Olympia committee recommends adoption of the Capital Mall triangle subarea plan

City looks at simplifying zoning codes


Olympia’s Land Use and Environment Committee recommended adopting the Capital Mall triangle subarea plan to the city council.

At the committee meeting on Thursday, May 9, Senior Planner David Ginther presented recommendations from the subarea plan around land use, transportation, affordable housing and economic development. The recommendations aimed to align with the community's vision in the city's adopted Comprehensive Plan by supporting the business community and facilitating high-density residential and mixed-use development.

According to Ginther, the recommendations in the subarea plan resulted from extensive community engagement. He noted that the planning process involved over 30,000 emails sent, five public meetings held, stakeholder workgroups, and around 300 written comments received.

Land use recommendation

One of the recommendations in the subarea plan is to focus growth and development within a designated Capital Center core area and create a public focal point there through a half-acre plaza or park space to encourage community gathering.

It proposed designing the streets surrounding this core with pedestrian amenities and walkability through features like wider sidewalks. The plan further recommended identifying three additional smaller public amenities.

It also suggested adjusting certain regulations, such as reducing commercial parking minimums, to facilitate more dense, mixed-use redevelopment over time.

The subarea plan recommended conducting a corridor study specifically focused on Harrison Avenue which currently contains a large concentration of small, local businesses. The corridor study would look closer at some aspects of transportation, businesses, and land use issues along the street.

“The consultants in the team, as well as the community, pointed out that the Harrison corridor is a special area compared to the rest of the sub-area. It has a lot of small local businesses in it. It has a very neighborhood-type feel already… but it could use some help and more planning,” Ginther said.

The committee focused its discussion on encouraging development in the area through zoning and parking regulations.

Committee members deliberated on reducing or eliminating parking minimums for commercial properties, as has already been done for residential.

Councilmember Jim Cooper supported reducing or eliminating commercial parking minimums to make projects more feasible.

Councilmember Robert Vanderpool believed there should be no parking minimum requirements at all. His preference is that the only parking requirement would be to provide accessible/handicapped parking spaces as required by law.

Ginther explained that the proposed reductions to commercial parking minimums were based on discussions with the city's principal planner and permitting staff. They went over development trends from the past few years citywide. The staff analyzed what developers were proposing in applications, compared to what the existing code required and what ultimately worked in practice after projects were built. Based on the staff's experience through the permitting process, that informed the recommendations to reduce certain commercial parking requirements.

Committee Chair Dani Madrone directed staff to research how other cities address accessible parking requirements after eliminating commercial minimums.

The committee members discussed the possibility of simplifying the zoning designations within the downtown triangle area bounded by Black Lake Road, Cooper Point Road, and Harrison Avenue.

Cooper advocated for creating a unified overlay zoning in the subarea. He felt the mix of zoning codes like HDC 3 and HDC 4 added unnecessary complexity.

“My only Comprehensive Plan goal is to reduce the zoning codes in the city to five or less than 10…so we can make it simpler for people to plan,” Cooper said.

For plans like a downtown plaza to move forward, Vanderpool underscored that the city may need to purchase land proactively to ensure key parcels are available that would help support and incentivize the implementation of development goals outlined in the land use plan.

Both Cooper and Vanderpool suggested having future conversations around strategically acquiring properties to help support and incentivize the implementation of development goals outlined in the land use plan.

Vanderpool also proposed developing a plaza area up to the edge of private development to link areas together.

Transportation recommendations

According to Ginther, the city received a lot of input on transportation as the community wanted to improve the area. Some recommendations include:

  • Improving the safety and accessibility of the crosswalks
  • Better network for the bikes in the area
  • Transit coordination
  • Roundabouts
  • Corridor studies

Ginther said the Harrison Avenue and Black Lake Boulevard corridor studies would focus on transportation.

The other recommendation is to make block sizes smaller and more flexible for new development.

The subarea plan proposed creating several new streets within the core of the Capitol Mall area. These new streets were envisioned to break up large blocks and improve connectivity. The proposed new street design would enhance safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The plan recommended the new streets include dedicated bike lanes separated from vehicles by a buffer for added protection. Pedestrian amenities like wider sidewalks and planting strips were also recommended to encourage walking.

During the discussion, Vanderpool suggested considering path routes rather than full streets in some locations.

He proposed that for the heavily wooded area in the downtown core, the plan could designate that section to have a bicycle/pedestrian path route rather than a complete street, to accommodate the grid but maintain more of the natural space.

Affordable housing

The subarea plan’s recommendations around affordable housing include establishing an “affordable housing incentive” zone within the core area that would allow developers to build taller buildings if they included affordable units.

Ginther said the plan calls for 100% of units in these taller buildings to be affordable. However, feedback from the community and the Olympia Planning Commission suggested affordable units should be mixed into market-rate developments rather than concentrated.

Other strategies involved partnering with nonprofit affordable housing organizations and exploring the potential for affordable development on two city-owned properties in the subarea. The plan also recommended the city consider strategic land purchases over time in locations suitable for affordable housing.

Economic development

To support small businesses, the plan recommended conducting corridor planning for Harrison Avenue to assist many mom-and-pop shops located on the street.

It also suggested that the city look at building and façade improvement programs from other jurisdictions.

The plan also proposed pursuing funding opportunities through designation as an economic development district.

Other recommendations include continued support for co-op business models and ground-floor commercial financing programs to make ground-floor retail more viable.


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