Monday night’s Gig Harbor City Council meeting was the first of many for the four new Council members who were sworn in.
Council members Jeni Woock, Spencer Abersold, Bob Himes and Jim Franich were sworn in to office by new Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn. Kuhn was sworn in to office in December by pro-tem Mayor Paul Kadzik.
In a not-so-unexpected turn of events, Kuhn announced that David Rodenbach, the city’s finance director, will serve as interim city administrator. During his first week in office, Kuhn let go former City Administrator Ron Williams, following up on one of his campaign promises.
“My first goal will be to hire an experienced, effective and competent city administrator, a seasoned professional who will help me implement the vision for our community,” Kuhn wrote in a question-and-answer segment which ran in September in The Gateway.
“Thursday, we put out five pages of requirements to 36 recruitment companies,” Kuhn said during the meeting. “We want a good city administrator.”
One for the birds
During a portion of the meeting, Kuhn opened the floor for Council members to make public comments or announcements about future meetings, city happenings and more. On her first day as a City Councilwoman, Woock made a clear statement that she is hoping to place something on a February agenda to help create a protection zone for “possible heron nesting sites” on the Haub property at the corner of Harborview Drive and Soundview Drive.
“There was a heron study done on property across (from) the Tides (Tavern). That property was for many years as designated a heron nesting area,” Woock said. “The study that was done and sent to the city last April said there were adult herons on that property but no evidence of nesting. So that property is now unprotected.”
Woock then brought out a sheet of paper, stating it contained a “second part” to the study that was not included in the discussion about protecting the heron before development contracts with the city were created.
“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife priority habitats species recommends former nesting colonies as applying to an active colony, should remain in effect for 10 years after nesting ends. We recommend that the habitat have protection through 2024,” Woock read from the paper.
“So I would like to ask that we put this recommendation on the agenda for the first meeting in February so we may discuss herons, their home and we may take a vote on it,” Woock requested of the city staff during the meeting “Furthermore, I’d like to ask to immediately make sure these trees do not get cut before we are able to address this recommendation.”
Woock also claims there is a proposed project for this property again, but the Haub family has not publicly commented on what it plans to do with the property.
Studies released in June conclude that there is no active nesting by great blue herons at the Haub property. The studies — conducted cooperatively by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Soundview Consultants LLC — began in March 2016 at the request of the landowner. While no nesting behavior from the birds at the site was recorded by officials, the birds were spotted roosting on the site during the winter.
According to the report, the recommendation from WDFW biologist Michelle Tihri, states that the “habitat protection be afforded this site thru 2024 in the event that herons return to nest. If during this period the site becomes active, the site should receive full protection as an active heronry.”
However, the report states, “the recommendation to continue habitat protection of this site thru 2024 is at the discretion of the jurisdiction and is not enforceable by state law.”
The potential of the location as a heron nesting site was early on considered an obstacle to some for the proposed One Harbor Point development by the Cheney Foundation. The development agreement called for construction of 35 dwelling units in 10 townhouse-style structures on the upland triangular side of the property and three single-family dwellings on the waterfront.
The second waterfront site, containing the Boat Barn and associated marina, would be conveyed as a gift to the city for public use.
In November, the Cheney Foundation backed out of the project, with no clear statement about why it decided to not go through with the proposal. The statement did not detail what the Haub family plans to do with the land now that One Harbor Point will not move forward.
Before city staff could give a response about placing something on the February agenda, Kuhn commented that city council and staff should take caution and have some more talks on the subject before action was taken.
“The trees are great, but be cautious,” Kuhn said. “Because, even though I know how much I like all the herons and trees, I just know we have to be cautious cause the plat is legal right now. We have to be cautious not to do things against that are already laws on books.”
Tabling an ordinance
The only action item on the agenda was the first public reading and a possible vote for a text amendment that would allow commercial sites on the city’s Waterfront Commercial District to be used as community halls with a conditional use permit. That type of use is not allowed, even with a CUP, in the district.
The amendment would affect all commercial properties in the district but is directed toward the Gig Harbor BoatShop, which would like to rehabilitate Eddon Boatyard House and make the first floor a community hall.
The Gig Harbor BoatShop is trying to find a way to open the historic building to the public year-round, by using the first floor as a community hall 180 days a year and using it as an extension of its store the other 185. To do this, an amendment to allow a CUP was the best option, according to city staff.
Council discussed the idea, bringing up concerns that public events such as weddings could spill out into the local park and cause noise, parking issues and more for nearby residents.
Staff told the Council that having the ability to create CUP for the site would mean the city could control certain variances such as limitations on the number of people, where the event can take place in and around the building and more.
“I think that the Gig Harbor BoatShop is a great addition to the community. But I think there are still a lot of things that need to be worked out on this issue,” Councilman Jim Franich said. “We need to work on who will handle bookings, clean-up and what the fees will be for the house. At this point it is probably the most prudent thing to slow down and move forward with working on in-house and have work-study session to work out some issues.
“I need to see some willingness that we set an overall cap on the number of uses at any one event. I don’t think it’s fair to the neighborhood, since Ancich Park is not open yet. I don’t want to see events at the brick house to be ground zero that will bring 200 people into the park.”
The Council chose to table any action on the amendment until further discussions have been had regarding events in the district.