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Anne Buck ignites debate about following rules


Environmental policy largely operates out of a regulatory paradigm. Most of the folks over at the state Department of Ecology spend their days telling others what they can and can’t do. And when Envirotalk commentators debate regulations, they typically veer on the side of complaining that Ecology is going too easy on somebody.

Thus, it was ironic to read in The Olympian that prominent local environmentalist Anne Buck didn’t obtain the proper permit and inspection when she erected a wall near the entrance of her business, Buck’s Fifth Avenue. The building is located in a national historic district, so physical changes are subject to review by the City of Olympia. In addition, the entrance to Buck’s store may no longer meet fire safety code.

Buck was given two weeks to remove the wall or “obtain a permit to build a structure within the guidelines for safety and preservation,” writes reporter Andy Hobbs.

What will Buck do? In the article she doesn’t say point blank, although Buck vows to keep the wall intact and insists, “It’s my property and we’re not touching any city property.”

Interestingly, the situation has thus far generated no attention on Envirotalk. However, has a lively discussion. The defining question was asked by OlyScott: “I wonder how hard it would have been for her to get a permit to build that thing.”

This query led to a tart response by Modelo_Chelada: “You clearly have absolutely no fucking clue. What permit have you ever applied for? I would love to hear!”

The discussion has thus far not reached a level of specifics that could lead the thoughtful person to suggest, “If we changed the process in X way we could still accomplish the worthy goals of the regulations while making life easier for the citizen.” The Olympian’s comment thread isn’t any more productive despite the unusually large number of posters.

Of course, the above line of discussion assumes that we as a community 1) still care that no one dies in a fire because of impediments to escaping and 2) that government still has a role in keeping people safe.

By the same token, a productive conversation might also consider that regulation is not a one-way street. For example, it’s true that having a building located in a national historic district means you must take the extra step of obtaining a “Heritage Review” as part of the permitting process. However, property owners also receive benefits such as “Building Code relaxation” and potential tax incentives. Go here for details.

Perhaps Envirotalk will eventually have a conversation about building permits. In the meantime, I hope that Buck manages to wind her way through the regulatory process as painlessly as possible. After all, the wall she built sounds like a good idea.


PHOTOS: Olympia, Earth Images


8 Comments on Anne Buck ignites debate about following rules

  1. Curious why the author thinks that building a wall near the entrance is a good idea? I haven’t seen the wall, but it seems counterintuitive to me. After all, this is a shopping and restaurant area, where entering and exiting these establishments is the point.

    • Carole, I also hadn’t seen the wall in person so took some photos this afternoon. In the story I wanted to acknowledge Anne Buck’s creativity in responding to a compelling problem. Does her solution work on a historic building? I’m not going to second guess design reviewers but wonder if Buck may end up wishing that she had followed the process from the outset.

  2. Thank you for taking photos! Very helpful. The “wall” looks more like a screen and seems intended to keep street-dependent people from sleeping in the doorway. Quite understandable. The screen seems to serve the same purpose as the metal grilles that slide shut in front of storefronts and are usually installed for security. The wood is definitely a softer approach than metal, but would not be as secure. As far as whether this is allowed in historic areas, I don’t know.

    Readers may be interested to know that the City is launching a process to review and update design guidelines for downtown, including the historic area. Meeting notices will be posted on the city’s website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

  3. Dear Staff – maybe an edit function would be useful. As I re-read my comment, I think I should’ve mentioned that I serve on the Planning commission. Otherwise, why would you contact me with questions?? 🙂

  4. The ‘wall’ completely lacks charm or historic conformity~~bric a brac maybe, but not charm. I highly doubt approval by a design review board. It’s unfortunate more care was not taken to match the delight of the rich and historic design of that block ….the bright latticed orange wood stands out like a sore thumb. Even some stain on the wood to at least match the darker tones of the nearby storefronts, would have seemed obvious~~though wouldn’t have been enough to match any of the historic stylings. Buck’s street-level entrance to the upper level (the indented entryway in question, now blocked by the ‘wall’) was one of the sweetest spots visually in downtown. There would have been a number of ways to ‘bar’ this area (at night) while maintaining by day the visually appealing and open concept which existed.
    Wrought iron grilling/gate would certainly have been one….

    • Iron “walls” were very very expensive. Trellis was invented in the 16 hundreds so the design even more historic than the building. When Olympia made an historic building we were offered the opportunity to buy a $72 plaque. I read the small print that came with the offer and it said I could do nothing to the building withour permission from the city. I did not buy a plaque and have put a new marquee on the building three times, painted it four times and never ever has the city said a word about it. I was surprised they didn’t like the new trellis. Most people love it and I do too. Anne

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