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Gig Harbor council nixes possible obstacle to downtown development

The grove of trees, center, on the corner of Soundrview Drive and Harborview Drive could be clear cut and developed into apartment/condo housing. Gig Harbor City Council declined this week to put a proposed obstacle in the way of that development.
The grove of trees, center, on the corner of Soundrview Drive and Harborview Drive could be clear cut and developed into apartment/condo housing. Gig Harbor City Council declined this week to put a proposed obstacle in the way of that development. lwong@thenewstribune.com

In the latest chapter of debate about development in downtown Gig Harbor, the City Council on Monday opted not to move forward with a proposed revision of the city’s code for development agreements.

The council voted — with Councilman Ken Malich opposed and Councilman Steve Ekberg absent — to prepare a motion to not move forward with the citizen proposal.

By voting to cease consideration of the proposed amendment, the council maintained the existing city municipal code process that allows it to consider development agreements, including an application from the Ben B. Cheney Foundation’s One Harbor Point development.

The foundation has submitted an application to the city to develop a forested track of land in downtown Gig Harbor into high-end rental housing units and to build three single-family homes across Harborview Drive from the waterfront, along with a small public park.

A possible obstacle to that plan surfaced in November, in the form of a proposed code amendment from Gig Harbor resident and Metagenics founder Jeffrey Katke and his attorney Carol Morris. They proposed changing the development agreement chapter by removing the current provisions that allow deviations from development standards.

The amendment also would have instituted new requirements for development agreement applications, including alterations to the public notice process that would have expanded property owner notification from 300 to 1,000 feet surrounding a proposed development.

Monday’s decision came three hours into discussion of the amendment, which included a staff report from Planning Director Jennifer Kester, comments from Katke and Morris, and contentious public comment.

I am not against development agreements. However, I am against development agreements that provide developers specific privileges not available to regular citizens.

Jeffrey Katke, Gig Harbor resident

“I am not against development agreements,” Katke said. “However, I am against development agreements that provide developers specific privileges not available to regular citizens.”

Katke has said he believes the city’s development agreement process violates state law because it allows developers to use the agreements to sidestep zoning.

Morris told the council that the city’s public notice standards provide minimal opportunity for public comment and participation, and that the amendment would provide an objective process for the city to use to consider development agreements.

Mayor Jill Guernsey asked the crowd of more than 100 people to remain respectful of differing opinions and keep their comments focused on the amendment under question. But several people took the opportunity to give impassioned pleas to slow development and preserve Gig Harbor’s downtown and open areas.

Public comment largely favored the adoption of the amendment, with many longtime residents and descendents of founding families stating that the downtown area should be protected as a historic district.

Speaking against the Katke amendment were representatives of several Gig Harbor residents and area developers, who were in favor of the council retaining the control and flexibility that they say development agreements provide.

The city’s development agreement chapter was adopted in 1999 and updated in 2009 for the Gig Harbor North area, then updated again in 2013 to expand the provisions to the downtown area as part of the downtown visioning process, Kester said.

The city of Gig Harbor has executed 17 development agreements since 1999, with one agreement — the Harbor Hill development in Gig Harbor North — approved with deviations. No development agreements have been executed in the downtown area.

Development agreements that ask for deviations from the city’s development standards cannot ask for changes exempting them from building or fire codes, the shoreline master plan, variances in environmentally critical areas or for changes that would be deemed a life safety issue, she said.

If the development is not in a critical area or within the shoreline jurisdiction, development agreements can request changes in setbacks, landscaping buffers, density, structure height or size, use or public works standards, such as alterations to sidewalks that do not present a public safety concern.

If the development is not in a critical area or within the shoreline jurisdiction, development agreements can request changes in setbacks, landscaping buffers, density, structure height or size, use or public works standards, such as alterations to sidewalks that do not present a public safety concern.

The city attorney says the city’s development agreement process complies with state law.

A desire for flexibility in Gig Harbor development was voiced by many council members as a reason to not adopt Katke’s proposed amendment, though Malich — who attended and voted via phone — said he was unsure about the legality of the city’s development agreement process.

Council members also voiced support for more transparency and public involvement, and directed staff to ask the planning and building committee to review possible improvements during its March 5 meeting.

Many in attendance continued to voice their opinions during council comments, shouting over Councilwoman Rahna Lovrovich and attempting to continue the discussion after Guernsey announced the council would move forward to the next agenda item.

Morris was among those who demanded further answers from the council, asking for a clear decision so that it could be appealed.

A resolution directing staff to stop working on Katke’s proposed amendment will appear before the City Council at the next meeting, Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St. An agenda and further information can be found at cityofgigharbor.net.

Information from The News Tribune archives contributed to this report.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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