Gig Harbor, Pierce Transit work together to help Fish food bank find a new home

Ron Coen, president of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Fish food bank’s board, shows a refrigerator now full of food thanks to community donations.
Ron Coen, president of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Fish food bank’s board, shows a refrigerator now full of food thanks to community donations. Staff file

The future of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Fish food bank is looking bright as the nonprofit works with Pierce Transit and the city of Gig Harbor to lease an acre of land near state Route 16 for a new food bank location.

A public hearing of a proposed property transfer of two parcels will be held during Monday's Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners meeting.

“This has been in process now for more than a year and half,” Ron Coen, one of the food bank's founders, said. “It is surplus property right where Hunt Street starts to intersect with Highway 16 near the old farmers market. There is still a process to go through. We need a larger piece of property because the needs of this community continue to grow. And we need to be ready for our future.”

Ron Coen and his wife, Jan, started the food bank more than 40 years ago in Gig Harbor and have been involved since. The Coens said they are hoping to build a new facility that will be just under 7,000 square feet to act as a grocery store-style food bank, new nonprofit offices and space for donations.

“We are looking to the next 40 years,” Ron Coen said. “We started out pretty small in 1976 and we continue to grow. We provide food for people in need. About half of our people are elderly or disabled. In addition to food we also … have a clothing store where people can get free clothing. We also work with the Peninsula School District where we provide funds for counselors for students and individuals. We also do a lot to prepare people for the job market, so we work with local colleges to provide transportation for those low-income students.”

In two months, eight students from Fish’s college program will be graduating with associate's and bachelor’s degrees from local schools. The nonprofit also provides financial aid for those with medical emergencies.

Ron Coen said they are waiting to lease the land from the city of Gig Harbor once Pierce Transit transfers the property. The transit agency purchased three adjoining parcels on Hunt Street in Gig Harbor in 2006 to build a Park & Ride that would connect with the existing Kimball Drive Park & Ride via a pedestrian bridge over SR16, according to a Pierce Transit press release.

“After the project was canceled in 2009 during the economic downturn, the agency was left with three surplus properties with no identifiable transit use,” the press release said. “In 2011, the Federal Transit Administration approved Pierce Transit’s request to dispose of these properties, and one of the properties sold in 2012.”

While there were offers on the two remaining parcels of 1.01 acres, there were challenges with them. They were located too far from city sewer services to connect affordably. A recent appraisal identified the highest and best use of these parcels as demolition of existing structures located on the sites and redevelopment of them for low-intensity use, the press release said.

Pierce Transit recently approached the Federal Transit Administration about transferring the two remaining parcels to the city of Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn said the deal with Pierce Transit started with the previous mayor and administration but was tied up by the Federal Transit Administration.

“We were working with Fish in the last year … with how this could work for a new facility for them,” Kuhn said. “But the (Federal Transit Administration) had to sign-off on this and it was stuck for over a year. And the (Federal Transit Administration) department wouldn’t really sign-off on this to let Pierce Transit sign it over to us.”

Kuhn said he met with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D–Gig Harbor, in January and Kilmer asked if there was anything he could do to help Kuhn or the city with their current projects.

“I said ‘one of the things you could do right away is you could get the federal government to sign-off on this piece of property,’” Kuhn said. “So Derek did. He got the (Federal Transit Administration) to sign over to Pierce Transit.”

Kuhn said he met with Pierce Transit two weeks ago and they are working on approving a transfer to the city. The intent of the transfer is for the land to be used by Fish food bank for the nonprofit’s operation. Once the transfer from Pierce Transit to the city is approved, the Gig Harbor City Council will host public comment during a regular city council meeting on a lease between the city and the food bank.

The lease between the city and the food bank has not been written, Kuhn said, but the city plans to allow the nonprofit to rent the land from the city for a “nominal fee.” Since the land consists of two parcels, and does not connect to the city’s sewer system, Fish will have to configure which parcel will house the new facility and the septic system and place parking on the other parcel.

“We can’t build a building crossing those two lines,” Ron Coen said. “There’s still a number of unknowns. We’re trying to build on the two plots so we are still working out details. There needs to be environmental studies and that sort of thing that has to be done yet. It’s a work in progress.”

Ron Coen, president of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Fish food bank’s board, shows a refrigerator now full of food thanks to community donations. Andrea Haffly Staff file

If the Coens' dreams come true and everything goes smoothly for the Fish Food Bank, they want to see a grocery store, offices, a conference room, social service agency offices and more in the new facility.

“It sounds like the new council and the new mayor are supportive of this,” Ron Coen said. “Right now we have 4,000 square feet and we have to use storage containers and we are stumbling over each other.”

Jan Coen said more than 800 individuals are fed each month through the food bank, including 320 families and those in emergency situations.

“We serve the whole Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula area,” she said. “And we move a little into the Olalla area.”

Kuhn said the city has approved $2,800 to be used on an environmental study on the land, making sure there is not a lot of expenses or cleanup needed for the land to be usable. Kuhn said he is going to attend Monday’s hearing in support of the land transfer.

Public comment will be taken at the Monday meeting but Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners will not make a decision until their May 14 meeting. Kuhn said he expects to see the lease with Fish food bank on the council’s agenda towards the end of May or in early June.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie

Public hearing

Pierce Transit will hold a public hearing on the proposed property transfer with a board meeting to follow May 14.

When: 4 p.m. Monday, April 9

Where: Pierce Transit Training Center, 96th St. SW, Lakewood, in the Rainier Conference Room 3720.

Questions or comments: Pierce Transit Senior Planner Janine Robinson at (253) 984-8156 or