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Rock Plaza’s appearance raises community ire

At the corner of Sequim Avenue and Old Olympic Highway is a long steel building that has some citizens unhappy and looking for ways to make sure such a thing never happens again.

The project in question is called Rock Plaza, a commercial building located in a C1NC — neighborhood commercial — zone. The structure is entirely within the zoning guidelines and was never required to go before Sequim’s planning commission.

Planning commissioner Michael East calls the structure “degrading to the area.” He is also upset that it obstructs the neighboring Eagle Mountain subdivision’s view of the mountains. “It’s my opinion and it’s the opinion of a lot of people in this community,” East said.

According to Joe McLaughlin, who is developing the property with his father under the company Choice Development, steel not only is cost effective but easier to work with and reform. McLaughlin said the building should be completed around June or July and that the steel will be covered with a wooden façade.

“It’s going to look beautiful. The final project is going to be absolutely stunning. There will be nothing like it in the city of Sequim with that type of architecture,” said McLaughlin, who envisions the final project as having a “modern hometown feel” and being a real town center for Sequim. Jace Realty plans to build an office on the plaza’s corner lot.

“I’m really displeased with the fact that this was allowed through,” said East during a March 4 planning commission meeting. “Is there anything we can do about that rear wall? This building is a serious example of why I think we need architectural and design guidelines.”

The city does have a set of adopted design guidelines, which cover everything from architecture and coloring to lighting and parking lot configuration for structures of 20,000 or more square feet. Rock Plaza is 28,105 square feet, and according to the planning department, will comply with design guidelines. According to Dennis Lefevre, the city’s planning director, guidelines for structures less than 20,000 square feet will be brought to the planning commission for review in April.

Councilman and architect Ken Hays prepared a building design for the project’s permitting process, but he dropped out when the developer decided on the steel building. Rock Plaza’s architect of record is its general contractor and engineer, HCI Steel Building Inc.

McLaughlin says that he can understand East’s and others’ frustrations, but the fact remains that the project falls within the zone’s regulations, and more importantly, it was approved by the city.

“We never kept this a secret,” said McLaughlin.

In a way, McLaughlin agrees with East that if Sequim wants to prevent projects such as Rock Plaza from being built, it needs to take a more aggressive approach — such as more stringent design guidelines or the creation of an architectural review board — toward regulating development.

“Really, the city of Sequim needs to look at their development. Instead of making developers responsible for it, they need to be more proactive. If they don’t want something there, then they have to shut people down, and say, no, we can’t do that,” said McLaughlin. “I just feel that people should wait until they see a finished product, and after that, if there’s something you don’t like, come and talk to us. It’s me and my dad. We’re not big corporate American monsters.”

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