Citizens crammed City Hall during the first Gig Harbor City Council meeting since July. The packed house was present as the result of some controversy over the proposed zoning law changes in the downtown business and waterfront commercial districts. The ordinance includes four amendments, but the one that has received the most pushback from the public is the amendment concerning a proposed change in building height allowance. Current zoning allows for 16 feet, one story buildings, and buildings with peaked roofs up to 27 feet. The new zoning amendment would allow for buildings with flat roofs to reach 27 feet, effectively allowing for the construction of two-story buildings in the WC and DB districts. The change is intended to promote economic growth and vitality in the two areas, while still preserving its character.
The Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor Waterfront, led by resident Jeni Woock, has raised concerns about the potential for a corridor effect when driving down Harborview Drive, and also about the potential of water views being negatively affected. Since the public comment period for the ordinance has come and gone, public comment was not allowed for at the meeting. However, council member Jill Guernsey moved that the council remove the waterfront commercial district from the ordinance and write a new ordinance for the Oct. 14 city council meeting, effectively reopening the floor for public comment.
Guernsey stressed that the building height change would still have to meet other existing codes.
“These proposals do not make any change in the building size, setbacks, don’t change the view corridors requirement, or design review requirements,” she said.
Some residents have also expressed concern that the council has tried to sneak this past the public.
“In multiple emails I’ve received, people have said we’re pulling a fast one, with the implication being that big developers had brought up all these properties, and the council was kowtowing to them because we want extra funds,” said council member Paul Kadzik. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. To the best of my knowledge, there is no large developer out there planning a project.”
Some citizens have also expressed concern about developer agreements, saying they’re allowed to bypass zoning regulations. Council member Derek Young addressed those concerns, saying a development would have to be substantially better and more beneficial for the community than current zoning would allow for council to reach an agreement with a developer. It would also require a supermajority vote.
“The idea we would throw out all our standards doesn’t make any sense,” Young said. “We do allow for deviation from the code, but only when it’s a superior product.”
Mayor Chuck Hunter said the City works adamantly to preserve the character of the harbor.
“I think we’ve done a really splendid job of protecting views,” he said.
The city will hold an open house on Oct. 14 before the council meeting to showcase some of their renderings and educate the public on what the changes are.