The Gig Harbor City Council is poised to halt a five-year planning effort that could have led to rezoning parts of downtown. Instead, city staff will focus on studying traffic and ways to alleviate congestion citywide.
The council will finalize its decision to table the planning process at its Oct. 10 meeting.
Concerns about the fate of a key parcel in downtown Gig Harbor drew more than 100 people to a joint meeting of the council and planning commission Monday.
Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor, a resident-led activist group, made multiple Facebook posts claiming that the council planned to change zoning of a forested parcel at the corner of Soundview and Harborview drives to allow a multifamily housing development.
The Ben B. Cheney Foundation is under contract to purchase the land and has publicly announced it wants to build 30 to 40 units on the 2.27-acre corner lots, but would need the City Council to approve the increased density that is not allowed under current zoning.
The foundation has not submitted an application to the city yet, but intends to by the end of the year, according to a project spokeswoman.
Last week, city officials tried to counter the citizen group’s claims that a rezone was imminent. On the city’s website and in emails to 200 people who had expressed interest in the planning process, city officials clarified that a rezone of the Harborview/Soundview property would not be discussed at Monday’s meeting.
What was on the agenda: An update on why on the planning commission wanted to stop a review of 15 proposed zoning changes downtown. The commission made that recommendation after a May public hearing revealed the public was more concerned about traffic.
The forested land at Harborview and Soundview drives was one of the parcels under review in the downtown planning process, which was part of a larger effort initiated by the City Council in 2011 to boost downtown business.
Despite efforts to clarify the purpose of Monday’s meeting, the meeting drew a crowd that spilled out of the council chambers into the foyer. Some people expressed disappointment that the Harborview/Soundview property wasn’t discussed.
“I think some people had assumptions it was fait accompli,” said Gig Harbor resident Julie Offner.
Offner said she was pleased to hear the council wants to study traffic.
“I think that it’s good that there is more thought being given to it,” she said.
Planning Director Jennifer Kester said council members had been headed in the direction of putting the planning process on hold since August. The commission had never reached the point of making a recommendation on zoning changes, so the council couldn’t have made a decision Monday anyway.
“The outcome did not change because of how many people were in a room last night,” Kester said Tuesday.
But that didn’t stop the Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor from claiming victory early Tuesday.
“Because of social media, sharing, the porch sign, emails to the council, (e)ach of you made your presence felt,” a post on the group’s Facebook page read. “Because of you those 15 zoning changes were stopped last night.”
It’s unknown whether the proposed zoning changes will ever come back to the council. The traffic study will take all of 2017.
“The direction from the council is to table (the zoning) indefinitely for the purpose of the traffic study,” Kester said. “We don’t know what will happen after the traffic study concludes. I could not speak to any date when this returns, if at all.”