2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Griffin Neighborhood Association (GNA) and its predecessor organization, the Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association. Like most neighborhood associations, both entities began over concerns about land use and development.
The Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association was created in 1990, primarily in response to a rural country inn that was proposed to be located on Oyster Bay Road. That organization ceased functioning towards the mid 1990’s.
The Griffin Neighborhood Association was formed in December of 1995 with a primary focus on land use issues, but not in opposition to any proposal, and to act as an honest broker of information. In the years since, the activities of the GNA have varied in response to the energy levels and interests of community members.
From 1996 through 2000, the newly formed GNA was quite active. Among other activities, the GNA focused on a proposal to expand the commercial zone adjacent to US Highway 101, prepared and distributed a printed business directory, produced a newsletter, and raised money to help residents who suffered from a massive landslide in the Carlyon Beach/Hunter Point area and on Sunrise Beach in February of 1999.
After 2000, the activity level of the GNA diminished. However, beginning in 2003, the GNA began to meet again and now is the most active neighborhood association in unincorporated Thurston County. Its activities have included: (1) creating the Steamboat Conservation Partnership with the Capitol Land Trust to raise money for its activities in our area; (2) providing a presence online and in social media; (3) pursuing a number of projects to increase a sense of community in the Griffin area; and (4) opposing a conference center that was proposed to be located on Steamboat Island Road. The decision to come out against the conference center was made only after holding public meetings on the proposed project and in direct response to the overwhelming level of opposition to the facility by local residents.
The Griffin community could have been the place Norman Rockwell might have chosen to paint his famous pictures of a wholesome American community! The GNA has helped to keep it that way.
– a recent comment, posted on Nextdoor
Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association
The origins of the GNA begin with the Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association. The OBNA was founded in July 1990. Initial board members were Chris Wickham, Rick Bird, Bill Brown, Jovanna Brown, Sharon Fox, George Volker, Donna Altman, Catharine Walcker, Esther Steilberg, David Henry, Penny Hoffman, Ron Hoffman, Jerry Rheault, Gilbert Litchfield, and Douglas Mykol. Sharon Fox was the first president of the OBNA.
This new neighborhood association was created primarily over residents’ concerns about growth and land use issues in the area. Of significant interest was the siting of LaRae’s, a “rural country inn” on Oyster Bay Road. A home located far from any other businesses would be converted into the inn. The inn would accommodate 100 people, have 60 parking stalls, and one quarter of the square footage would be devoted to a lounge. Located on the 4300 block of Oyster Bay Road, this country inn would be surrounded by residential property.
Months before applications for a special use permit and liquor permit for LaRae’s were filed, a local land use attorney requested the county amend its zoning ordinance to allow a new special use permit for what was called “rural country inns.” The attorney refused to identify his client and the location of his client’s property where the facility would be located. Although widespread opposition to this amendment arose throughout the county, the Board of County Commissioners amended its zoning ordinance allowing rural country inns to be located by a special use permit anywhere in the unincorporated area of the county other than on Cooper Point.
A rural country inn could have restaurant/bar facilities and overnight accommodations for an unlimited number of guests. Such a facility had to be located on a lot that was at least 5 acres in size, the maximum height of any building was 35 feet, and no more than 80% of the lot could be covered with impervious surfaces, i.e., buildings and blacktop. The change in county zoning would have allowed such a facility to be built in a residential neighborhood.
Once it became obvious that the purpose of amending the county zoning code to allow rural county inns was to locate such a facility on Oyster Bay Road, the Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association was formed and actively opposed the granting of a special use permit. After protracted citizen input and hearings, the county refused to issue the special use permit.
When the Department of Transportation unveiled plans for a new overpass at Steamboat Island Road and US-101, the OBNA held an informational meeting.
Soon after that, the activity level of the Oyster Bay Neighborhood Association declined and the Association became inactive.
Creation of the Griffin Neighborhood Association
The GNA was organized in December of 1995. In February of 1996, the first annual meeting of the new association was held. Shelly Earing, Kevin Lett, Shirley Rheault, Steve Thomas, Sam Wentz, Chris Wickham, Bob Bower, Melody Byrd, Patty Chorbra, Ed Makoviney, Mick Phillips and Jerry Rhealt were elected as board members.
The GNA was initially formed in response to two major issues facing the Griffin community.
One issue concerned the expansion of the Griffin School District to provide a high school rather than contracting with Olympia School District to provide high school education for Griffin School District students. Many community members were concerned that creating a high school in a school district like the Griffin School District, with a small number of students, would limit opportunities for students by not providing the same breadth of classes as Capital High School. Proponents of adding a high school argued that Griffin residents were not eligible to vote at Olympia School District elections when school board members were elected and bond issues for the high school were considered. A strong community response developed against a plan to create a new high school within the Griffin School District. The proposal died.
The second issue was a request by several property owners to expand the existing 11-acre commercial zone on US-101 by an additional 48.5 acres of land. These additional parcels were included in the Rural Residential Resource zone, one unit per five acres. Focusing on its goal of being an honest broker of information on issues facing the community, the GNA held several well-attended forums on this controversial issue, but took no position. The information generated by the GNA’s efforts inspired a number of local residents to oppose the rezone. In response, the Board of County Commissioners rejected the proposed zoning expansion. The County took the added step of reclassifying the existing commercial zone to a new and more restrictive Rural Commercial Center zone. In this kind of zone, commercial uses were limited to those oriented to serve the everyday needs of an identified rural community. Businesses within this zone, roughly along Sexton, are meant primarily to serve residents living here, not just motorists travelling on US-101.
In creating the GNA, its founders were looking beyond these two immediate issues with the prime objective of promoting a sense of neighborhood in the Griffin/Steamboat Island area. They also desired to retain the sense of wilderness and beauty and preserve a rural lifestyle. A wide range of membership was attained by allowing any resident or property owner within the boundaries of the Griffin School District, or the operator of any business in the area, to become members of the Association.
The mission of the GNA is to undertake and support projects benefiting our community, to help build a sense of community, and to educate the community on topics of interest. To those ends, the GNA will help to build consensus on major issues confronting the area. These issues include growth, land use issues, habitat, water quality, transportation and school planning. When appropriate, the GNA researches issues as honest broker of information, provides forums for debate, attempts to arrive at a community consensus, and presents this consensus to appropriate decision makers.
Other Early GNA Activities, 1995 – 2003
Over the next few years, the GNA was quite active. The GNA sponsored a full day of presentations, displays, and booths to facilitate a community discussion about land use in the area. Preservation of habitat was a concern expressed by the community at that meeting, which led to the formation of a habitat committee of the GNA in 1997. The GNA initiated and presented training on “nature-mapping” to encourage residents to inventory wildlife within the GNA boundaries and conducted several education workshops and led field trips to local natural areas. When the overpass at Steamboat Island Road was constructed, the GNA organized planting parties to restore native plants along US-101.
During this period there were many discussions about the role of the GNA but a consensus was maintained that the GNA should not advocate for or against particular development proposals in the area, but should supply information on these development proposals. It was felt that by educating the community, the best results would be achieved. By being an honest broker, the community would come to rely on the GNA to provide background on issues of importance to the residents.
Beginning in 1996, the GNA wrote and distributed a newsletter that included articles on current events in the neighborhood as well as local history. The GNA also began holding local history forums at its annual membership meetings.
Annual potluck picnics were held in the summer at the Prosperity Grange and at the Oyster Bay Farm. At Oyster Bay Farm, folks would bring tables and chairs to sit out under the trees.
Forums were held in 1997 on the expansion of mussel growing rafts in Totten Inlet and opposition to this by a group called the Association for the Protection of Hammersley, Eld and Totten Inlets (APHETI).
A local Griffin area business fair was hosted at the Griffin School, which gave the community an opportunity to learn about local businesses and entrepreneurs. Shirley Rheault and others created and distributed a fine printed local business directory in 1998.
Perhaps the most significant action by the GNA during this period was responding to a massive landslide in the Carlyon Beach/Hunter Point area and on Sunrise Beach in February of 1999. Forty one homes were damaged, of which thirty one were “red tagged” for removal. These losses were not covered by typical homeowners’ insurance policies. The GNA responded immediately. A major work party was organized where several local residents with major construction equipment, including Dan English, donated their time and equipment to knock down a number of the irreparably damaged houses. A major fund raiser was held at the Prosperity Grange. The GNA raised and distributed $5,300 to help the owners of eleven of the homes that had been destroyed.
Chris Wickham, Shelly Earing and Neil Falkenberg served as presidents of the GNA during this phase.
Then, between about 2000 and 2003, the GNA entered a period of diminished activity.
Renewed Activity, 2003 – 2015
A meeting was held at Dave and Joanne Schuett-Hames’ home in the summer of 2003 where it was decided to reenergize the GNA. Some of those at the meeting were members of the Habitat Committee from the original GNA. The Habitat Committee had continued to function while the GNA itself was inactive.
The tradition of holding annual membership meetings was reestablished in February of 2004. Initial members of the newly reconstituted Board of Directors elected at this meeting were Kathleen O’Shaunessy, Jerry Handfield, Dave Schuett-Hames, Paul Meury, Mark Messinger, Neil Falkenberg, Chris Wickham, Shelly Earing, and Steve Lundin.
Articles of Incorporation were refiled in November of 2004 and the GNA has remained active since then.
Kathleen O’Shaunessy, Jerry Handfield, Dave Schuett-Hames, Gary Goodwin, and most recently Diane Jacob have served as presidents during this period of significant activity. The GNA has become the most active neighborhood association in unincorporated Thurston County and has engaged in a wide variety of activities promoting a sense of community and service to area residents.
The tradition of holding an annual summer picnic was re-instituted, with several picnics being held at the Oyster Bay Farm. Picnics moved to the Prosperity Grange Hall and then to Frye Cove County Park. In 2013 and 2014, the annual GNA picnics have moved back to the Prosperity Grange, Griffin Fire Protection District Headquarters Station 1, and the Steamboat Golf Driving Range. The picnic was combined with a local business and farm fair where many local businesses, farms, and organizations hosted informational booths. Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House, Taylor Shellfish Farms, and the Steamboat Trading Post provided food and refreshments. Local residents came with potluck items and the GNA provided hamburgers, condiments, and the organizational wherewithal to pull off the event. These summer picnics have become very well attended family-friendly events.
Annual membership meetings
The tradition has continued for GNA to hold its annual membership meetings in January or February of each year. Association business is transacted at these meetings, including the election of board members. A community event is also held at each annual meeting. Annual meetings have local history forums and presentations by local elected officials including the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, our local county commissioner, our local legislator, the Griffin School superintendent and chief of the Griffin Fire Protection District. Forums on current issues, a whale researcher and, this last year, a features writer from The Olympian were part of these annual meetings.
The Association Goes Online
In 2003, the GNA opened a web site at www.GriffinNeighbors.org. 10 years later, there was an update made possible by a generous donation from local business South Sound IT. The GNA acquired an additional URL at www.SteamboatIsland.org. Either address sends the browser to the same content. This site contains information about activities of the GNA and the neighborhood at large. The site grew to include brief historical sketches about the neighborhood, a summary of new development applications, a focus on local businesses as well as access to an online business directory, information about the Steamboat Conservation Partnership, and “news and opinion” articles.
In 2006 and 2007, GNA Board member Velma Rogers created a printed “Peninsula People Business Directory” (click here for a copy of the Summer 2007 issue). This was distributed off the countertops of local businesses and in the welcome baskets Velma created. A couple years later, an effort was undertaken to renew that printed directory. Before the edition was printed, though, it was decided an online version would be both more accessible and easier to keep up-to-date. The online business directory includes about 40 local businesses. Businesses located in or nearby the GNA area may be listed, along with businesses located elsewhere if owned or managed by a resident of the GNA area. A listing with location and contact information may listed at no cost. For $10 an additional display advertisement may be included.
Also in 2003, a Yahoo! Group online discussion group was created. Local residents subscribed and exchanged email messages. Typically, some 130 residents were in the group. However, the purpose of that group was largely replaced in June 2014 by a network operated on a platform developed by a San Francisco startup called Nextdoor.com. The Yahoo! discussion group was formally closed in May 2015. The creation of our Nextdoor network was not a specific project of the GNA, but has grown to include more than 650 members representing more than 15% of all households in the area. Residents with addresses in the area may sign up for this “private social network for you, your neighbors and your community,” at www.Nextdoor.com. A link to Nextdoor is also on the GNA website.
12 years after going online. a streamlined version of the web site of the GNA has been moved to WordPress. This will provide a flexible yet easy to maintain platform for the volunteer-run Association.
Perhaps the single effort with the most extensive lasting impact has been the Association’s creation and participation in the Steamboat Conservation Partnership. Chris Wickham and a few other members of the GNA board were instrumental in creating this innovative partnership.
In 2009, the GNA and Capitol Land Trust entered into an agreement, called the Steamboat Conservation Partnership, under which the GNA would attempt to obtain at least $15,000 in contributions for Capitol Land Trust each year for a five year period. Contributions are placed into a segregated account by the Capital Land Trust and used to finance a portion of its operating activities in the Steamboat Peninsula region served by this agreement – the Eld Inlet and Totten Inlet watersheds. The non-capital activities funded by these donations include developing relationships and negotiating agreements with property owners, and managing properties or easements within the region. The Capitol Land Trust consults with the GNA on strategies and priorities, informs the Association about its progress, obtains assistance from the Association, and notifies local residents about volunteer opportunities.
As of this date more than $90,000 has been collected for the Partnership, assisting Capitol Land Trust to purchase outright or obtain conservation easements on several major parcels in this region. This includes purchasing 35 acres and a pocket estuary called the Adams Cove/Totten Preserve, located in the northwest part of the Steamboat peninsula. Selection of this parcel was championed by GNA Board Member Gayle Broadbent-Ferris before her accidental death in 2009. “Gayle, more than anyone, would have been thrilled to know the property is now under conservancy,” said Laurence Reeves, conservation projects manager for the Capitol Land Trust.
More recently, Partnership contributors helped to assist in the purchase of conservation easements on about 200 acres, adding to the already 355 acres, in Wynne Valley and the headwaters of Schneider Creek, located on Whittaker Road, south of US-101.
The GNA held two concerts at Prosperity Grange as part of these fund raising efforts. Several tours of conserved properties have been held for contributors. In the summer of 2014, a large gathering was hosted on the Wynne property, thanking and honoring the Wynnes and celebrating the first five years of the Steamboat Conservation Partnership.
Members of the Steamboat Conservation Partnership acts as table captains for local residents to attend annual Capitol Land Trust breakfasts. Typically, more than 35 area residents attend these events.
Beautification and habitat restoration efforts
The GNA has engaged in a number of beautification projects. Native oak trees were planted near the southwest corner of Steamboat Island Road and Sexton Drive. For a number of years, Paul Meury and Mary Skelton trucked in water and organized volunteers to help water these young trees.
Volunteers from the GNA monitored and cleaned up litter around the recycle bins that used to be located near the Island Market. A “weed wrench” was purchased and Scotch broom was removed from the southwest corner of Steamboat Island Road and Sexton Drive near the US-101 overpass. The weed wrench is available for use by members of the GNA to remove weeds.
Little Free Library
Board member Missy Watts worked with local donors and the Friends of the Olympia Library to purchase and install a Little Free Library book box now located outside of the Griffin Fire Department Headquarters. A book sale was also held to help in the financing. Residents may take a free book and leave books at the Little Free Library.
With the assistance of Board members Norm Johnson and Beau Altman, the GNA has held several public meeting on disaster preparedness and has modeled a neighborhood system of preparedness called “Map Your Neighborhood.” Norm Johnson spent many hours and some of his own funds in organizing residents along Sunrise Beach Road for disaster preparedness.
The Association maintains a web page dedicated to helping families and groups of neighbors to prepare for disasters.
Land use and developments
The GNA has been involved in testifying before the county planning commission on a number of issues. Several Board members provided written and verbal testimony on the county’s proposed changes to its critical areas ordinance. Association members have volunteered to serve on County committees and the Association has worked to help keep residents appraised as to what’s happening in Thurston County government.
A number of meetings were held regarding an application to build a two large buildings to house a tennis club proposed to be located near the US-101 interchange. The GNA took no position on this development in 2004. The project was approved by the county and is being constructed in 2014 and 2015.
In 2005, after holding several public meetings on the issue of a proposed conference center to be located immediately north of Steamboat Annie’s restaurant, and after receiving strong public input from several hundred residents who were opposed to this development, the GNA board took a formal position in against this facility, supplying many comments to the County. The GNA took the extraordinary step of hiring a land use attorney and provided both written and verbal testimony on the project. Residents contributed about $9,500 to finance this opposition. These efforts were successful, as the project was ultimately not approved by the county.
The GNA continued its efforts on uncovering and publicizing local history by hosting a number of presentations at our annual general meetings. Steve Lundin wrote the book Griffin Area Schools, a history of schools in the Griffin/Steamboat peninsula area. Mr. Lundin donated the book to the GNA, which printed copies and sold them for $10 a copy. Steve has also authored a series of articles on local history that are published on the GNA’s blog.
For a few years, Board member Velma Rogers prepared and distributed welcome baskets to new residents of our area. Information about the area, and coupons and product samples from local businesses were included in the baskets.
The Eberhardt Blueberry farm
Many residents encouraged the GNA to join with South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust to acquire and conserve the Eberhardt Blueberry Farm, located on Steamboat Island Road. This farm was the home to at least one unique variety of blueberry. It was hoped that the blueberry bushes could be tended and a portable bathroom facility provided during the picking season. After studying the farm in detail, it was determined that because of inadequate drainage, the bushes were dying from being flooded with storm water. The land was found to be sinking and was about one foot below the bottom of a small drainage culvert running under Steamboat Island Road. Because of these problems, it was decided not to purchase the property.
For many years, the GNA has made cash contributions to Saint Christopher’s food bank. At least twice, the GNA conducted its own collections for the Thurston County Food Bank.
Led by Board members Diane Jacob, Dave Schuett-Hames, and Pastor Andy Willis, a community garden was established at Saint Christopher’s Church. In recent years this garden has provided many bushels of food for the Thurston County Food Bank.
The GNA has made a number of donations over the years. The Association makes frequent donations to Saint Christopher’s which in turn provides assistance to local residents. The Association also contributed money to Saint Christopher’s capital campaign. A couple of donations to the South Sound Estuary Association funded scholarships that allowed local area residents to be trained as beach naturalists. The Association also made a donation to the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail which provides viewing of chum salmon spawning.
Led by board member Missy Watts, the GNA has purchased and distributed thousands of decals with this unique logo art. The stickers have been seen on cars, trucks, boats, barges, laptops and in building windows. The artwork was created by local graphical artist Bryan Douglas, who licensed his artwork under Creative Commons. The Steamboat Neighborhood logo was not created as a service mark of the GNA; it was created for use by the entire community. Individuals and businesses can use the artwork, provided they don’t alter it. More details about the arrangement are available on the GNA’s web site.
The GNA was a local partner of a program sponsored by Thurston Energy that provided special reduced pricing for residents to install solar panels using a local contractor. Board members Mark Messinger and Dave Schuett-Hames helped review proposals from solar installers. South Sound Solar was selected for the program.
In 2012, the GNA partnered with the Cooper Point Association to sponsor two candidate forums for federal, state and local races on that year’s ballot.
A History Built on Local Service
The Griffin Neighborhood Association operates entirely by local residents who give their time in service to our community. The Griffin/Steamboat Peninsula community has been generous in its financial support, particularly to the Steamboat Conservation Partnership. Ultimately, the success of the Association in meeting its mission relies upon those who are willing to work on and with the Association’s Board. The 25th anniversary represents an opportunity not only to reflect on a fine history, but for local residents and businesses to renew their participation in the Association by joining the GNA and by looking for opportunities to participate. Click here to join the GNA or renew your financial support. Watch for event notices on our Facebook Page and on Nextdoor.
– Original text by Steve Lundin.