Get Involved with the Shoreline Management Plan

by Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, Inc. on June 8, 2012

The City of Olympia is in the midst of a rule-making process for development activity near our shorelines. The results of this process will set the course for our community for a great many years to come.

At the heart of this process is land-use planning. It makes judgments about what are appropriate uses of the land at or near the waterfront. There are a lot of different directions this process could take – from downzoning the land to prevent continuation of existing uses to continuation or expansion of existing uses.

We asked some local land use attorneys to enlighten us about this process.  According to Heather Burgess, a partner of the Real Estate law firm of Phillips Wesch Burgess, “The Planning Commission proposed shoreline designations for Budd Inlet are wildly inconsistent with the Thurston County Regional Planning Council’s shoreline inventory and Ecology shoreline rules.”  Burgess went on to explain that “the proposed setbacks and building heights render effectively all of Olympia’s existing shoreline uses nonconforming.”

Whether converting existing uses to non-conforming was intended or not, doing so will have far-reaching impacts that should be more fully vetted and understood.  A prominent local builder also recently explained that the height limits proposed would severally limit the ability to build downtown. Whether a building is two, four or five stories, they all require deep pier pilings to be driven into the ground. It is simply not economically feasible to do those pilings with just a two story building.

The height limits are just one issue that must be better understood.  The setback requirement, particularly on existing uses, is another. For example, long-time local attorney and land use expert Mick Phillips explained that “the Port terminal simply cannot function with the proposed 30-50 foot setbacks.”  Moreover, there are severe limitations on the property with a non-conforming status. Phillips explained that “if a building suffers 50% or more damage it cannot be rebuilt.  An insurance policy may be limited to the value of the buildings at the time of the event versus actual replacement cost because the building cannot be rebuilt.”

This is a hugely important process that needs a great deal of public input.  Everyone should bring a voice to this discussion. Our entire society will be impacted by the new rules.  The process is underway, as the City anticipates completing the proposed rules by year-end. In any public policy discussion there is no absolute right or wrong answer. It is always a question of degree.

Like most good policy there should be a sensible, balanced approach. The process needs a great deal more public input to make that happen.  Visit the City’s website at: to learn more about the process and how you can get involved.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: