There’s definitely something cathartic about cheering and yelling at a sporting event.
Whether you are passionate about your team, favorite player or an opponent’s star player that you love to hate, when you are offered an opportunity to speak your mind, there is definitely a release.
For some locally, that sports venue is the modern-day town square and the thing they are passionate about is Gig Harbor.
During a Gig Harbor City Council Planning and Building Committee meeting last week at the Civic Center, residents packed the Council Chambers ready to voice their complaints or concerns (I assume) about the proposed One Harbor Point development. More than 100 Gig Harbor residents overflowed from the chambers to hear the presentation and also express their displeasure at the lack of availability for public comment with signs raised during the meeting bearing quotes from the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.”
Many were eagerly anticipating the opportunity for public comment so they could step up to the podium and perhaps vent some of their frustrations to the City Council members surrounding the future of downtown Gig Harbor, the perceived encroachment by land developers and how the quaint city they love is turning into an overdeveloped suburb that is hardly recognizable to them anymore.
The One Harbor Point proposed development seems to especially get residents’ blood boiling due to the fact it is located in a fairly wooded spot that represents the entryway of downtown for those coming from the south on Soundview Drive — and the fact the project’s developers are proposing a list of several deviations from the city’s development standards for that specific zone. The project has the opportunity to transform the in-question space dramatically — positively or negatively depending on who you ask.
Although residents may sometimes feel like the city’s Planning Department and the City Council are rushing through the long and arduous process to get the development built without feedback from the community, after meeting last week with Jennifer Kester, the city’s planning director, I can definitely say that is not the case.
Although some documents the planning staff makes available to the public are full of vernacular popular in land-use planning circles (i.e. hard for the ordinary citizen to translate), the process is rather straightforward when it comes to the process of finalizing a development agreement. Starting in 2009 and amended in 2013 to include projects specific to downtown, city planners developed a six-step process that a proposed project goes through. It has three different categories depending on the scope of the project: Standard Development Agreements, Comprehensive Plan Amendments and Development Agreements with Deviations. Projects with deviations get the most scrutiny.
While this process isn’t common among cities the size of Gig Harbor, it’s not unique, Kester said.
“It provides the public a lot of opportunities to interact (with city officials) to better understand the process,” she said. “It’s a learning and listening process.”
To get a better idea of the process, you can read about the complete process at http://bit.ly/2q1bRT6 and click on Related Docs, which will bring up the public process document.
The thing to pay attention to is when in the process is the time to tell Council members how you feel. In the early phases, the project and its developers go through neighborhood meetings in an open house format. There is also a public meeting in a workstudy format, which in One Harbor Point’s process, was last week. In that stage, committee members are learning about the individual projects themselves. They can choose whether or not to open the session up to comments from citizens.
The process rewards — my words, not Kester’s — those who listen to all the pieces of the project before they make their public comment. As the process inches closer to the vote on whether or not to allow the development agreement, the likelihood of a well-researched comment hitting home with the Council is much greater if one has sat through all the stages of the process and learned about the project.
Here is the kicker of the entire process: At any point, the Council can kill the project before it moves on to the next phase.
“There is a heck of a lot of risk (for developers),” Kester said.
That means that despite the money, time and effort developers have invested in drawing up plans, gathering data or conducting studies, if it doesn’t fit into the Council’s vision for Gig Harbor, the plan dies.
Although that exact vision of Gig Harbor may differ among residents, the transparent process behind it is rather straightforward.