Some of Olympia's existing single-family neighborhoods are newer, but many, especially near downtown, are 70 to 160 years old. In the past 40 years, these older neighborhoods have been revitalized by people of moderate means, investing sweat equity and their life savings. These neighborhoods are relatively affordable, well-maintained, very liveable and have a strong sense of community. A few examples within 300 feet of a bus line are shown below.
: In cities where large Missing Middle-type infill construction has been happening, it has been profitable to tear down not only whole blocks of modest houses to create large multifamily buildings, but larger expensive houses in good shape. This eliminates older, affordable housing and replaces it with buildings only large investors can build,or buy, and the new rents are larger than for what was torn down. It CAN happen here, and not just to dilapidated houses. A few examples are shown below.
Larger MM Housing Types
Some larger MM housing will be tastefully done and will pay attention to surrounding architecture. The City MM website gives the picture at right as a typical example of a triplex.
But as you look around Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey, most multi-family housing looks like the examples below. They can certainly be built in nodes, or as an pilot experiment in a consenting neighborhood, but why replace and dwarf housing in most existing single-family neighborhoods with it?
Although the Comprehensive Plan and the City's Design Review guidelines "Encourage development that is compatible with historic buildings and neighborhood character, and that includes complementary design elements such as mass, scale, materials, setting, and setbacks", new construction allowed in the last few years has shaken our faith in the City's committment to uphold these guidelines. MM eliminates public input on design review, and instead makes it a Planning Department decision.
This building was allowed abutting the Olympia Avenue Historic District in 2014. About 3400 sf of it is devoted to two business offices, and 3400 sf more to two residences. A duplex alone requires a 7200 sf lot: this is on a 6300 sf lot. The elevator tower is 48 ft tall (35' maximum), 3 garage stalls and 4 unworkable off-street parking spaces were allowed, when 10 were required. Most testimony in hearings was against this building. When explaining his denial of an appeal to this building's approval, the hearings examiner, Mark C. Schreibmeir, repeated for many parts of the appeal: "The Hearing Examiner must accord due deference to the expertise and experience of the City Staff rendering the decision". The City Planning Department advocated for bending the rules, and the hearings examiner simply allowed it.