In a move towards slowing down residential development during the six month moratorium, the Gig Harbor City Council approved Ordinance No. 1388 and held public discussion regarding a draft ordinance that would make changes to the city of Gig Harbor’s municipal code.
Ordinance No. 1388 includes Amendment A which states it will “clarify the moratorium for vested projects” to submit construction and building permits. It would apply to those residential projects that are vested, but are not single-family homes on individual lots of record, e.g. apartment buildings, multiple single-family residential on one lot.
Amendment B states it will “allow all pipeline projects to submit for building permits,” which allows builders or contractors to submit building permits if the site plan review applications were submitted before Feb. 12 and the site plan was subsequently approved. This affects one project, Pioneer Duplexes, which consists of four duplexes.
Both amendments were discussed at the previous April 30 council meeting.
Councilman Ken Malich made a motion to amend the ordinance, seconded by councilwoman Jeni Woock, to remove Amendment B from the ordinance.
“When we approved this moratorium, we made six exceptions,” Woock said. “The project listed in Amendment B does not meet those exceptions.”
Councilman Bob Himes said the amendment was a way to fix the moratorium in an effort to be fair. His comments were echoed by councilman Michael Perrow.
“This is what happens with quickly written legislation,” Perrow said. “This helps us fix the things that fell through the cracks.”
The council voted against amending the language, and approved the ordinance with a 5-2 vote. Woock and Malich voted against the ordinance.
Spokesman from the Department of Commerce stirs debate about affordable housing
A draft ordinance that includes changes to the city’s municipal code, regarding chapters 16 “subdivisions” and title 17, “zoning” stirred conversation about affordable housing after a representative from the Western Washington Department of Commerce spoke against the changes.
This was the first reading of the amendments to the code, meaning the code would have to come to the council for a second reading before being approved. Some of the amendments include;
- An exact definition of what is considered a “serial short-plat” and to prohibit serial short-plats.
- Prohibiting residential development in commercial-one zones, business-two zones and downtown-business zones.
- Remove the minimum residential density requirement for areas zones residential-1 and to keep the maximum residential density at four units per acre.
- Eliminate the use of a conditional use permit to put a maximum of 12 dwelling units per acre in a residential-business district type two area. Instead it would limit it to eight dwelling units per acre.
- To eliminate the use of a conditional use permit to raise the maximum density per acre in any particular zoning.
Ike Nwankwo, western Washington manager of Growth Management Services for the Department of Commerce, said the department was concerned over elimination of housing minimums, which would make housing costs rise and add on to the homelessness and housing crisis the state faces.
“We know you have the capacity,” Nwankwo told the council. “It’s not about the capacity … it’s about affordability. When you eliminate housing minimums the lots get larger, and what that does is increase the price of housing. You’ve heard of Seattle … and we know this cannot be sustained. Because of this, we are asking cities of Gig Harbor to do more, not less.”
Gig Harbor resident Marlene Druker, referring to the mayor’s recent “Welcoming City” proclamation, said by eliminating residential housing in commercial zones and downtown, they eliminate the chance to have walkable neighborhoods and for those with lower incomes to be able to live in the city.
"This will keep certain demographics out of our town," Druker said, who was in favor of affordable housing.
Other residents seemed to disregard that idea, saying the need to lower density and slow growth took precedent.
“One of the reasons behind this effort is we've had 30 percent growth,” Gig Harbor resident Karen McDonald told the council. “That's a jaw-dropping growth. We are an affluent community ... we are a town of wealth. While I sympathize with (Nwankwo) with low-income housing, there isn't housing available. I ask the council stand firm.”
The median-priced home now sells for half a million dollars in the Gig Harbor area — the most expensive area in Pierce County to buy a home, NWMLS data show. That's up 12.6 percent from April 2017, when homes there sold for $56,000 less.
Nwankwo was brought back in front of the council for questions, and mentioned other cities such as Snohomish who had proposed similar code changes that were later challenged by the state.
“The city lost that challenge,” Nwankwo said. “I do not have that authority. But I want you to consider this.”
Franich said he was offended by Nwankwo’s “veiled threats” of suing the city.
“We are trying to make the best decisions for our residents,” Franich said.
Himes moved to amend the code so instead of eliminating residential in downtown business zones, the code would allow a maximum of eight dwelling units per acre. Conversation included the issue of “vertical zoning”, where multistory buildings could be zoned commercial on one floor and residential on the second. Woock said she was against vertical zoning because it would make downtown busier. Councilman Spencer Hutchins, who lives downtown, says allowing people to live in commercial zones such as downtown would mean less cars on the road because residents like himself will walk to nearby stores and amenities.
After lengthy discussion, the amendment to eliminate residential in downtown business zones will be brought to the council for a second reading. Himes' amendment to allow a maximum of eight dwelling units per acre in downtown-business zones will also be brought to council for a second reading.
"What we passed tonight may not be permanent," Hutchins said. "Because we may change it. So assuming Himes' ordinance passes next week it will be law until we review it again in June."
Amendment three, which includes amendments regarding downtown-business zones, commercial-one zones and business-two zones will be discussed in June during the “group three” ordinances. This group of ordinances will be brought for a vote after the moratorium is lifted, if the moratorium is not extended. For now, Himes’ amendment is being used a “stop-gap” measure.