Gateway: Opinion

From the Helm: More of same ‘ole song with proposed downtown Gig Harbor development plan

The grove of trees, center, on the corner of Soundrview Drive and Harborview Drive could be clear cut and developed into apartment/condo housing.
The grove of trees, center, on the corner of Soundrview Drive and Harborview Drive could be clear cut and developed into apartment/condo housing. lwong@thenewstribune.com

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before ...

A developer comes up with an idea to embark on a plan that has the potential to change some element of downtown Gig Harbor. He does his homework; speaking to some local business owners, pouring over plans with his staff of architects and planners, pitching his plan to residents in front of public forums, and meeting with city officials.

And then? Poof! The plan is never heard from again.

After details emerged of the latest plan that features the Ben B. Cheney Foundation buying and developing forested land at a busy intersection in downtown, many questions flashed in my mind:

A. How much time — and/or money — does this development team to battle a strong wave of opposition?

B. How many times will the opposition bring up the same concerns (traffic congestion, noise, blocked sight views, the shattering of the status quo) that have prevented other plans from moving forward?

C. Is Gig Harbor developing a reputation for being an impenetrable fortress for developers (and perhaps many residents looking to move there) in the downtown core?

I’ve talked with various developers and business owners about downtown development over my two years here and many have expressed a high level of frustration for all the effort it takes to get something done downtown. Now that’s not a shot at the city’s planning department or the City Council; there are a ton of factors in play.

While I understand the logical reasons for some of the opposition to any project, as noted in The News Tribune’s story, this proposed development is targeting a 55 and older demographic for its rental units. The development is also planning for all of the parking to be accommodated within the site. The traffic piece doesn’t make a ton of sense to me because most of these residents would be walking to most of their destinations downtown. That’s the point of living downtown, right?

I feel the traffic excuse is really overblown. How can anyone possibly predict the impact with so many variable factors?

Also included in this proposed plan is a 0.59-acre waterfront parcel with the building and its adjacent marina, which would potentially be donated to the city, according to Brad Cheney, foundation board president.

Some of the discussions I was a part of touched on that parcel potentially being a perfect home for the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team. That would solve the back and forth over the previously proposed spot at Ancich Park.

If this proposed plan fails to materialize, who’s to say that the next developer — with likely zero ties to Gig Harbor — would be willing to do the same in donating a building to the city? Certainly not when they could develop that lot into million-dollar homes that cater to snow birds who will only be in town three or four months out of the year.

I certainly see the perspective and perhaps frustration of those who drive around Gig Harbor and see development at the new Fred Meyer complex near Uptown or the construction of Heron’s Key on the north side of town. They can’t help but ask, “Is there any place that isn’t being developed?”

Perhaps many want to keep downtown a sacred place, kind of a throwback to simpler times and free from urban sprawl.

But how long can that kind of thinking persist before it starts hurting business owners and Gig Harbor’s image?

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, themstreet@gateline.com, @gateway_tyler

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