Gateway: Opinion

Commentary: Keep an open mind for community growth when it comes to One Harbor Point project

The Cheney Foundation’s proposal will create a walkable neighborhood that includes valuable public improvements, such as view corridors and public access to the waterfront. As a bonus, the plan boasts a gift to the city for public use — a second parcel home to a notable boat barn building and marina.
The Cheney Foundation’s proposal will create a walkable neighborhood that includes valuable public improvements, such as view corridors and public access to the waterfront. As a bonus, the plan boasts a gift to the city for public use — a second parcel home to a notable boat barn building and marina. jbessex@gateline.com

As president of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, I have many opportunities to hear from people in the community regarding local growth.

Some are concerned with traffic; others with population growth. Others believe we are at risk of losing the unique character of our community and should just stop growing altogether — or even return to what they imagine as “the good old days.”

No matter where you fall on the growth issue debate, there are certain realities that subjective opinion cannot change: The state’s population will continue to grow, and driven by the Growth Management Act and increasing popularity, our beloved Gig Harbor will absorb new neighbors and add new businesses to employ and serve them.

And yet, in the face of reality, some believe that only a hard, no growth position is the solution. Those folks seek to influence our hearts and minds with slogans like “Make Gig Harbor Great Again!” For them, perhaps only going back in time or building a wall will do. Not being in a mood to share, they would hang up a “Keep Out” sign for those having the audacity to desire to live here too.

Others believe some are snubbing their nose at this community’s proud heritage. But that is not true. Think about the significant amount of taxpayer money invested in recent years to preserve historic buildings such as Eddon Boat and the Skansie Netshed, and also used to purchase desirable properties for public use in the downtown area and around the city.

Another faction seems determined to control how we all live in Gig Harbor. I’m not referring to our elected officials here but rather to the small, high-volume collective claiming to be “The Voice of the People.” But of what people? How was the collective selected to represent your interests? No one knows. Yet they would have you believe every change in our community is a travesty, a dramatic undoing of the past — the work of a mysterious cabal operating in secret behind closed doors. Granted, conspiracy theories appeal to some.

For example, take the property known as One Harbor Point to be located across from the Judson and Soundview Avenue intersection. The Cheney Foundation is patiently passing through many hoops to purchase this piece of land. The foundation’s proposal will create a walkable neighborhood that includes valuable public improvements, such as view corridors and public access to the waterfront. As a bonus, the plan boasts a gift to the city for public use — a second parcel home to a notable boat barn building and marina. And income generated by the neighborhood appropriate homes on the site will support the foundation’s charitable giving.

The truth is, One Harbor Point is an enormous opportunity for our city and the community.

An inspired idea, and a win-win if ever there was one. Yet, the no growth special interest naysayers are working hard to convince you that this worthy project is a conspiracy born of evil, rule-breaking developers and the city of Gig Harbor. They are spreading misinformation. Don’t believe them. The truth is, One Harbor Point is an enormous opportunity for our city and the community.

Here’s why I believe this project makes perfect sense. First, this is a valuable piece of property estimated by a local realtor to be valued at $3 to $5 million. Second, the current owner is not interested in retaining ownership, so another buyer will come along at some point. And third, selling this property to another developer could mean a commercial building would be built on part of the property, since a portion is zoned for that purpose, and a hodgepodge of large private homes on the other part with no regard for view corridors, public access or tailoring to neighborhood character.

But what about the trees, you ask? Here’s the reality: They are sure to be removed because it is too dangerous to leave just a few standing. We learned that lesson from the tragic Gig Harbor North accident in 2015. Of course, new trees will be planted. But what you see today is not likely to remain much longer no matter who buys the property.

Friends and neighbors, the naysayers want you to make a false choice between One Harbor Point as proposed and … no change. Don’t fall for it because that is not going to happen. There will be change. The real choice is between a high quality community asset and an undesirable jumble of commercial and residential buildings.

The Cheney family has offered a great gift to our Gig Harbor and its residents — the kind of consideration not typically granted in most development situations. Don’t be fooled into believing that a very vocal activist group is going to “save the trees.” That is also not going to happen. Except in the highly unlikely event that a beneficent new buyer steps up to convert the unused, overgrown parcel into a park or refuge.

We live in one of the most educated communities in the state. So let’s be smart and open-minded in how we approach development. Please take the time to learn about the One Harbor Point Development is really all about. Then decide if you agree that it would be a good fit for our community. The Cheneys have invited input from the community from the very beginning. They have also reached out to many organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, for advice and support. Our Board of Directors has looked at the details of the project and we believe One Harbor Point will be a real asset for the future of our community.

Opportunity is knocking. Will we open the door or lock out positive change?

Warren Zimmerman, president of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at wzimmerman@gigharborchamber.com.

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