City holds open house for new comprehensive plan, ‘The Harbor’

Government: New element sets tone, guidelines for waterfront in city’s downtown core

of the GatewayFebruary 5, 2014 

The Gig Harbor Planning Department is in the process of adding an element to the city’s comprehensive plan.

Planning Commission members staffed tables during an open house Thursday at the Gig Harbor Civic Center. Each station had information about “The Harbor,” the latest element draft in the city’s comprehensive plan, that focuses on the area “where the water meets the land.”

Washington cities are required by state law to update a comprehensive plan every eight years. Each plan has required elements, equivalent to a chapter in a book, with the option for additional, non-required elements.

“The Harbor” is not a required element.

Unlike other areas of the city, the harbor is a neighborhood that also operates as a business district, tourist attraction and public space. Due to the location, it settles in with the heated debate over building heights downtown, and, more controversially, view corridors.

Jeni Woock of Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor asked the planning commission to “be a hero” and use the element to uphold the ideals of the harbor: scenic, quaint and walkable. She spoke about view corridors between houses and vegetation that could cover up views of the water.

“(Visitors) do not come to look at trees,” she said.

Senior Planner Lindsey Sehmel said the comprehensive plan should not be confused with zoning and development regulations. The plan uses terms like “encourage,” “allow” and “maintain” because it works as a guide, not a rule.

In the instances in which the comprehensive plan elements use specific language like “shall” and “shall not,” it means the guideline is a duplicate of a current rule already in place, Sehmel said.

During the public hearing, some spoke about issues with vegetation. In the element, trees and shrubs are, in a limited amount, part of the view. It also states the city should “recognize that every tree impacts someone’s view to one degree or another.”

Charlotte Gerloff, a master gardener who has 25 years experience, has issues with the vegetation guidelines. She said it doesn’t provide enough direction for planting, so height and width of full-grown vegetation is not predicted.

Tall trees would suffocate view corridors, Gerloff said. Furthermore, using the view corridors as a “euphemism” for water views is “offensive, if not ridiculous,” she said.

Former city council members Jim Franich and Derek Young gave suggestions during the hearing. Young said he’d like to see more in the way of transportation guidelines, specifically language that provides for an expansion of the trolley route. Franich sees problems with the area included in the element.

“I think that you’re a little bit broad,” Franich said. “I would like to see the area pared down.”

The words that were gathered to describe the harbor in 2010 were displayed on a posterboard during the open house. Those brainstormed words, 410 in all, were the seeds of the element.

Bikeable, walkable and viable; the element aims to preserve and revitalize downtown.

“We know we have a gem,” Planning Commissioner Pamela Peterson said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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