A lot of talking, no action on Gig Harbor building moratorium after Monday's city council meeting

The city council placed a moratorium on residential development applications at its meeting Feb. 13.
The city council placed a moratorium on residential development applications at its meeting Feb. 13.

Progress on the city’s residential building moratorium was nearly made during Monday’s city council meeting when the council chose to table two amendments to the moratorium that were elected by the council’s Planning and Building Commission on April 2.

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Gig Harbor Senior Planner Peter Katich said city staff has created three groups of code amendments for council review. Group one, what Katich referred to as “low-hanging fruit," were the two amendments brought to the council on Monday.

Amendment A states it will “clarify the moratorium for vested projects” to submit construction and building permits. It would apply to those residential projects that are vested, but are not single-family homes on individual lots of record, e.g. apartment buildings, multiple single-family residential on one lot.

Amendment B states it will “allow all pipeline projects to submit for building permits,” which allows builders or contractors to submit building permits if the site plan review applications were submitted before Feb. 12 and the site plan was subsequently approved. This affects one project, Pioneer Duplexes, which consists of four duplexes.

Councilmember Jeni Woock said she did not vote for the amendment B during the Planning and Building Committee meeting and would not vote for it during Monday’s meeting.

“If council does nothing to change zoning and reduce density then they will see another 50 percent increase,” Woock said. “Slowing growth looks like decreasing density. I am against this amendment.”

Councilmembers Spencer Hutchins and Bob Himes said they were for amendment B to the moratorium because it was only an amendment to the wording of the moratorium, which is temporary, instead of changes to permanent city codes. Councilmember Michael Perrow agreed with the amendments, saying it clarified a quickly written ordinance.

“Mistakes were made,” Perrow said. “That’s what happens when you have shotgun legislation that comes out 20 minutes before a vote. This will correct something that came out in a way we didn’t hope. Not everyone can stand up and say they were wrong.”

“The reason for this moratorium was to put multifamily homes on a hold for six months,” Woock said. “The project in amendment 'B' is a multifamily home.”

The council debated the issue, making multiple motions and then retracting them, before the council decided to table the amendments until the second reading of the amendments at an upcoming council meeting.

The council and mayor have until July 12 to make changes to the moratorium, residential development chapter of the city code or create any new codes before the six-month moratorium is lifted.

Municipal code amendments

The council then considered the overall approval of seven amendments to the Gig Harbor Municipal Code regarding chapters 16 “subdivisions” and title 17, “zoning”.

“I think we can all agree with the public we are tired of seeing houses stacked on top of other houses,” Councilmember Jim Franich said in regards to lower allowed density in specific residential and commercial zones.

While city clerk Molly Townslee said she was inundated with letters and emails from the public on the moratorium amendments , only a couple of residents chose to speak at the meeting.

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Marlene Druker, Gig Harbor resident, said she's worried the moratorium and amendments would restrict proper and beneficial growth and would keep certain parts of the population from being able to purchase homes in Gig Harbor.

“People who move here say, ‘I moved to Gig Harbor because I fell in love with this quaint fishing village’,” Druker said. “I moved here because I fell in love with a person whose roots were here, and there were things I really appreciated about being here … but even living in the most urban parts of the city it was impossible to get to most places without a car. Everyone knows our area has grown in population … council is focused on slowing growth, and is there anything positive to growth? The answer is lots of things. Growth means we gain great people to come and contribute to our community, it increases impact fees, increased home values, increased tax bases. And more people means more business and more things in walking distance of your home. I know change feels very scary and sudden, but I believe people can adapt. Because of growth we now have the YMCA and a hospital. We need more affordability when it comes to housing. We should be careful for putting in rules that would not allow that kind of housing to be built in our urban areas.”

Mayor Kit Kuhn said stores in downtown have been restricted by not allowing residential use of buildings on the second floors, above businesses, and wished to see an amendment made to create vertical zoning.

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Gig Harbor mayor Kit Kuhn.

“It would be good to consider language on vertical zoning,” Kuhn said. “When I had my store for so long I didn’t want residential above. Then I watched a lot of businesses die and I changed my mind. Businesses on second floors are really hard. I think it would have been a plus for the harbor.”

Malich requested the discussion of vertical zoning be brought up on a future council agenda. Franich argued with the mayor saying doing vertical zoning is taking away property rights because it would force property owners to only allow commercial or residential in one part of their building.

“You are saying you want to have the ability to have residential above commercial,” Franich said. “The idea of vertical zoning has been kicked around for quite some time. Before it was mandatory to have retail on the main floor. As long as you are not forcing someone who wants to have a residential on the main floor.”

Kuhn said he was not for that, but instead, for having commercial on the first floors and residential on the second.

“So you are for restricting property rights?” Franich asked.

The amendments were tabled until a future council meeting where there will be a possible vote to approve or deny the amendments. A complete list of the amendments can be found at

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie