A hearing examiner shot down an appeal from the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation, which argued an environmental review should start as soon as possible on a massive development project under consideration along West Bay Drive.
West Bay Yards, which exists only on drafted site plans thus far, is a plan for 478 market-rate housing units within five buildings and over 20,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and recreational space. The development is planned for 1210 West Bay Drive Northwest.
Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation (OCEP), opposes the project, with concerns of how a project of that magnitude would affect the local environment and future restoration efforts.
“The West Bay Shoreline is one of the most significant features of the Deschutes Estuary and represents one of the most significant restoration opportunities we as a community have to reverse the real declines in water quality in Budd Inlet that has led to a dramatic decline in shorebirds and the virtual extinction of Olympia’s native Coho run,” reads a statement from OCEP.
As it stands, the project’s developer — West Bay Development Group, LLC — has drafted a development agreement, and sent it to city staff. However, the city council must sign off on the development agreement before any permits are issued or further actions are taken.
On Nov. 10, a planner for the city of Olympia signed a “determination of non-significance” — a document essentially saying an environmental review at this stage isn’t necessary and claiming there isn’t a risk of adverse environmental effects. OCEP filed an appeal, arguing that state law requires an environmental review on projects as soon as possible.
“Decision-makers need to be apprised of the environmental consequences before the project picks up momentum, not after,” said Dave Bricklin, one of OCEP’s attorneys. He argued OCEP’s position during a hearing Thursday afternoon.
The hearing spanned 90 minutes, where the parties mainly argued the legal minutiae of project applications, environmental reviews and zoning. Bricklin’s argument boiled down to, according to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), an environmental review must be conducted as soon as possible. He noted the details in the development agreement — which outlines in great detail the project’s phases, scope and design — provides more than enough detail to start the environmental review process.
Attorney for the city of Olympia, Jeff Myers, said nothing has been approved yet. A development agreement determines when and how a project will proceed, and it doesn’t rule out an environmental review in the future.
“The project application has not been submitted. Under our code, it is to come after the consideration of the application for a development agreement, and the project application can and must be evaluated independently from the development agreement,” he said.
Heather Burgess, attorney for the developer, further noted that the parcel is already zoned for this sort of development.
Mark Scheibmeir, hearing examiner for Olympia, denied the appeal and noted each argument was good and that there isn’t a clear legal guide.
He said that while courts have repeatedly asked for environmental impact reviews to be completed as early as possible, he felt that should be applied to the “particularities of the situation.” He said some form of legal commitment to the project should trigger an environmental review, and that the development agreement isn’t a commitment.