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Build a Model for the Future Downtown

This is one person's response to the language and map displayed on the promotional brochure for a draft Harbor Vision statement.

On October 18, 2012, Mayor Chuck Hunter and Council member Jill Guernsey displayed the results of late afternoon public process to develop a Harbor Vision.  These early results displayed an expansion of the planning limits of the City of Gig Harbor’s downtown, particularly in low density residential areas.  

The key to living in a nice town is the ability to imagine and build institutions, structures and spaces that enable us to live, work, and play in a healthy, accessible, attractive, engaging, sustainable town. 

In order to accomplish this, the municipal Harbor Vision needs to explain what citizens, business owners, and local residents expect in the present and envision for the future. 

What tourists want should be an important but clearly secondary concern. 

Typically, downtowns have the most intense and dense uses for both residential and business purposes in the town.  In Gig Harbor, intensity and density is constrained by neighborhood and historical precedence, but the principal is still generally true. 

The Vision Statement draft’s expression about enhancing the Harbor’s working waterfront and promoting its historical charm is important.  The need to focus on quality of life is more important.  To me, this partly entails preserving the historical integrity of low density residential areas. 

The City of Gig Harbor’s village atmosphere is part of its brand, and its low density, harbor basin residential areas are the most significant part of its brand, other than waterfront uses themselves.

A lot of the contemporary downtown is simply unused.  It should be used for both business and residence with as much mixed use structuring as possible.

I hope the City Council will be careful and thoughtful about a re-interpretation of the downtown as something more comprehensive than the Finholm Business Area B-2, the DB, the WC, and the Waterfront Millville zones.  

The visioning map used in the promotion for the October 18, 2012, meeting suggested the downtown as the entire lower basin of the municipal limits, including low density residential zones.  While intuitively attractive, this notion could be the precursor of needless debates over increased densities and expanded uses throughout the various zones in the Gig Harbor municipal basin, especially the R-1 and R-2 zones.

It’s prudent to focus the downtown visioning product on the Commercial Business and Waterfront Land Use Designations.

Valuing the working waterfront and preserving the historical legacy of the downtown area are important.  As important, maybe more so, is what to foster and support in the DB and WC zones from Milgard’s largely under-developed strip mall property through the Tides Tavern area to the Red Rooster.

It would be great to have a Harbor Vision statement that focuses exclusively on the Commercial Business and Waterfront Land Use Designations around Gig Harbor Bay.   Hopefully, such a Harbor vision statement would lead to an accessible, inclusive public process held at night, instead of in the afternoon.  One quality outcome of such a process could be a 3-D or at least a graphic understanding of the municipal vision to renew the downtown.

Anything short of 3-D or graphic understanding of a desired downtown future will fail to capture real public understanding of the agendas and possibilities that will be expressed in response to the Harbor Vision.  

In other words, without a vision we can all see, subsequent discussions about land use designations and zoning and about density, intensity and types of use will result in political shenanigans and profit-motive malarkey.

It would be best to take some time, develop a significantly inclusive public process, and build a model.

Click here to view the City of Gig Harbor's Zoning Map and Land Use Map.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Thorpe October 20, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Mark, Your point about meeting in the evening for public input is extremely valid. The "public" in the afternoon is likely to consist primaily of developers and other special interest groups. Ordinary citizens who have to work for a living are shut of the process that occurs during working hours.
Mark Hoppen October 20, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Thank you, Paul. Afternoon public meetings tend to deny all citizens fair access to the public process. And your're right, for sure afternoon meetings exclude regular public involvement from working people. The City of Gig Harbor City Council has limited commitment to public participation in this respect. It fosters a lack of public trust, and tends to violate a tenet of the current city vision statement expressed at the outset of the 2012 City Budget, approved by Council every year since 1999, which states, "Our vision for the City of Gig Harbor is a community whose government is responsive to the needs of its citizens and serves as a steward of public resources and confidence."

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