After an executive session on Tuesday, the Gig Harbor City Council voted unanimously to purchase the controversial Haub property, which was once the site for the proposed One Harbor Point development.
Mayor Kit Kuhn said he has signed a sale purchase agreement to purchase the 2.5 wooded acres from the Haub family for $2.5 million. The city will put down a $625,000 payment toward the property and then make three more payments for $625,000 in the next three years. Kuhn said the contract also includes an interest rate of 1.96 percent which would equal to an additional $77,000 payment. The city now has 60 days to find the money in the budget, perform environmental studies, an appraisal of the property, a study of the house on the property and place the issue on a future council agenda for public comment. In 60 days, if all the requirements are met, the Haub family will sign the contract and finalize the sale of the property.
WHAT PUT THE PROPERTY IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The Haub property, located on Harborview Drive across from the Tides Tavern, became a hot-button issue in Gig Harbor last spring when the Ben B. Cheney Foundation began work with the previous city council on a development agreement that would allow for construction of 35 dwelling units in 10 townhouse-style structures on the upland triangular side of the property and three single-family dwellings on the waterfront. The second waterfront site, containing the Boat Barn and associated marina, would be conveyed as a gift to the city for public use.
During a public meeting in March 2017, over 130 residents showed up to speak on the issue. While a handful of residents supported the development agreement, a majority of those who showed up were against the clear cutting of trees. Jeni Woock, who was later elected to the current city council, was in the crowd , protesting against the development because it was believed to be a blue heron nesting site. During her campaign, Woock said she would protect any herons nesting in the area. She also brought up the issue during her first city council meeting in January.
“There was a heron study done on property across (from) the Tides (Tavern). That property was for many years as designated a heron nesting area,” Woock said during the January meeting. “The study that was done and sent to the city last April said there were adult herons on that property but no evidence of nesting. So that property is now unprotected.”
Studies released last June conclude that there is no active nesting by great blue herons at the Haub property. The studies — conducted cooperatively by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Soundview Consultants LLC — began in March 2016 at the request of the landowner. While no nesting behavior from the birds at the site was recorded by officials, the birds were spotted roosting on the site during the winter.
According to the report, the recommendation from WDFW biologist Michelle Tihri, said the “habitat protection be afforded this site thru 2024 in the event that herons return to nest. If during this period the site becomes active, the site should receive full protection as an active heronry.”
After turbulent public meetings and the November election that replaced a majority of the Gig Harbor City Council, the Ben B. Cheney Foundation announced in a letter to The Peninsula Gateway that it was backing out of its development agreement.
“It is with disappointment that the Ben B. Cheney Foundation has withdrawn the One Harbor Point Development Agreement proposal from the City of Gig Harbor,” Brad Cheney said. “The proposal was meant to share our vision for the project. It was our hope to create a residential neighborhood that would help revitalize the downtown core.”
Now it seems that the current city administration has worked a potential deal with the Haub family to preserve the site.
The Haub family’s attorney, John Barline with Harlowe & Falk LLP in Tacoma, confirmed the city was working with the family to purchase the land.
“The Haubs are currently working with the city very positively towards a potential sale,” Barline said.
THE DECISION TO PURCHASE
Kuhn said he sees this step as a way of preserving “the crown jewel of Gig Harbor.”
“It’s in the interest in Gig Harbor,” Kuhn said. “There was a consensus that (the city) really didn’t have the extra money to buy this, but the alternative of having … a beautiful forest be clear cut and developed, was not something that looking into the future would have been a positive thing for our community. If you look in our future, 10 years or 20 years, if we could have protected a beautiful open space, a crown jewel for our community, we would’ve probably regretted not buying it. The Haub family understands that.”
Woock said she is thrilled with the decision to purchase the property, with hopes the city will soon partner with an environmental group and turn the area into public lands and a protected site for herons to nest.
“For probably two or three years the (residents) of this community have said this is an important piece of property,” Woock said. “And we don’t want it clear cut and we want to protect the herons. And it’s an important gateway piece of property to Gig Harbor. These trees frame the Olympic Mountains.”
The alternative of having … a beautiful forest be clear cut and developed, was not something that looking into the future would have been a positive thing for our community. If you look in our future, 10 years or 20 years, if we could have protected a beautiful open space, a crown jewel for our community, we would’ve probably regretted not buying it. The Haub family understands that.
Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn
If everything goes well and the Haub family signs the sale of purchase contract in the next 60 days, the city will make only the smallest changes to the area. This will include cutting down any dangerous trees and possibly any other changes to the land required for public safety. Those changes depend on the future environmental studies.
“We are not going to do any capital improvements for quite sometime,” Kuhn said. “Our goal is not to actively change any (of the property) for a considerable amount of time.”
The property was recently appraised and was quoted to be worth over $4 million. After extensive talks between the city and the owners, the Haub family agreed to drop the price to $2.5 million, about $1 million an acre.
“When the Haubs gave us a reduced price it was agreeable that this would not be developed and it would stay in some form of a land trust,” Kuhn said. “Through time, the house can be turned into parking or a pavilion or whatever serves the public interest.”
Woock said in the future there will most likely be some walking trails and possibly a few features, such as a playground, for children. But mostly the site will remain a preserved wooded area.
“Our conversation in the meeting was that we would really like to find a nonprofit to partner with to create a heron habitat,” Woock said. “I think we have a really good opportunity to get this done.”
Kuhn said the money for the purchase will likely come from the general fund. The city council will be working with the city’s financial director and current interim city administrator David Rodenbach to allocate money in the budget.
“According to (Rodenbach) our city is financially stable,” Woock said. “And if this is what our (residents) want this is what they should get.”
Kuhn said the cost of the purchase will not affect the current city tax rate.
“There some money in the general fund as well as civic bonds,” Kuhn said. “Those bonds are already in place. We did look extensively at our budget and our obligations to see if this was realistic. And the rent from the house will pretty much cover the interest.”
The council voted unanimously in the executive session to start the purchasing process for the Haub property. Council member Ken Malich was not at the meeting and was not apart of the vote. The purchase property will be placed on a future city council agenda, but a date has not been determined yet.