Work begins at Courtyards at Skansie site
A development sidetracked for years in a legal battle between the City of Gig Harbor and developers has come back to life.
Recent tree-clearing has taken place on land that eventually will become The Courtyards at Skansie, an 18.8-acre development at Hunt Street Northwest and Skansie Avenue. Plans for the project, first proposed around 2006, call for 174 detached single-family homes.
No estimates yet as to what they’ll cost buyers.
“We are determining amenities and finish levels now, which will determine the price point,” said Becky Susan, marketing agent for developer Rush Residential.
Courtyards — for now, Rush’s biggest residential project — first was envisioned as an affordable housing alternative for those working in Gig Harbor.
The homes, most of them two-story, will be 1,000 to 1,800 square feet and offer different designs, Susan said. Early design plans are reminiscent of homes at Seabrook, the Washington coast beach cottage community, she said.
Rush sees Courtyards as a place “where people can come to downsize, families can come back to Gig Harbor to live,” she said. “We recognize that they need to embody the look of Gig Harbor and downtown harbor, with a Craftsman fishing town feel.”
More than 30 percent of Courtyards “will remain natural woodlands, walking trails and recreational spaces,” Susan said. Plans call for several trails around the perimeter, plus a central park and three satellite parks, she said.
“For every tree removed,” Susan said, “we will plant three new ones, as well as relocate more than 2,400 indigenous shrubs throughout the home sites.”
Construction “should begin later this fall,” she said, with mid-2019 as the target date for the first homes to be move-in ready.
DENSITY AND DELAYS
Rush has gotten to this point after years of sparring with the City of Gig Harbor over the density of the development and how much of Courtyards would be set aside as open space.
Plans call for the development to have just under 12 dwelling units per acre. For comparison, Harbor Crossing, a 172-lot development behind the Gig Harbor Target, is at 13.5 units per acre and Rush’s 31-home Bellesara development on the other side of Skansie at four units per acre.
Since the city started grappling with the project, Courtyards has had at least 30 percent of the development set aside as open space.
How Rush arrived at that open-space calculation and the project’s density became dual battles in and out of court from roughly 2006 to 2010 and contributed to delays in the project. Another legal battle was over the project’s delay itself.
After all that and the Great Recession, the local housing market gradually came back to life and prices shot up.
Today, Gig Harbor has the highest-priced median homes in Pierce County, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service. In July, median closed home sale prices for Gig Harbor were at $491,000. In August, it rose to $500,000.
Courtyards is what’s known as a vested plat development, meaning it subject to land-use restrictions in effect when it gained preliminary approval in 2007.
That also means it’s not affected by Gig Harbor’s recent six-month moratorium on new residential projects, enacted to slow the pace of growth.
Courtyards, however, might have been one of Gig Harbor’s developments to inspire recent amendments to the moratorium the City Council passed.
One amendment eliminated a bonus density allowance covering developments, such as Courtyards, that are zoned RB-2 (residential and business.) In Courtyard’s case, the allowance enabled it to go to 12 dwelling units per acre from eight.
“In the RB-2 zone, you can no longer use the conditional-use permit process to go up to 12 dwelling units per acre,” said Gig Harbor’s planning director, Jennifer Kester. “But this (Courtyards) is a vested plat approved in 2007. It is still allowed to move forward because approval hasn’t expired.”
The City Council still needs to review and approve the project’s final plat, which might happen by the end of September. The final plat process sees that conditions and terms approved for preliminary plat have been met.
“We still need to get through the final plat process and building permit process,” Kester said. “Neither have a public comment period. The terms of the project have been decided, so the job of the city is to make sure it is built out meeting these plans as well as to insure permits get issued and built accordingly.”
Another issue was how the development will affect congestion in the area already dealing with heavy traffic near Borgen Boulevard and Olympic/Point Fosdick.
Both sides point out steps taken to ease the problem.
“Rush has contributed significantly to the city’s infrastructure and is currently financially assisting to improve nearby city intersections at Hunt/Wollochet,” Susan wrote via email.
Details on the financial assistance were not disclosed.
According to city engineering officials, at the Hunt and Skansie intersection, Rush must build a right turn lane from westbound Hunt onto Skansie. At Hunt and Wollochet, the developer must construct left turn pockets at each Hunt leg of the intersection.
The city must accept the left-turn lane work before it will issue certificates of occupancy, Kester said.
The right turn for westbound Hunt drivers turning onto Skansie goes with the other frontage improvements, including curbing and gutter sidewalks “fully developed like you see on Bellesara side,” Kester said.
As part of the development process, the frontage improvements have to be completed before final plat.