Gig Harbor council still undecided on kayak club dock lease

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Facing an angry crowd of kayakers, Gig Harbor City Council members punted.

The council decided Monday to continue into August a debate on terms of the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing team’s lease on a waterfront park dock.

The council chambers were overflowing with citizens, with all seats filled and almost 50 people standing, and tempers were high because of concerns the club’s lease on Skansie Park would not be renewed.

It was all a misunderstanding, the anxious audience was told. The council intended to discuss only the logistics of the lease, not its termination, council members assured the crowd.

The popular kayak youth club has been leasing space on the dock at the downtown Skansie Park since 2013 while waiting for a proposed floating dock to be built at Ancich Park. Club coaches were worried because at least two council members, Ken Malich and Jim Franich, have said they want the lease terminated.

The lease renews automatically every six months until either party terminates the agreement. The city must provide 90 says notice to terminate.

Malich said the club is taking up too much public space, and the dock wasn’t intended to be a storage facility.

Currently the team has seven kayak racks, taking up 1,800 square feet of the park. Their current lease allows four racks, and 1,000 square feet.

The council discussed ideas such as expanding the team’s lease to 1,800 square feet, but a proposal to put his topic next council agenda was turned down 4-3.

Mayor Kit Kuhn suggested creating an ad hoc committee of three council members to discuss both the lease at Skansie Park and the proposed dock at Ancich Park. Council members Bob Himes and Spencer Abersold volunteered for the committee, but the council took no action to form one.

In the end, the council decided to continue discussion of the lease at its next meeting, set for August 12.

Malich hinted at the possibility of a third location the racing team might purchase, asking if they would be open to this possibility. Founding coach Alan Anderson said he would be open to discussing this idea.

The canoe and kayak team, a non-profit organization, is paying $1,500 a month for rent at Ancich Park, although they do not use this facility currently. Head coach Aaron Huston said this payment is in anticipation of the dock being built at Ancich.

At Skansie Park, the team pays no rent, but gets a portion of the park for the storage of their canoes and kayaks.

Malich said the city has an obligation to the public to ensure the park is not being used as a boat storage facility. Malich feels the team takes up too much space at a public park, and with no rent being paid, feels the contract needs to be terminated, perhaps with an eye to re-negotiating it in the future.

“It feels like we are being bullied by these council members — they are attacking us,” said Huston several days before the meeting. “Removing us from Skansie Park would effectively end our program.”

Malich said he has to consider the public interest.

“I don’t think ‘being bullied’ is a proper term,” Malich said, responding to Huston’s claim. “We have a responsibility towards the public, the people who voting us in office, and we are serving them.”

Huston said the kayak team takes up two percent of the 110,000-square-foot park.

“To say we take up a large portion really isn’t accurate,” he said.

Huston also acknowledged the club pays no rent at Skansie Park, but said its lease with the city is on the same terms made between the city and many other non-profits, including Harbor WildWatch, Skansie net shed, and the Harbor Boathouse.

“It’s in the city’s interest to partner with non-profits to provide recreation and community benefits,” Huston said.

If the council decides to terminate the lease, Malich said there are still plenty of options for the canoe and kayak team to launch their boats at Skansie. The only difference would be they would not have a storage facility.

“What’s to stop someone from bringing their kayak to Skansie Park and launching it? Nothing I know of,” Malich said. “There is no rule against any individual unloading their boat in the water. The suggestion we are running them out of the park is ridiculous — it is open to public use and they kayak team is a member of the public.”

Huston said this plan is not feasible or realistic, however.

“Can you imagine 50 boats being loaded and unloaded twice a day?” Huston said. “You talk about the traffic now, now you’re talking about crazy amounts of traffic where people are stopping to unload boats. We don’t want that, the local businesses don’t deserve that, and I don’t understand why it can’t stay how it is now.”

The proposed contract with the city has been recommended for approval by city staff. The accompanying resolution notes that GHCK is highly competitive youth program that won the USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships in 2012 and again in 2013.

The staff summary noted that the club is a “source of pride for the community” and cited the physical and health benefits to the youthful participants, as well as the club’s daily cleanup of the property and a cleanup at low tide once a quarter.