The Gig Harbor City Council has encouraged the city’s planning department to provide examples of what visual changes might occur should the city approve a height allowance in the downtown core.
Council member Tim Payne requested the visuals after some public scrutiny, mainly from the Citizens of Preservation of Gig Harbor, spearheaded by Jeni Woock.
If approved, the new zoning laws would allow buildings with flat roofs to reach 27 feet tall. Currently, buildings with peaked roofs can reach that height.
Woock argued the potential change could create a corridor on Harborview Drive.
Payne hopes to dispel rumors by providing visuals from the planning department. The city also may hold an open house to provide more information about the proposed change.
“The staff is working on trying to come up with some visuals that will better and more accurately depict what could be,” Payne said. “The visuals that have been presented by some very well-intentioned citizens, who, in my mind, are kind of viewing this very one-dimensionally, are wildly inaccurate. And I would say that if I saw their graphic and thought that that’s what was going to happen, I would be up in arms as well.
“But, the fact of the matter is, they are inaccurate,” Payne said. “They are telling a story that doesn’t exist. So people are upset over something that is not real. I think that’s where the city needs to provide some clarification.”
Payne said he can understand the public’s confusion, because the ordinance, by itself, could have the potential to create corridors. However, the ordinance cannot be viewed singularly, since it’s stacked on top of several other ordinances and codes that prohibit corridors.
“We know we’re not going to end up, as someone who wrote me said, with Kirkland,” Payne said. “We can’t, because our design requirements, our view-corridor requirements, our parking requirements, our building-size requirements, are all vastly different than Kirkland, and we simply have protected ourselves so that can’t happen.”
Since the time period for public comment has passed, Payne said the city won’t re-open the floor for public debate out of respect for the process. However, he also said he doesn’t see a great deal of harm to continue to receive public input, so long as the public is educated before that time.
“If we have the accurate information presented (the council could reopen public comment), and probably the best way to do that is through an open house prior to the council meeting,” Payne said. “Allow people to see, learn, understand better what’s going to happen, then we could open up public comment again, and allow people to respond to that. Because what I am not interested in having people do is respond to something that is inaccurate, because it’s going to be a waste of time — for them and for us.”
Payne offered the Russell building as an example of the implications of the new zoning ordinance. He painted a picture to illustrate the idea of the building owners wanting to tear it down and build a new structure that goes to 27 feet tall.
“The fact of what they would be able to do is they would actually end up being able to put up three buildings at 27 feet of height (because of the existing corridor codes), but by tearing down the Russell building and putting up those three buildings, you’d actually create more view than what you have today, because that’s one long, contiguous building,” Payne said.
Many of the downtown properties are family-owned, and few have any desire to change the downtown or waterfront areas, he said.
“There’s not some evil developer lurking in the background who’s going to all of the sudden pop up and build these large buildings,” Payne said. “Even if there was, we have very strict design requirements, right down to the type of window and cornices that you would use on the building. That’s all detailed out, so to think that there’s going to be steel and glass-box buildings is not dealing in reality.”
Payne said he supports the building height increase, and he reiterated his belief that the changes are very minor and would have minimal implications.
“I find this to be a very simple change to our code and to the zoning,” he said. “We have a downtown that needs some vitality. We have a downtown that needs to allow for some more modern construction — and I’m not talking about modern-looking buildings, I’m talking about modern infrastructure.”
Payne said there might be a couple buildings that could have view implications, but he said it’s a substantially smaller number than people think.
“There is only one, possibly two or three, properties that currently have partial views at best that would likely be rebuilt on that would be impacted,” Payne said. “What we’re doing is really not going to have any kind of significant, adverse impact to what already is blocked from the view of the public.”Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.