There’s been talk around town lately about the fact that the population of Gig Harbor is growing.
Our current population is 8,555 and is expected to be at 10,000 by 2020. Some are upset by this increase and want the city to do something to reverse this trend.
Gig Harbor’s increased growth is not new, nor does it signal the end to the character of the city we love. In the 1970s, residents were in an uproar when Mayor Jake Bujacich supported putting in sewer lines and a waste water treatment plant downtown. Despite the environmental concerns caused by failing septic systems, some objected because it would encourage more people to move here. It will increase traffic, they said, and more people living here will destroy the character and quaintness of Gig Harbor.
Were they right? In some ways, yes; the population has increased and there is more traffic. Was the city therefore wrong to put in sewers? Should city leaders have ignored the fact that raw sewage was polluting our harbor in order to keep Gig Harbor from growing? Fortunately, the city put in the sewage treatment plant and prevented sewage from destroying water quality in the harbor.
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In the 1980s, citizens were again concerned because the city sought to annex the west side commercial area where the new Safeway, Uptown and Main & Vine are located. Mayoral candidate Gretchen Wilbert focused her campaign on the need to annex not only the commercial area, but the adjacent residential area as well. By doing so, the city could ensure that the size of the commercial area would be managed so that it did not grow like Silverdale.
Once the west side was annexed in 1997, the city’s population grew to 4,598.
Gig Harbor wasn’t the only place in Washington experiencing population growth. As a result of growth throughout the state, the Legislature adopted the Growth Management Act in 1990, which required counties, cities and towns to address growth by adopting comprehensive plans and provide for growth inside cities. Cities were further required to provide for residential development at an urban density, typically 4 dwelling units per acre.
Here are some examples of existing developments and their density. Subdivisions approved prior to the Growth Management Act include Cedarcrest off of Skansie, at 2.9 dwelling units per acre, and Northridge off of Peacock Hill, at 2.2 dwelling units per acre. My neighborhood, just downhill from City Hall, would not be approved under the Growth Management Act, as the lots are too big.
After the Growth Management Act became law, Gig Harbor adopted a comprehensive plan in 1994. The city’s plan provided for urban residential density. Bellesara, at the corner of Hunt and Skansie, and Jasmine Court, at the end of Stanich, are both 4 dwelling units per acre.
But what about traffic congestion? Who pays for the additional traffic caused by new development?
When the city adopted its comprehensive plan in 1994, it required that property owners pay for impacts caused by increased traffic from their development. This applies to new residential as well as commercial development. I will leave the issue of traffic to another time so that I can return to the topic of growth in general.
Will Gig Harbor continue to grow? Some say that the city cannot handle more growth as it will increase traffic and ruin the quaintness of Gig Harbor. What can we do to maintain the small town character that we treasure so very much?
I have a few suggestions. First of all, think about what makes Gig Harbor so special. Is it just our beautiful harbor and breathtaking view of Mount Rainier? Although the natural beauty of Gig Harbor is everywhere we look, for me Gig Harbor is a special place where people live here because they want to not because they have to. It’s special because neighbors talk with each other and help each other. It’s special because people smile and say hi when they are out and about. People here value the community and work tirelessly to keep it special.
Second, whether we like it or not, Gig Harbor’s population, and the population throughout the state, is going to increase. People may live in smaller houses on smaller lots, or perhaps in condominiums or apartments. They might even live where they can walk to shops and restaurants instead of driving.
Third, we must continue to value Gig Harbor as a community. Stay involved, volunteer, walk the waterfront and be friendly. Let the city know what you like about Gig Harbor. Smile a lot.
Accept that things do change whether we want them to or not. And be glad that we have sewers.
Jill Guernsey is mayor of Gig Harbor.