OPINION: In Support of West Bay Yards

“A five-alarm blaze ripped through a lumber mill on the west side of Olympia early yesterday, causing an estimated $25 million to $50 million in damage and igniting piles of plywood that burned for hours.”

A 1996 Seattle Times article paints a vivid picture of what would be the end of the Hardel Mutual Plywood Corporation’s mill at 1210 West Bay Drive. 

And now, after twenty-five years of blight, this formerly contaminated industrial site has the potential to provide much needed multi-family housing, complete a public waterfront trail system, and be a part of a shoreline restoration envisioned collaboratively by the City of Olympia, the Port, and the Squaxin Island Tribe.

On Tuesday, March 23rd at 5:30 pm the Olympia City Council will hear from the community about a Development Agreement that would set the framework for this project. The Development Agreement lays out:

  • Environmental restoration requirements for the shoreline.
  • Timeline and phases for the development (3 phases over 15 years).
  • Impact fees (which will correspond to the City’s fee structure at the time each phase is started).
  • Public amenities (public trails and connection to the “Big W” waterfront trail).

According to the draft Development Agreement, the proposed “West Bay Yards” will be subject to, “review under the State Environmental Policy Act (“SEPA”) (RCW 43.21C) as well as a shoreline substantial development permit, site plan approval, design review, and issuance of construction, engineering, and building permits. The shoreline restoration component of the Project will also require approval and issuance of various federal and state permits.” And ultimately, this project may go forward regardless, but without a development agreement, the public may see far less benefit.

Even with the potential community-wide benefits the housing and restoration bring, conversations about this project have focused on tired developer-as-villain tropes and fears of increased traffic. Instead, what this project brings is: nearly 500 units of compact, multi-family housing (we need 14,000 over the next 20 years) within walking/biking distance of downtown; the completion of a long-awaited trail system that provides public access to Olympia’s once industrial waterfront; frontage improvements along West Bay Drive, including the addition of a bike lane; and a newly restored shoreline beach and riparian habitat that contributes to our goals of a healthy Puget Sound. It is only through private investment that we can achieve these goals.
Our historic unwillingness as a community to accept in-fill housing and increased density in already-developed neighborhoods puts pressure on our rural and environmentally sensitive areas, like shorelines. In the case of this project, we have the potential to achieve the restoration of a brownfield site and add units of housing at this critical time of growth. Let the City Council (citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us) know that this is a project you support. After twenty-five years, it’s time for this site to contribute to our community’s housing and environmental goals.
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Janae Huber

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