Gateway

City council puts halt on housing with unexpected moratorium on residential developments

The city council placed a moratorium on residential development applications at its meeting Monday night.
The city council placed a moratorium on residential development applications at its meeting Monday night. phaley@thenewstribune.com

In an unexpected move by Gig Harbor City Council, a moratorium was placed on residential development for six months within in city limits.

Towards the top of the meeting, the council went into an executive session for 20 minutes, most likely to discuss potential litigation if the moratorium was approved. After heated discussion, the council voted 6-1 to approve ordinance No. 1383, which placed the six-month moratorium on certain residential developments.

The ordinance states “a six month moratorium upon the receipt and processing of subdivision applications and applications for building permits and other land use development approvals associated with residential development.”

The exceptions to the moratorium include:

  • Any valid permits that need to be processed that were filed before the moratorium passed.
  • Permits for repair, remodeling, restoration or additions to single-family dwellings.
  • Replacement of any existing single-family dwellings.
  • Permits and applications for “accessory uses and structures associated with existing residential dwellings units.”
  • Applications for final plats, final short plats.
  • Any site improvements or utility extensions that are necessary to obtain approval for final plats, final short plats or preliminary plat applications submitted before the moratorium was placed.

The idea for a moratorium on residential development came during an eight-hour council retreat on Jan. 31. During the retreat, city Planning Director Jennifer Kester discussed the planning and development process for the benefit of the new council. This included zoning, rezoning, amendments, master plans, city ordinance changes and more. Many of the new council members voiced concerned about projects that started before their terms and how they could go about using a moratorium to put a halt on development agreements and processes for an amount of time until the council has decided what they would like to see happen in regards to growth in Gig Harbor.

As Kester explained in the Jan. 31 meeting, moratoriums are considered an emergency measure, therefore the council can legally last minute place a moratorium on a council meeting budget and no public comment is necessary before a decision is made by council.

During the Jan. 31 meeting, Councilmember Bob Himes said his major concern regarding many of the proposed development projects is density. Councilmember Jeni Woock also discussed the idea of down-zoning many areas to lower the allowable density of future residential properties.

Moratoriums were meant to be placed on the Feb. 5 special meeting agenda, but according to Councilmember Michael Perrow, the word moratorium was never used.

“I just received this nine-page ordinance 20 minutes ago,” Perrow said. “We never used the word moratorium during the (Feb. 5) meeting. This was hardly any time to read this.”

Perrow started a tense conversation during Monday’s city council meeting, making it clear he believed the discussions during public meetings and the handling of the moratorium seemed to lack transparency, a large promise made by recent councilmembers during their recent campaigns.

“We all knew there was going to be changes to developments and a moratorium has pros and cons,” Perrow said. “This is a bit of a manufactured emergency. The path to this decision troubles me and it has to do with lack of transparency.”

Perrow said although the special meetings and council retreats were public, no mention of a moratorium was set on the agendas and the recordings and minutes of the meetings took days to be placed on the city’s website.

“I hope, moving forward in the next four years, the transparency pledge is kept,” Perrow said, to a round of applause from the meeting’s audience.

The moratorium was passed without any public comment. According to the city, the moratorium was chosen because council found the “rapid pace of development has created vast concern” to residents and that vesting of certain applications would be “detrimental to public health and safety.” Mayor Kit Kuhn said the city will have to receive official public comment on the moratorium during the March 26 regular city council meeting.

This did not stop residents in the crowd from commenting on the council’s decision.

“This is a huge overreach of government,” resident Paul Conan said during the meeting. Conan’s family, who have lived within Gig Harbor limits since the 1930s, decided to start developing a multifamily complex on their land on Burnham Drive in Gig Harbor. They have spent the past two years working with the city. He says the moratorium is putting a halt to their plans and affecting their livelihood.

“We are not faceless, out-of-town developers,” Conan said. “To come at this from nowhere and take the livelihood from my 86-year-old mother … well I was hoping you were better than that.”

Resident Karen McDonald also took to the podium to tell the council she was shocked at the quick decision and warned them against what appeared to be a lack of communication between politicians and constituents.

“My heart is racing after hearing of this bombshell,” McDonald said. “It makes me nervous when things happen fast. Even though I am in favor of slowing development, you can get yourselves in a lot of trouble when you move this fast.”

Himes and Woock said the moratorium will give the council a “breather from being overrun with applications” before any concrete decisions on how to slow down growth in Gig Harbor can be made.

“Legislation could have been introduced immediately,” Himes said. “And we could have gone crazy. This is not a permanent action and I will leave it at that.”

IN OTHER NEWS

During the meeting, the local Gig Harbor Elk’s Club celebrated its 150th anniversary with a proclamation by the mayor that Feb. 12 as Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Day.

“They show dedication to the community and support to those who need a helping hand,” Kuhn said. “The elks are steadfast in honoring the nation’s military members and veterans.”

The national Order of the Elks was founded in 1868 in New York but was established in Gig Harbor 40 years ago.

Ralph Peterson, a member of the club, represented the organization during the meeting. He spoke about the club’s history and about the acts of charity the club tries to instill in the community.

“The order was established for social and charitable engagement,” Peterson said. “We are most appreciative that we have been presented with this proclamation.

Peninsula School District superintendent Rob Manahan spoke to the council about the upcoming bond election in April. Manahan gave a quick presentation on the process of creating the ballot measure and how the $220-million bond monies will be used if approved by voters on April 24.

“We can’t use our bond dollars for anything but building,” Manahan said. “We are tracked tightly. They will go towards enhancing the lives of our buildings. We need that 60 percent plus one to pass.”

Councilman Bob Himes said while campaigning he found his constituents were interested in supporting local education and were especially excited for the potential of the new elementary school. He questioned Manahan on where they feel a new elementary school will be built.

“We have been looking into traffic and land studies,” Manahan said. “But we are leaning towards the (Gig Harbor North) location.”

Kuhn said he is interested in finding a way to have the city officially support the passing of the $220-million bond.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie

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