From sailboat masts to historic net sheds, the picturesque setting of Gig Harbor’s waterfront is paramount to the vitality of downtown. But if the City Council approves new height regulations Monday, many residents are worried that setting could be diminished.
Council members are scheduled to act on an ordinance at their 5:30 p.m. meeting that would increase building heights to allow for a second story along the commercial waterfront.
Some business interests and city planners are looking for flexibility to grow.
But some people are concerned the height increase along Harborview Drive would destroy the downtown charm and their ability to see the harbor outside of narrow corridors.
Petitions filled with about 1,100 signatures were delivered to City Hall on Friday, asking the council to postpone a decision.
Paulette Hoflin, who lives just outside the city, called the proposed changes “a bunch of hooey.”
“It’s going to ruin downtown,” said Hoflin, who was eating breakfast Friday at Kelly’s Cafe and Espresso in the heart of the affected zone.
Under the ordinance, buildings could not exceed 27 feet. Existing code holds commercial buildings to 16 feet; those on sloped lots can go up to 24 feet. Some two-story buildings already are peppered throughout downtown, but they were built before height limits were put in place.
The council is considering the ordinance to help revitalize downtown, said Councilwoman Jill Guernsey.
“If you talk to store owners, shop owners, some of them are struggling,” she said.
Providing flexibility for growth or redevelopment is needed downtown, according to information provided to the council by the city’s planning commission.
The commission spent a year reviewing downtown zoning. It heard from the public, including residents, building owners and developers. The proposed height increase was a result of that process.
The area affected by the proposed height increase runs along both sides of Harborview from Rosedale Street NW at Skansie Brothers Park south to the Green Turtle Restaurant. It also includes the commercial zone that continues up Pioneer Way ending just past Uddenberg Lane.
“The common thread in what I’ve heard from people who have been concerned about this is the ability to view the water,” said Jennifer Kester, city planning director.
The proposed height increases would have minimal impact on the view uphill, Kester said.
“Based on our view studies, because of the existing trees and the steepness of the hill, and given where the existing buildings are, we do not believe there will be significant view impacts,” she said. “None of the view corridor requirements are being diminished. The building footprint size limitations are not being increased.”
That means people walking downtown won’t notice a difference when trying to catch a glimpse of the harbor, she said.
But some residents remain skeptical. Jill Krueger wants to make sure the downtown keeps its peekaboo views of the harbor from many vantage points.
“You don’t want to walk down a path to a dock to see the water,” she said.
Krueger’s home isn’t affected by the proposal, but she regularly visits downtown and is concerned about the loss of character.
Susan Varney, who was eating breakfast at Kelly’s with Krueger Friday, shares her concerns.
“It won’t be historic anymore, it will be a mess,” Varney said.
Guernsey, who’s running unopposed for mayor, thinks more needs to be done to educate people about the proposal and dispel misinformation that they could lose their views.
The council wants to strike a balance between allowing flexibility to spur economic growth and maintaining historic character, she said. It also wants to maintain public access, Guernsey said.
“Anything we do, we have to be very careful not to detract from our character,” she said. “I think downtown is a jewel. But things we can do to help downtown thrive, we want to do.”
That’s why the council directed the planning commission to create a vision for downtown, she said.
Jeni Woock, who lives along Pioneer Way but whose residential view won’t be affected by the change, wants the city to listen to the public.
Woock formed Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor Waterfront. The group gathered the signatures that were dropped off Friday.
“The concern is ‘corridoring’ and the concern is a sort of lack of charm,” Woock said. “There is a lot of the commercial view that is already gone.”
Guernsey wouldn’t speculate what the council would do Monday, but said she wants more outreach and education.
“We need to take some time, in my opinion, to let the public know what you can or can’t do with these regulations,” she said.