With some important deadlines looming in the coming weeks for the One Harbor Point development project in downtown Gig Harbor, my staff and I took some time last week to meet with the project team to chat about the process.
Like most proposed large-scale development projects in downtown, this one has been a lightening rod for controversy. For those new to the conversation, a quick recap of the Ben B. Cheney Foundation’s proposed development project, which was received by the city last week:
▪ It would develop the waterfront plot of land at the intersection of Soundview and Harborview drives.
▪ The project calls for 10 buildings on the triangular corner lot and three single-family homes on the waterfront parcel housing the Green Turtle restaurant and another business.
▪ The buildings on the upland property would hold 35 rental townhouse units, which is more than what is allowed under current zoning for the neighborhood.
▪ In exchange for the increased density, the developer promised to give the city the historical agricultural building, a deck and marina for public use.
Over the past few months, as part of a focused outreach, the development team has been visiting various community groups around Gig Harbor showing some artistic renderings of the buildings and the surrounding walkways of the proposed project, which anyone can view online at oneharborpoint.com. The team has also been beating the drum that “maintaining the character of Gig Harbor is our guiding principle for One Harbor Point.”
What I found interesting was that the team reported that it spoke to many residents who would like to see the project go forward, but those same residents “are not as passionate about it as the opposition.”
Much of that opposition builds fervor on Facebook through various private pages and groups, as well as comment sections on news story posts, sometimes selectively choosing what information about the project to negatively shine a light on. The development team stressed to us that throughout the entire process it has been completely transparent in its plan and has made no attempt to hide delicate issues surrounding the herons or traffic concerns.
Gig Harbor City Council member Michael Perrow encouraged residents to “review the materials, ask questions, decide for yourself and share your thoughts” in a Facebook post last week.
Whether or not you like development in Gig Harbor, what do we make of this feedback? And the bigger question might be what view of the project is representative of the community as a whole?
There are legitimate concerns about traffic congestion along Soundview and Harborview drives once all the development is finished. There is lamenting that more trees will be cut down in favor of what some see as ostentatious homes that cater to only the rich, and, of course, who can forget the back and forth over whether or not the plot of land is actually a nesting ground for herons. (More on that next week.)
However, there are other points of view to consider. This proposed development will open up that sightline near the intersection that will expose quite the view for those driving — or walking — into downtown. The design team stresses that the project maintains the city’s connection to the water and maritime heritage, meaning that there won’t be any Mediterranean-style buildings that wouldn’t mesh with the rest of the area. And the potential of the boat barn, the land it sits on and the attached marina — which would be donated to the city — would open up a host of possibilities for the public to benefit from.
Large-scale development projects don’t have a great track record around downtown. But there are greater ramifications if this project isn’t approved. If residents are willing to dig their heels into the no-development-of-any-kind-stance in downtown, then they must to be willing to live with the results.
If the Cheney Foundation can’t develop the land, the Haub family will sell it to someone else.
If the Cheney Foundation can’t develop the land, the Haub family will sell it to someone else. That could be a developer from out of town who doesn’t want any part of keeping a maritime heritage and would much rather cash out on the land near the boat barn to build a private dock to go with the waterfront homes it will build.
Even worse, it might send a loud message to local developers with ties to the region that even if you jump through all the zoning hoops and are crystal clear with your plans, you still might get told to take a hike.
I don’t believe that is a longstanding recipe for a flourishing downtown. And what about that anti-development reputation that Gig Harbor could inherit from all this?
I don’t think the entire community wants that label.