On the floor of the Gig Harbor City Council chambers sat 1,510 Styrofoam cubes. Ten were red, 1,500 were white. Throughout public comment, the chain of squares sat in front of the council.
The Gig Harbor City Council voted Monday night to approve three of four amendments to the zoning ordinance for the Waterfront Commercial section downtown. The chains of cubes — white meant to represent community members who opposed, red to represent support — was made by Jeni Woock of the Citizens for the Preservation of the Downtown Waterfront. She said it represented the overruling of the “will of the people.”
Woock said after the meeting that she gathered the numbers from a Freedom of Information request that contained emails to council members.
The ordinance has been a controversial topic for the city since July. Before the vote was cast, council members took time to explain how they would vote. They said it wasn’t a time to petition the council but to listen to their reasoning.
A full chamber was alive with applause and whispers, depending on the topic. Many council members also brought up the tone of discourse used prior to the meeting, something council member Jill Guernsey said was “uncalled for, uncivil and unprofessional.”
Similarly, council member Paul Kadzik addressed rumors that there were backdoor deals with big developers already in place before the ordinance was brought to vote.
“There’s been no nefarious people coming and lining the city’s pockets,” he said.
Kadzik argued that the fourth amendment in the ordinance, regarding waterfront homes, be removed. It was not part of the final decision.
The ordinance was not passed unanimously. Council member Ken Malich voted no, stating he saw his role as a voice for the opposition, which had made their preference clear.
“Sometimes it feels awful lonely up here when you’re the only one sharing that opinion,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Malich pointed to the rapid development and arrival of chain stores at Uptown and Gig Harbor North as the reason for downtown’s struggles, not the current zoning rules.
The ordinance sprung up at the request of the city planning commission. Under the new rules, a building with a flat roof can reach 27 feet tall. Effectively, it will allow two-story buildings. Prior to the ordinance, only buildings with peaked roofs could reach that height.
The zoning applies to Waterfront Commercial district from the corner of Pioneer Way and Harborview Drive and running along the water side from Skansie Brothers Park to the Green Turtle Restaurant.
The amendment related to the height of waterfront homes, sometimes known as “houses in the hole,” is the one that was dropped from the final vote.
Hundreds of petition signatures and Woock’s efforts brought public discussion to the issue after the initial comment period this summer. Those opposed to the ordinance mainly said they didn’t want the harbor to become a corridor. They worry taller buildings will mean a loss of views.
The zoning might draw big developers to Harborview Drive, changing the character of the area, Woock previously said. She also said there was not enough notice of the potential change when it first came up in July.
“If this had been brought up in the visioning meeting, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Woock said after the meeting Monday. “I really believe that.”
But council member Tim Payne felt more initiative needed to be taken on the part of the public to really discuss the issue with council members.
While Payne hasn’t appreciated the tone, he said he’s appreciated every email from residents and wants to listen. However, he said only two people met with him to talk about the ordinance. He characterized the discourse was volatile, not engaged.
Payne explained his yes, like the other council members. He said it’s not restrictions that will hurt downtown, it’s coddling. It needs to open up in order to thrive, he said.
Afterward, several people came forward to make public comment. Woock went first, with the chains she spent all day Saturday making.
Charlotte Gerlof told the council they are elected officials and should be careful not to misrepresent the public. She said she “didn’t like to be patronized,” and she has been mindful not to patronize the council.
Gerlof said she wanted was more communication about what exactly the council believes will happen; for example, which businesses they want to see downtown.
Michael Mordue said he feels the land on the water, despite best intentions, won’t be filled by small businesses, but large, expensive homes and big business. He thinks it needs more study, because there are points on both side, and change is inevitable.
“Ultimately, the land will be sold to the highest bidder,” he said.
Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com.