The Gig Harbor City Council decided on Feb.13 to refuse to process my application for a text amendment of the city’s code on development agreements.
My amendment, referred to as the Katke Amendment, proposed to eliminate development agreements that violate state law. It did not propose to eliminate development agreements entirely, as some have implied. It did not attempt to tie the hands of the City Council to prevent it from approving lawful development agreements, as some have implied. It was only designed to prevent the City Council from providing special privileges to developers that were not available to ordinary citizens.
State law allows development agreements, but imposes an important restriction when they are approved by municipalities like Gig Harbor planning under the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A). The state law provides that: “A development agreement shall be consistent with applicable development regulations adopted by a local government planning under RCW 36.70A.” (RCW is an abbreviation for the Revised Code of Washington. Revised Code of Washington are the laws adopted by the Washington State Legislature, approved by the governor.) The Washington Department of Commerce has adopted rules to interpret this state law, and in Washington Administrative Code, there is a specific prohibition on the use of development agreements for the purpose of waiving or amending development regulations that would otherwise apply to a project.
The language of the law speaks for itself: “A development agreement shall be consistent with applicable development regulations adopted by a local government planning under RCW 36.70A.”
As this law clearly states, a city cannot use development agreements to bypass the local government development regulations such as the existing city code on land use, density, height restrictions, setbacks, etc. However, the city of Gig Harbor has adopted a code contrary to state law, which allows the Council to bargain with developers for the sale of development regulations through the development agreement process.
The Council members and the city attorney pointedly ignored the state law and administrative code during their deliberations. No one attempted to explain the discrepancy between the city’s code, which allows the City Council to enter into development agreements for the purpose of waiving or amending the development regulations applicable to a project.
At the outset of the hearing, the mayor cautioned everyone that they were not to make any assertions that she or any member of the Council “were in the pocket of the developer, unless you have evidence.”
If not so tragic, this comment would have been funny. After all, the City Council’s adoption of an ordinance that provides a process solely for developers, allowing them and only them, to deviate from the city’s development regulations in exchange for some compensation, is certainly the best evidence of this fact.
The Council Chambers was packed, with standing room only and overflow into the City Hall lobby. The majority of people that spoke came out in favor of the Katke Amendment. The theme of comments from more than 25 people was as follows:
▪ Developers should not be given privileges that are not available to ordinary citizens.
▪ The City Council should listen to its citizens when making these types of decisions.
▪ The Katke Amendment should be approved.
Only a few members of the public spoke against the Katke Amendment, and these were developers, attorneys who worked for developers, and members of the Chamber of Commerce.
None of the Council members offered any substantive argument in favor of continuing to allow the Council to negotiate away the city’s existing development regulations.
There was no Council response to the many complaints from the public about the Council’s plans to allow increased density in the downtown area, where traffic is at level of service “F” (the worst). The Council ignored the many negative comments about the Council trading additional traffic congestion for a barn gifted as compensation to the city by developers.
Another Council member very clearly told the audience he didn’t want to give up his power to approve development agreements and that if the public didn’t like the Council’s decision, the public should vote with them out of office.
Very likely, that was on everyone’s mind as they left the Council chambers. We all plan to vote in the next election.