Gateway

Gig Harbor residents say they feel like ‘small fish’ over city’s moratorium

Home construction continues at Harbor Hill in north Gig Harbor earlier this year.
Home construction continues at Harbor Hill in north Gig Harbor earlier this year. phaley@thenewstribune.com

A few landowners in Gig Harbor are feeling like “a small fish in a big situation” after a six-month moratorium passed by Gig Harbor City Council in February put a halt on their plans to build.

During Monday’s city council meeting, it was the first chance for public comment on the six-month residential building moratorium within city limits. The moratorium was set at the Feb. 13 city council meeting after a 20-minute executive session. 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.”

Resident Jeff Wilbert said he purchased property in Gig Harbor to build his retirement home. Three of his family members wanted a triplex and spent their life savings on purchasing the land, planning with the city and more. Because of the moratorium, Wilbert said, their plans have been pushed back a year.

“I am paying taxes on property I can’t use,” Wilbert said. “I’m paying double rent. In a year it could be close to $75,000 in inflation ... I think I’m a small fish in the pond. I would ask you to consider allowing the building of a duplex or triplex on a single-family lot.”

How can we be a welcoming city with culture that is growing so fast the culture is "being lost? We don't want to be in Bellevue. It's going to affect some people, but that's how the law works. We voted you in for change, to go in and protect the city's future. If you don't have a moratorium everybody will be coming. There are 100s of projects on the books.

Laura Hendricks, resident of Gig Harbor

Patrick James told the council he and his wife decided to purchase land in Gig Harbor to build townhomes, but after spending thousands, the city’s moratorium hasstopped their plans.

“Last summer in June my wife and I purchased a small lot off of Rosedale with the intent of building four townhouses,” James said. “We went to the city, jumped through all the hoops … we did everything that was asked and two days before we went in for our permits this moratorium hits.”

“I’m not putting in thousands of houses,” James said. “Most places to rent here have a three- to nine-month waiting list. I also feel like a small fish.”

Jessie Gamble, Master Builders Association’s Pierce County government affairs liaison, said the association was against the moratorium and saw it as a lack of transparency and a threat to economic development.

“The MBA understands the council is eager to move forward,” Gamble said. “We would love to have the opportunity to bring our expertise to … the city of Gig Harbor, we want to offer industry expertise.”

A majority of others said they support the moratorium and applauded the council for helping the city by “slowing down growth.”

Laura Hendricks said she is afraid the “culture” of Gig Harbor was being lost to a steadily growing population.

“How can we be a welcoming city with culture that is growing so fast the culture is “being lost?” she said. “We don’t want to be in Bellevue. It’s going to affect some people, but that’s how the law works. We voted you in for change, to go in and protect the city’s future. If you don’t have a moratorium everybody will be coming. There are 100s of projects on the books.”

While councilmember Bob Himes recommended taking the issues and examples presented during public comment to the Building and Planning Committee meeting, others such as councilmember Michael Perrow wanted to see work done Monday night.

0329 city council

“I brought snacks,” he said shaking a plastic bag. “I am planning to be here all night. This is not a six-month moratorium, this is a four-and-a-half month moratorium. I am disappointed we are not rolling up our sleeves and tackling this. We haven’t done anything yet.”

Councilmember Jeni Woock said she agreed with Himes about bringing the issue to the committee instead of making amendments during Monday’s meeting.

“We were overwhelmingly elected to slow down this growth,” Woock said. “We have to look at the codes and put them back together.”

Mayor Kit Kuhn said he also has concerns about the lack of work put into the city’s building codes and zoning maps since the moratorium was placed, but also said he did not want to have work done incorrectly due to urgency.

“We better start investing some time and we should invest it now,” Kuhn said. “I think there is a discussion we need right now because these are people’s lives.”

Himes reiterated his concerns about making any action the night of the meeting and instead pushed for his idea to bring it to committee.

“As an ex-rocket scientist, I can say this is harder than it looks,” Himes said. “I am tough on the facts, we don’t have all the facts here tonight. There has to be fairness. It’s not about who pleads the loudest. And there have been legal issues brought up and we have to watch our step.”

The council decided to take no action Monday night, instead adding the moratorium to the next Planning and Building Committee public meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. April 2.

The council also approved a contract between the city and Sound Municipal Consultants for no more than $40,000. The contract allows Sound Municipal Consultants to work as advisers to the city to help amend the moratorium, city building codes and master plan zoning.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie

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