Developer Plans 9-Story Building in Downtown Olympia

Dec. 13--OLYMPIA -- A Seattle developer wants to build up to nine stories of condominiums, offices and retail space on a site overlooking Capitol Lake downtown.

GreenWorks Development Group, a developer of environmentally sensitive homes, townhomes and commercial projects, has proposed the project for 825 Columbia St. Company representatives will meet with city planners next Wednesday about it.

"We're striving to reach the highest level of green building that technology will allow us," said Eva Otto, a project manager and partner in the company, which is three years old.

Once they learn more about city requirements, developers could file a formal land-use application in six months, followed by construction 18 months later, Otto estimated.

Building heights

City Manager Steve Hall said GreenWorks' proposal is the kind of development the city wants to encourage, but he said the city has to be careful about building heights. In the past, some residents have opposed taller buildings by the lake, the Budd Inlet waterfront and Percival Landing.

"I'm hopeful it meets our zoning and height regulations, and then they can move ahead with it," he said.

It was not clear Tuesday how tall a building can be built at the site.


The property is zoned urban waterfront housing, a relatively new designation, city Planning Manager Todd Stamm said.

"It was a zone created a few years ago, and no one has built in it yet," he said. "This is not a simple world in this zone."

If the proposed project is within 200 feet of the lake, it is subject to shoreline regulations, which limit residential building heights to 35 feet. If it is outside the shoreline boundary, heights can range from 65 to 75 feet, Stamm said.

There are exceptions that might allow for taller buildings, he added.

The GreenWorks building has been proposed with seven stories of condominiums and two stories of office and retail space. It would be certified "green" by the U.S. Green Building Council, with solar power, rooftop gardens and the ability to recycle water, Otto said.

Otto's understanding is that the city would allow GreenWorks to exceed 75 feet as an incentive to provide downtown housing. If that is not allowed, the company is willing to alter its plans, she said.

"We are 100 percent committed to the project, but we have to be like water," Otto said. "If you can't go one way, you just have to turn and try another way."

An unoccupied house is on the proposed site, which is owned by Preston Wheaton. He could not be reached for comment.

If the project moves forward, it would be the second nine-story building near the lakeshore. Capitol Center, a vacant office building between Fourth and Fifth avenues, is also nine stories and was built in the 1960s. Its owner plans to remodel it for another use.

Otto, who lived in Olympia while working on her master's degree at The Evergreen State College, thinks there is demand for downtown housing.

"This is something the city could point to and spark some interest in getting people living downtown," she said.

Reaction to the project was mixed.

Spence Weigand, a listing agent for Smyth Landing condos on West Bay Drive, said the demand for condominiums is growing.

"I think there is clearly a market for it," he said. "I run into people all the time that want to be in an urban setting."

Neil Falkenburg, who works with Capitol Center building owner Jim Potter as a project manager, also was supportive of the proposal.

"Any market-rate housing in downtown Olympia is going to be a good thing," he said.

State worker Cynthia Ritchey of Olympia, who works across the street from the proposed location, said she couldn't envision such a large building there.

Dave Kelly of Lacey, who has worked downtown for five years, said it's too much building for downtown. He also doubts that the project will receive environmental approval because of the use of landfill in the area.

Highlights of proposed project

--Nine stories, 95 feet tall. If a residential building is within 200 feet of the lake, height is limited to 35 feet. If outside the shoreline boundary, height can be up to 75 feet. There are exceptions allowing taller buildings.

--Seven stories of 45 to 65 condominiums, from studio to two bedrooms, some affordable housing.

--Two stories of office and retail space.

--Solar power, rooftop gardens and the ability to recycle water.

--Formal application in six months, construction 18 months later.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Olympian, Olympia, Wash. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.