I have read with dismay recent local websites, blogs and letters to the editor regarding the waste of funds and lack of need for an economic development director in Gig Harbor. Let me tell you a short story. Last year, a local architect friend of mine presented a project to the planning department of a nearby city. The planners consulted their codes and told the architect that he did not meet the minimum parking requirements or the set-back for the proposed building. At the same table was the economic development director for that city. After the planners finished giving my friend the reasons why he could not do his project, the economic development director spoke up. She said the project looked like a win for the city and that the planners should find a way to make the project happen.
For far too long the city of Gig Harbor has been giving developers and residents reasons why they cannot do something with their property. It is time for a mind-set change. I understand that the planners are simply following directions and reading from the code books and that if they let one person slide they will have to let another slide until it gets out of hand and the code becomes useless. This is why we need a person of authority to be able to put a project into perspective. Not all projects have the same merit nor do they all have the same potential for increased economic impact.
Our city attorney may disagree with me and feel that this would bring lawsuits to the city due to perceived unequal treatment of applicants. Develop a variance system with specific economic criterion. Get the attorneys on it. Don’t tell me why we cannot do something, tell me why we can! Additionally, my opinion is that this new economic development director position be filled with someone well-experienced in economic development and not from this area, whom otherwise might come to the job with a built in bias. And I believe that the dual role of city administrator and economic development director will be viewed as a conflict of interest. The economic development director should work directly for the mayor with council oversight.
It seems like once or twice a year I find myself standing in front of a planner presenting a new project to him or her. Our planners are knowledgeable, friendly and courteous and for the most part want to see the project succeed, but only if the project falls within the accepted guidelines of the design review manual. These are their marching orders. What I think is acceptable or reasonable does not matter. I do, however believe that Jennifer Kester brings a fresh dynamic to the job of planning director even though she is held in check by the same set of guidelines. With that said, Gig Harbor has the reputation of being one of the toughest cities in the state from which to get a building permit.
I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Kester and each City Council member over the past couple of weeks to get their impressions of a new project I am working on. Each was happy to give me their time and attention. Each was thoughtful and knowledgeable. I was very impressed with our two new members as well as our experienced members.
I believe that Mayor Guernsey and each council member knows about this problem of unbending regulations and is working to do something about it, starting with an economic development director. I am sure that the majority of the dissenters are homeowners with no plans for property improvements, so naturally they do not see the need for an economic development director, or they are people who are resisting any growth within the city. Either we have some growth or we will stagnate and rot from within. That is a fact.
I say let’s give our City Council and our new mayor the opportunity to succeed and not second guess every decision. Just because something may not affect you does not mean it doesn’t affect someone else.