people who live in those housing units will be subject to the pollution in their homes.

    At least the Planning Commission made a recommendation that acknowledged the bike route that comes into town on 7th Ave. Their recommendation limited the area to the blocks south of that street.

    Since one of the Land Use Committee members opposed this proposed change, it would seem the other members would have at least kept to the Planning Commission proposal. Instead they expanded the area back to the original area proposed by the proponent who brought this to the City. I don't think they would have gotten the vote of the other member, but it would at least acknowledge some of his concerns.

    Thursday, February 22 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    Our Citys Planning Commission has a bone for the enviroment and safety in Olympia.

    This decision will bring More Pollution and Crime.

    Friday, February 23 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    As well, giving Tax relief to Developers like Walker John,

    Shows Planners Intent.

    We need New members in planning Olympias Future.

    Friday, February 23 Report this

  • KarenM

    Please send comments to the City Council if you want them to do something different than the Land Use Committee recommendation. The whole Council will make the final decision on this.

    To contact the entire council email them - - - citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us

    or find the individual Council member emails on their city web pages here -


    Friday, February 23 Report this