The planning commission has recommended the city change a downtown zone to allow buildings to reach 27 feet high with flat roofs, effectively allowing two-story buildings in the downtown area. Currently, buildings with peaked roofs can reach that height.
The council approved the changes in the downtown business district at a previous meeting, but it reopened public debate for the waterfront area following community backlash.
Jeni Woock of the Citizens for the Preservation of the Downtown Gig Harbor Waterfront was one of many people who offered testimony in a standing-room-only crowd at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.
Woock touted the 1,500-plus signatures her group has gathered for a petition, which discourages changes to the waterfront area.“This eliminates harbor views for voters, residents and tourists,” Woock said. “It’s the job of city council to represent the majority of voters. You’ve heard loud and clear: voters do not want this amendment. Their views should outweigh special interests.”
Woock referred to developers and suggested on more than one occasion that council members are colluding with them. Several of the council members have repeatedly refuted the allegation.
Tides Tavern owner Peter Stanley went so far to call the claim insulting.“The allegation that the mayor and council are in the pockets of the developers is insulting,” Stanley said. “Shame on those of you who are saying that. What you see today has been the result of tremendous effort to grow and preserve downtown Gig Harbor. We need to provide incentives for current building owners to reinvest in their current buildings in the downtown area.”
Most of the residents who spoke were against the proposed changes. They said they didn’t want the harbor’s views hampered and that they cherished the quaint, maritime feel of downtown.“I don’t believe the addition of second-story buildings will revitalize it,” resident Marilyn Lepape said. “If you build it, they will not come. You’ll be taking away the feeling of the town that’s content to be the way it is. Please allow it to remain the way it is to visit and to walk, and to revitalize one’s spirit.”
Downtown business owner Kit Kuhn said businesses are struggling to stay alive and desperately need help.“I’ve watched downtown be dead for about 12 years as far as a retail core,” Kuhn said. “Most people in this community do not support downtown shops. I would give up a little charm for not having boarded-up buildings and a place where businesses can’t make it. A third of retailers are probably going to be gone.
“If you do allow two-story buildings, you’ll create more shops downtown and probably will get a grocery store back,” he said.
Several residents said they didn’t see the correlation between two-story buildings and economic revitalization.“One of my major concerns is I’m not seeing any data as to why the city thinks this is going to work,” resident Greg Hoeksema said. “It feels like you’re trying to solve the recession by changing building codes. What model and specific data was used to verify that this will revitalize? Isn’t is just as likely that downtown will recover when the economy recovers?”
The planning commission said no economic study was done.
Several residents also said they appreciate all the work the council has done in regard to developing the Uptown Shopping Center and Gig Harbor North, but they would prefer to have downtown left alone.“We have everything here,” resident Drea Solan said. “We have the best of both worlds, Uptown and the waterfront. The point is, this is taking views away. We can’t get it back if it’s gone.”
Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.