Olympia Planning Commission recommends allowing Plum Street drive-throughs

Proposal sent to city council for consideration


In a 5-2 vote, the Olympia Planning Commission on Monday approved a recommendation of a text amendment to allow drive-throughs as a conditional use on properties on Plum Street between Union Avenue and 8th Avenue SE if included as part of a mixed-use development with ground-floor commercial uses.

The commission is forwarding the recommendation to the Olympia City Council for consideration.

Thomas Architecture Studios proposed a text amendment to the Olympia Municipal Code 6.01 and Section 18.06.060 to allow drive-throughs as a conditional use. The proposed amendment intends to facilitate the development of mixed-use multifamily projects in auto-oriented areas of downtown Olympia by allowing drive-through businesses as part of mixed-use developments to increase density.

The initial proposal is to change regulations and permit drive-throughs within a defined segment of Plum Street between Union Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

However, Planning Commission Chair Zainab Nejati expressed reservations about extending the area past 7th Avenue due to increased vehicle traffic closer to downtown and more opportunities for pedestrian collisions.

Nejati raised three points when suggesting the commission consider decreasing the area covered by the proposed text amendment. She noted that safety for bicyclists and pedestrians had been an ongoing concern expressed by members, especially with more vehicle traffic directed above 7th Avenue, where collisions had been observed.

The Chair also commented that much of the redevelopment potential discussed by members seemed focused in the area further south on Plum Street. The other consideration was that if the proposal was successful, nothing prevented it from being extended to a larger area.

The commissioners all agreed to the suggestion.

During the deliberations, Commissioner Mike Burnham expressed conditional support for the proposal while outlining concerns. He acknowledged the appeal of facilitating dense multi-story housing development in the downtown entry area.

However, Burnham voiced his concerns about permitting single-story drive-throughs near housing, noting the need to maintain an attractive streetscape that encourages active transportation.

Commissioners comment

"I think what made this somewhat attractive is that we're getting something out of it - dense multi-story housing under the applicant's proposal,” Burnham said. “While I don't like the idea of allowing more drive-throughs through the city, I do recognize this as designated a downtown entry.”

“If this is the tipping point needed to make housing more feasible, then maybe this makes sense,” Burnham added. “But it doesn't make sense to me if we just allow more single-storey drive-throughs adjacent to some housing.”

“I think that's going to give us an attractive streetscape that is going to help support active transportation," the commissioner concluded.

While not opposing the drive-through concept, Nejati doubted that the proposal represented the best path forward. She questioned whether the proposal as presented would achieve the goals of activating the area and facilitating housing development in the desired manner.

The Chair suggested exploring alternatives like a form-based code that could provide more certainty of outcomes while ensuring benefits to the city.

In the end, Nejati voted yes to approve the text amendment relating to drive-throughs.

Commissioner Carole Richmond voiced several concerns with the proposed text amendment. She fundamentally disagreed with an integrated drive-through going through a residential building.

Richmond preferred to see drive-through facilities and residential buildings as separate structures on the same property rather than combined into one structure. Her primary issue was the potential pollution impacts on residents from idling vehicles if a drive-through was located inside a multifamily building.

While supportive of repurposing existing buildings along Plum Street, Richmond questioned the need for additional drive-through use.

Commissioner Greg Quetin expressed some concerns with the proposed text amendment. He felt the safety concerns related to increased vehicle traffic on Plum Street negatively impacting pedestrians and bicyclists were too significant for the proposal's potential benefits. The commissioner said that safety mitigations through design would be very challenging to implement effectively.

Quetin noted that there are approximately 10 acres of parking on each side of Plum Street, which led him to think that revitalizing the area could take a similar approach to what is being done with the Capitol Mall Triangle project with the potential redevelopment of parking lots and underutilized spaces.

Quetin suggested that this comprehensive planning process might be warranted for Plum Street to help achieve the shared goal of revitalizing the area.


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  • pheong

    YES!! No parking spaces integral with new housing, the goal being to FORCE people to use limited-area and schedule-restricted mass transit despite ability or disability. LET 'EM EAT TAXI-CABS. More $2000/month one bedrooms with developers off the hook for a decade or more for taxes. GRAFT? BUELLER, BUELLER?

    Tuesday, January 23 Report this

  • KarenM

    This recommendation is unfortunate. This applicant is actually involved in (apparently) successful housing developments downtown. Why not make this Plum Street area into an attractive housing area. Adding drive throughs is not attractive for those who are walking and cycling.

    So, can someone living in these apartments walk up to the 'drive through' window to order food? Or will they not be allowed to walk up to the window because it is a safety hazard to have a person walking in the drive up lane? That would be especially ironic.

    I am disappointed that the Commission members think that the only way to get housing is to compromise safety for people who are walking and cycling. That is not a good trade-off in my opinion. And besides, I think the housing can happen without the drive through businesses. Sit-in coffee shops and other shops or businesses would be better for building community. People from the nearby Eastside neighborhood might walk to this area, for example.

    Tuesday, January 23 Report this

  • JulesJames

    McDonalds and Jack-n-the-Box already have drive-thrus on Plum Street in this area. So the proposal only is allowing for more the of the same -- if viewed through the lens of traffic and safety. As a matter of urban planning: if developers think they can convert the underutilized parking lots of these drive-thrus into housing with drive-thrus -- lets give it a shot. Plum Street is a gateway to the city and it kinda sucks right now.

    Wednesday, January 24 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    Its a Known Fact that drive thrus attract more crime in neighborhoods that install them.


    Thursday, January 25 Report this