Although it is still a few years away, more than 100 employees are either preparing or have prepared to undergo a long-distance commute, relocation or find other jobs when the Olympia-based Briggs Nursery pulls up roots to consolidate its activities in Grays Harbor County.

With that move will end an era for the 87-year-old family business in Olympia. But the family, through entity Briggs Development Co. Inc., plans to leave a lasting imprint on the 137-acre plot of land that will be known as the Briggs Urban Village.

Economically, the move will not be much of a blow to the local economy, says Dennis Matson, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County. Agricultural services constitutes a small and slowly shriveling sector of the county’s employment base, he says.

“That’s a trend,” Matson says. “If you look at any urban or suburban area, you see loss of this type of business as an area becomes more urbanized.”

It was not a coincidence that the idea for the urban village project came to the Briggs family when it realized that the property fell within the newly designated urban growth boundary for Olympia in the early 1990s, recalls Gary E. Briggs, chief executive officer of Briggs Nursery Inc. The family plans to stay in the area.

In 1989, Briggs had three sites among which it spread its inventory of plants, including one along Yelm Highway and a couple in the Johnson Point area.

“We were juggling plants around,” Briggs recalls. “We began looking for land to expand in so we could be on one site instead of multiple sites.” In 1991, the company chose its spot- 400-plus acres in Porter, six miles south of Elma in Grays Harbor County.

“The climate there is very good,” Briggs observes. “It’s a little warmer, and there’s more rain.”

Having found the future home of Briggs Nursery, the family decided to plan the project on the Olympia area property that would match the residential character the rest of the neighborhood was developing. The Briggs visited several urban villages across the country before coming up with a plan.

The Briggs Community Branch YMCA, built in 1997, was conceived as an integral part of the community center that the Briggs had planned to build their urban village around.

Earlier this month, the Olympia City Council approved a six-point package of amendments that the Briggs had suggested be made to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in order to allow the unique project to go forward. The points included ways of handling stormwater and setbacks on slopes among other issues.

“It’s the first time we’ve made amendments to the Comp Plan during a project,” notes Steve Friddle, principal planner. The entire project includes 807 residential units, 225,000 square feet of commercial buildings, including office and retail space and 50,000 square feet of community uses, including the YMCA.

Construction, divided into phases, is expected to be under way by 2002, with construction phased out over the next 15 or more years. All that will remain of the Briggs Nurseries operation locally will be the sales office, which is seeking a new location in the area, Briggs says. A village website is under construction.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff