On three occasions already this year, the Gig Harbor Peninsula (and islands) Land Use Advisory Commission (PAC for short) failed to muster a quorum.
Why is missing a quarter of this year’s scheduled public meetings important? I’d like to explain.
Back in the 1970s and again in the late ’90s, volunteers from a wide range of interest groups forged a consensus description of the “nature” of our community, and then we wrote a community plan detailing how to preserve what we valued most in our environs. This community plan and one written by the Key Peninsula folks in the early 2000s have deeply influenced the evolution of Pierce County’s Comprehensive Plan for land use.
Because of these and other plans in unincorporated Pierce County, local citizens have a voice in land use decisions. In partnership with Planning and Lands Services (PALS), a volunteer commission now serves to advise landowners and developers how to make their proposals compatible with the vision of the community as a whole.
Twice a month, building plans that require a variance or other scrutiny are given a local hearing with PALS and PAC to make recommendations for the Hearing Examiner, who has ultimate authority to grant or deny such applications.
This year so far, for lack of a quorum, six development applications have gone forward to the Hearing Examiner without the PAC’s input. For lack of a quorum of merely four volunteers, neighbors lost an opportunity to speak.
The Gig Harbor Peninsula Community Plan is a bulky, wonky document that describes the public benefits of our wonderfully rich natural heritage. It expresses why we choose to live here in the first place. It contains local goals and standards for development, directives to monitor the cumulative effects of development, and desired stewardship actions. All these are necessary elements to retain our community’s “nature” and “livability,” in the face of inevitable population growth and severe alterations in water and weather conditions.
Service on the Peninsula Land Use Advisory Commission requires a commitment to as many as two evenings per month in approximately two-hour sessions. Service means becoming familiar with land use policies and regulations. Service means weighing the interests of individual landowners with the interests of neighbors and the public, which can get contentious.
Service means playing a part in meeting the challenges of the future.
There are nine seats on the PAC, only six volunteers are currently active. Applications are made online or in writing to the County Executive’s office, it involves an interview, and new commissioners are approved by the County Council — a process that can take as long as two months.
Commissioners are not likely to change the world, but benefits include becoming a smarter citizen of the 21st century and influencing your neighbors to be kinder to our shared environment.
Lucinda Wingard is a commissioner on the GHP Land Use Advisory Commission. She has lived 43 years on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. She also serves on the executive committee of the KGI (Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor, and Islands) Watershed Council.