Change is coming to Olympia

“We can’t predict the future, but we know change is coming,” Jennifer Kenny, a City of Olympia Associate Planner, says in reference to Imagine Olympia.

“Olympia is expected to grow by 13,000 households over the next 20 years,” said Kenny.

“How will the growth impact the character of existing neighborhoods? Increasing numbers of residents want more transportation options. Where should we put more bike lanes? How can we add density in a way that fosters walk ability? The climate crisis is likely to mean higher tides and more flooding events. How can we design our storm water systems to be ready?”

These are the reoccurring questions that have come up for the update of the Comprehensive plan.

“In 2009, we kicked off Imagine Olympia, what we are calling a current effort to broadly review and update the Comprehensive plan,” said Amy Buckler, another City of Olympia Associate Planner.

“The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) requires that cities develop plans to manage population and urban growth,” said Buckler.

“We are working on an update of the Comprehensive Plan which hasn’t been substantially revised since 1994,” said Keith Stahley, the director of community planning and development.

A total of 1,200 people, between August 2009 and June 2010, have shared their hopes for Olympia, according to Buckler. The Olympia Planning Commission chose four topics out of the hundreds of comments. “These topics are Downtown, High Density Corridors, Neighborhood Planning, and Environmental Stewardship,” said Buckler.

“Our primary focus has been on developing strategies to improve our downtown, encourage more development along our major commercial thoroughfares, to give voice to our neighborhoods and to be good stewards of our environment,” said Stahley.

“The Comprehensive Plan update will affect students in that it addresses housing and transportation, two issues quite relevant to students,” said Kenny.

According to Buckler, the goal for the new Comprehensive Plan is the success in changing in growth yet keeping the appeal of Olympia. “Through its goals and policies, the Comprehensive Plan lays a foundation for the future of Olympia,” she said.

“By and large, much of what we have heard from the public supports the current Comprehensive Plan,” Kenny said.

“What the Comprehensive Plan will be doing is guiding policy decisions down the road,” said Kenny. “The plan may not instruct us as to how to solve a problem, but rather, which problems to solve and the overall approach.”

A year-long discussion has been taking place throughout the City of Olympia. According to Jennifer, locals have been giving their input on what they envision for Olympia in the next 20 years.

“What can residents expect Olympia to be like in 20 years? That’s what the Comprehensive Plan update is addressing,” said Kenny.

The public outreach process will continue over the next year, along with technical input from staff.

The series of focus meetings started in October of 2010 with only two more meetings to go, according to Buckler.

“Later in the spring, the Planning Commission will be reviewing what was heard from the public at these meetings,” said Buckler.

Once the Planning Commission finishes its review, a final report will be determined and placed on the city of Olympia website, according to Buckler. The final report is decided by staff and Commission by beginning work sessions and dealing with the subjects brought up by the community.

Then, scheduled for August 2011, taking place is a draft plan update with the public comment phase and public hearings by the Planning Commission and City Council.
“By law, we need to adopt the update by the end of 2014,” said Buckler.

The community’s voice is important in the decision making of the new update.

“Citizens have a key role in this planning process,” said Buckler.

With the last two focus meetings “there’s still plenty of opportunity to get involved,” said Stahley.

According to Stahley,Meetings are welcome to the public and if you can’t make it to the meetings then an online survey will be made available.

The first meeting will be focused on Neighborhood Planning and the second on Environmental Stewardship, occurring 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Urban Onion Ballroom, as well as from 9 p.m. to noon Mar. 26 at the Olympia Center.

If you’re taking the online survey, then you can access it at www.imagineolympia.com for a two week period starting the day of the meeting, posted at 5 p.m., according to Jennifer.

“You can expect conversation at these meetings to be robust and energetic. We’ve been very pleased with the participation we’ve had so far,” said Buckler.