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Height increases proposed for two Sequim projects

A hearing concerning variances for two building projects is on the agenda for a Board of Adjustment meeting set for today, Jan. 23.

The public hearing concerns the proposed Elk Plaza in downtown Sequim and a Holiday Inn Express to be built between East Washington Street and the U.S. Highway 101 bypass.

Both variances are to increase the height of the projects. Currently in Sequim’s code, a building cannot exceed 35 feet. Elk Plaza’s developers are asking for a variance to raise the building height to 44 feet and three inches, while Holiday Inn’s developers are asking that building be allowed to be 45 feet and nine inches. Elk Plaza requires the extra nine feet for a stairway leading to the roof and Holiday Inn requires the extra height in order to install an elevator shaft.

The board of adjustment is a five-member committee that deals with, as city planner Dennis Lefevre puts it, “cut and dry issues in the code.”

“If a proposal exceeds that, they need to do a variance and then there’s specific criteria that needs to be met in order for the board to approve that,” Lefevre explained.

The Jan. 23 board of adjustment meeting is noteworthy because of the city’s proposed town center sub-area plan, which has become a focus of concern and debate with some Sequim residents. Part of the plan calls for a “town center commercial” or TC-C zone to be created, which would allow for buildings up to 65 feet tall (five stories) within the city’s designated downtown area.

Many residents have spoken against the proposed height increases fearing it would create an aesthetically unpleasing canyon effect with 65-foot buildings in the city’s downtown.

Although Sequim’s planning department has told residents that design guidelines would be created to ensure the buildings do not look out of place or take away from a neighborhood, some residents are still decidedly against the idea. As resident Ruth Marcus put it, “When I think of a five-story building, it doesn’t have any heart.”

Throughout discussions regarding the sub-area plan, the planning department has used Elk Plaza as an example of what residents can expect downtown to look like in 30 to 50 years.

“There’s a lot of things in this structure that would meet the sub-area plan, town center philosophy, including an open public atrium, shops along a walkway between the buildings that would allow the pedestrians to walk through from one end to the other side of the building,” Lefevre said. “It creates a true mixed-use type structure, which allows retail on the first floor, office professionals on the second floor and six units of residential on the third floor.”

The public hearing concerning these two variances will be at 6 p.m., today, Jan. 23, at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

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