Threat to Capitol Vista Park Enters Critical Stage

Posted on June 29, 2017

The plan to redevelop the much despised “mistake by the lake” is now at a critical stage. On June 14th an application was submitted to use the long derelict nine stories Capitol Center building as part of a commercial and residential project. Since the building became vacant over ten years ago, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation has worked to remove it and replace it with a civic space on the isthmus. Our goal is to protect and perfect the views to and from America’s most magnificent capitol campus setting and create an attractive gateway to Olympia’s revitalizing downtown. The city has already purchased most of the required land and demolished two smaller buildings and will begin initial development of the civic space just west of the Capitol Center block later this year.

Over the past decade we have seen several schemes to redevelop the building. Each has failed, but each has caused another delay in the city’s willingness to acquire and remove the building. In November of 2015, Olympians by over 60% voted to create the new Metropolitan Park District and taxing capacity, in large part, based on their belief that the new park district would make removal of this building possible.

Our foundation will be a very active participant in the formal review process that the city has announced and strongly urge and need all citizens to get involved. The project still requires approval for land use, design review, engineering, and review under the state Environmental Policy Act.

The city is accepting written comment until 5 p.m. Friday July 7. Comments should be sent to Lead Planner Nicole Floyd at nfloyd@ci.olympia.wa.us. She can also be reached at 360-570-3768. The proposal will be the subject of an informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12 in council chambers at City Hall. The city’s design review board will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 10 in room 207 of City Hall. No public comment will be heard at this meeting, but the lead planner will accept written comments during or before the meeting. A public hearing on the entire proposal is required but hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Some of the concerns we will raise during the review process include the following. First, the proposal exceeds the 35 foot height limit allowed by current zoning. Second, the derelict building’s height was a non-conforming use, but after ten years of disuse the exception may have expired. Third, the building is a gross intrusion on the view corridor included in the Wilder and White design for the Capitol. Fourth, Olympia citizens have repeatedly asked that it be removed. Fifth, the city may be incurring significant future liability if it allows 138 residences to be built in a hazardous earthquake liquefaction zone and an area likely to be impacted by predictable sea level rise. Sixth, the stunning views across the isthmus should belong to all of the people of the state and not be reserved for the few fortunate enough to live there.

Many of you will remember, and were involved in, the events of 2008 and 2009 when we faced another proposal to intensely develop the isthmus for the benefit of a few. Through public pressure it was stopped and replaced by a vision for a great civic space for the benefit of all. Our effort saw the complete turnover of the city council that had approved the development scheme. We need your help once more. Please get involved and let your voice be heard.