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Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton reverses city’s 7-Eleven project

by Dan Leahy

Over the last year, more than two hundred Westside neighbors actively organized to defeat a 7-Eleven at Harrison and Division and they won.

Neighbors sent in comments to the City, letters to the editor and raised $8,000 to cover expenses. They attended two community meetings, two hearing examiner sessions, three superior court hearings and three strategy sessions at Vic’s. They passed resolutions at neighborhood associations, signed advertisements for newspapers and signed letters to land owner Narozonick, “developer” Michael Jenkins and the Board of South Sound Bank. Thirteen locally owned Westside businesses gave the City Council notice that they opposed this 7-Eleven.

Neighbors researched the City’s municipal code and engineering standards, designed flyers, made protest signs, corrected and edited testimony, held “Danger” signs at Harrison and Division, took pictures, created new words, made music, suffered through too many emails, ate pizza and drank coffee at Vic’s, signed petitions (1200), went to the Intercity Transit Board, testified before the City Council and stood up in solidarity for those who spoke. They wrote to the Liquor Control Board, created a 711 website, wrote poetry translated letters into Japanese, called and wrote the Mayor and City Council members, wrote, re-wrote, and submitted legal brief after legal brief, and never quit.After a two hour hearing on Thursday morning, April 26, Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton signed the order. The last paragraph of the order says:

“Therefore, being fully apprised, in response to the Land Use Petition of Daniel B. Leahy the Court hereby ORDERS that the Land Use Decisions of the City of Olympia approving the 7-Eleven project proposed by MAJ Development Corporation for 1919 Harrison Avenue are hereby REVERSED based on the record and for the reasons set forth in the Court’s April 12, 2012 Corrected Letter Opinion.”

Over a year ago (April 8, 2011), neighbors asked their neighbor, landowner Narozonick, to meet with them to discuss a project that would be mutually beneficial to him and to the Westside neighborhood. He didn’t answer their letter, but their offer still stands. Talking to his own neighbors will be a lot cheaper for Mr. Narozonick than his law firm besides being more effective.

Over a year ago (April 8, 2011), one hundred and six neighbors asked Michael A. Jenkins (MAJ) to withdraw his proposed 7-Eleven project. He could have saved a lot of money if he had heeded their advice. If he continues to mess with the Westside of Olympia, they are going to cost him a lot more money.

Over a year ago, (April 8, 2011) 13 Westside local businesses sent a letter to Mayor and City Council stating their opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven and asking the Council to “meet the desires of local businesses and the people who live in our neighborhood.” Maybe the Council will now expand their notion of where the viable “downtown” actually is.

The City Council will hopefully stop spending money on legal actions against the Westside neighborhood and local businesses and begin to work toward a mutually beneficial use of the vacant lot at Harrison and Division. This means, for starters, no Motion for Reconsideration and no appeal to the Court of Appeals. If the legal contest is over, now is time for Mayor Buxbaum to hold his promised meeting with the Westside neighborhood.

The Westside community has proven to be great community planners. They replaced a proposed Jack in the Box with a local bank, South Sound. They replaced a proposed freeway entrance at the south end of Decatur SW with a bike path and poetry post. They replaced four vacant parcels with components of a walking park. Now, with any luck, they can replace a proposed 7-Eleven with another beneficial community oriented development.

Neighbors want to thank Judge Lisa Sutton for listening to them, allowing time to make their argument and for her decision. She was literally the first person in authority who showed Westside neighbors any respect. The Mayor and Council refused to hear what they were saying, i.e., that their own staff was not enforcing the City’s own code and standards. The planning staff from Associate Planner Kroydan Chalem on down refused to hear what they were saying and instead focused solely on the needs of the “developer.” The City’s Hearing Examiner, Thomas Bjorgen, was contemptuous, arrogant, dismissive, and, as Judge Sutton found, dead wrong on all the issues they brought to Superior Court.

With Judge Sutton’s decision, the Westside community has given Mayor Buxbaum and City Council members an incredible gift, an opportunity to tell the staff they must enforce the Code and standards, an opportunity to have the staff enforce the Comprehensive Plan.

Finally, Westside neighbors had a pro bono Attorney, Robert Shirley, who was backed up by Ms. Bethany Weidner, a former President of the Westside Neighborhood Association. Together these two were and are a formidable force of logic, research, hard work and commitment to the viability of Olympia’s neighborhoods. MAJ’s attorney, Narozonick’s attorney and the City’s attorney didn’t know what hit them. Bob and Bethany out worked them, out thought them, out researched them and out foxed all of them.

It is possible that the City, or MAJ or Mr. Narozonick will file a Motion for Reconsideration by May 7 before Judge Sutton or file an appeal before the Court of Appeals by May 28. If this happens, the Westside will be waiting for them.

Dan Leahy is a founding member of the Decatur Raiders.

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