It seems that every large development plan proposed in Gig Harbor over the last decade or so has risen some kind of stir among residents.
Granted, there are some residents who would love nothing to change in their quaint, slow-paced downtown or on the routes and places they routinely visit within city limits. Those same people likely can’t stand traffic circles, and bristle at the thought of more retail complexes clogging roads with incoming cars filled with vistors from Tacoma, Port Orchard or Bremerton.
But let’s face reality: Gig Harbor has to change — even incrementally — in order to remain a viable place to have a nice meal, open a business or purchase a home.
I still feel like there is an overwhelming sentiment that when one development is approved or one zoning amendment changed, residents immediately claim that the sky is falling. Before Olympic Property Group developers Jon Rose and John Chadwell publically annouced potential plans to develop the Peninsula Shopping Center, I got the chance to talk to them about the overall development climate in Gig Harbor and how those looking to develop the area proceed with plans.
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It came as no surprise to me that the answer — not in their exact words — was something along the lines of walking through a minefield. And this was coming from two guys who had been through the ringer while they were developing the site for bringing in Costco at Gig Harbor North. When OPG first pitched the idea of putting in a Costco, it was welcomed with a resounding 6-0 vote against the project from the Planning Commission. Rose and Chadwell worked hard to do their research, get to know the community and basically assure folks that this was a strong development idea. The commission eventually recommended the project, and we all know how that turned out.
While the zoning amendment on waterfront Millville and the potential Olympic Towne Center plans continue to play out in a sometimes very verbal and contentious court of public opinion, it came as a surprise to me how OPG was proceeding with plans to develop the 1950s-era Peninsula Shopping Center. The development team wanted to pitch a series of potential plans to the community and see what kind of reaction they received. Since OPG and the site’s owners didn’t have any pressure to roll out the bulldozers and wrecking ball, they just wanted to dip their toe in the waters and see what residents thought. I did not attend the public fourm last week, but after talking to some community members and my staff, it seems nobody was up in arms about possible changes to the site. Yes, nothing is set in stone and no plans have been formally submitted to the City of Gig Harbor, but it seems like early returns signal that there may be a door cracked open for change.
Does that initial positive — or tepid — response give Rose and Chadwell warm fuzzies? Probably not. They’ve done deals in this town before and they’ve learned to proceed with caution.
The true test will be when the time for talking and visualizing is over. You can talk all you want about skydiving or bungee jumping, but until you’re in that plane or on that bridge with the reality of the situation staring you right in the face, nothing of any consequence will come of it.