Residents say soil problems taint ‘low-impact’ Olympia subdivision

OLYMPIA, WA — Karen Veldheer said Cooper Crest was billed as a “low-impact” subdivision, a collection of houses that exemplify new techniques to minimize the effect on the hilly environment.

Streets are narrow, and sidewalks are only on one side of some roads so there are more grassy areas to absorb stormwater. The rain is supposed to be contained in multiple containment ponds, and half the development is open space.

But nearly a year and a half after moving to the west-side subdivision, Veldheer said the developer and two builders have created a subdivision that’s anything but low impact.

The soil is rocky, and rain has a hard time soaking through, causing erosion, she said. Grass is sparse and grows well only with the help of fertilizer. Vegetated areas meant to absorb rainwater were never built.

The developer and one of the two builders say they’re aware there are some issues, but counter that the development was mostly a success. They say because it’s the first development using low-impact methods in Olympia, like anything new, issues will come up but that they are addressing them.

Tom Hill, Olympia’s engineering supervisor, said the city is working to make sure the soil issues are resolved.

Veldheer has allied with about 20 neighbors who bought houses from both builders of the subdivision.

The soil is their biggest issue. Plans for the development called for a special mixture of soil to make it more absorbent, and Veldheer said the soil doesn’t meet those standards. She points to big chunks of rock, many bigger than 1 inch in diameter, as examples.

Another resident, Sal Munoz, pointed to lawns in the development with little or no grass.

“If you look at the back of a lot of these homes, you see black plastic” covering bare back yards. “The problem has not been dealt with,” Munoz said.

The city has issued three stop-work orders against the development for poor erosion control practices, an unusual number, Hill said.

The city and developer both say they’re unsure whether the soil meets standards. To determine that, the city plans to hire a third-party consultant, who may come up with a report in June, Hill said.

Neighbors are tired of waiting for fixes.

“They just keep delaying, delaying, delaying,” Veldheer said.

She brought the issue before the Olympia City Council’s land-use committee in November, and neighbors were at council meetings in October and July 2006.

“I don’t understand the third-party review,” Veldheer said. “Can’t the city just see this is wrong?”

Jill Titus, who lives down Cooper Crest Place from Veldheer, said erosion has plagued her yard, too.

“It’s not my problem; it’s theirs,” Titus said, referring to the builders.

There are several players in the project. Developer Triway Enterprises of Olympia prepared the lots for the two builders, Premier Communities and Sound Built Homes, both of Puyallup. Premier built Titus’ house and some others, and Sound Built built the rest.

Hill said an early issue at the subdivision was Triway cleared too much vegetation, leaving the land open for erosion. The city required Triway to mitigate the situation, which it agreed to do.

But Hill said a design engineer put the vegetative protective areas on private lots, raising the question of whether private landowners would be required to maintain them. That issue hasn’t been resolved.

Triway spokeswoman Jeanette Hawkins, a former City Council member who helped create the low-impact subdivision regulations, said the developer is working to satisfy residents’ concerns, even though it no longer has an obligation to. To that end, Triway representatives called a meeting of residents in January to hear concerns.

Hawkins said the builders were responsible for mitigating the soil, but that it must be done in dry weather.

She said the project was never meant to be a completely low-impact development.

“We’ve really tried to take a lead and get all the parties together and identify the issues,” Hawkins said. “We are truly on the road to examining the remaining issues and defining them and resolving them.”

Premier Communities owner Ryan McGowan did not return a phone call Friday.

Jonathan Koshar, a consultant for Sound Built Homes, said the builder wants “100 percent customer satisfaction” and recently sent customers a letter asking them about unresolved issues.

“The good news story is a lot of things are going on” to solve problems, Koshar said. “The bad news is it probably should have happened sooner than this.”

Matt Batcheldor covers the city of Olympia for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-704-6869 or



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