Proposed changes to Millville could be good or bad, but do your research

Special to the GatewayJanuary 1, 2014 

Am I for or against the proposed ordinance changes for the Millville neighborhood in downtown Gig Harbor?

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is there are so many rumors and interpretations circulating about the proposed changes, which are expected to be presented at the city council meeting on Jan. 13.

I thought I would add my interpretation to the conversation. However, if you want to know the real story, you need to attend the council meeting and/or contact the city planning department. Otherwise, you are just getting someone else’s reading on the story.

I need to add a disclaimer to the information that follows: It represents my interpretation of what all this means. I am neither an architect nor an attorney. I can only tell you how I see the result of the proposed ordinance changes.

So, here’s my point of view:

 • The most important issue is that this applies only to residential waterfront properties. It does not apply to commercial waterfront properties.

 • The Gig Harbor Shoreline Master Program is in response to the state-mandated Shoreline Management Plan. Gig Harbor’s program has established a required minimum setback from the water’s edge where one did not exist before.

 • What does this mean? On a standard 100-foot by 50-foot lot, there will now be a minimum 35-foot setback, leaving only 65 feet for the property owner to develop as a residence, less the minimum front (sidewalk) setback.

 • Currently, that setback is 20 feet; it’s recommended to be 12 feet in the waterfront zone for the houses.

 • Currently, that setback is 26 feet; it’s recommended to be 18 feet in the waterfront zone for the garages.

 • Currently, that setback is 12 feet; it’s recommended to be 6 feet in the waterfront zone for the porches.

I believe these changes would bring the standard setback for residential houses on the waterfront to correspond with the historic setbacks for all the houses in the Millville neighborhood.

Why? Because, historically, commercial structures were generally placed directly adjacent to the sidewalk or street so the customers didn’t have to navigate the mud to enter the establishment.

The residential structures, though, generally had a small front yard with a setback of approximately nine feet from the street or sidewalk. When they sat on their porches, that allowed them easy access to visit with their neighbors who walked by.

Hopefully this helps to explain the setback change, and to allow a better understanding of the “why.” And perhaps it will bring and continue to create conformity to the Millville neighborhood.

Now, the height issue. It will remain at the current 18 feet. The change will be the point at which the measurement will be taken.

The change would allow the measurement to be taken at the front property line, which would allow for variation due to the grade (slope) of the lot.

The resulting change — approximately 6 inches to 2 feet in overall height. That, you must admit, is very minor insofar as the big picture.

 • Since, to my knowledge, there are really no undeveloped residential lots in the Millville neighborhood, these changes will only affect extensive rehabs of current residential structures.

 • There is no change in the side setbacks.

 • The design code does not change and still applies to any project.

I am not asking you to agree with me; I am only asking that you research the changes before you make a decision on whether or not you’re for these proposed changes.

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Tomi Kent Smith lives in downtown Gig Harbor.

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