Gig Harbor Planning Policy

If you saw today’s Peninsula Gateway, I wrote a Letter to the Editor responding to a citizen questioning the City of Gig Harbor’s compliance with PSRC’s regional growth plan, Vision 2040. Here’s the letter:

I’m writing to respond to Ms. Woock’s letter from March 23rd regarding the Puget Sound Regional Council’s certification of the City of Gig Harbor’s Comprehensive Plan.
I represent Pierce County on the Growth Management Policy Board which is tasked with regional land use policy in the four county Central Sound area, and more specifically, the certification process. In her letter Ms. Woock suggests that the conditional approval received by the City was a rebuke of their planning. In fact, PSRC staff is very complimentary of the City’s policies and staff.
It’s true the City received a conditional approval, but unlike many jurisdictions who are openly flouting the regional plan or Growth Management Act (GMA), this is the result of a change in PSRC policies rather than Gig Harbor’s actions. On her blog, Ms. Woock states “Derek Young appeared on this video with the PSRC and agreed it was poor planning that got GH into this mess.” That’s true, but I was referring to PSRC and Pierce County’s poor planning, not the City’s.
For years the City begged PSRC to reduce its growth targets. Those are the numbers local jurisdictions must plan for and ultimately determines the amount of density it must allow. After years of pushing growth to each city more evenly, PSRC decided to “bend the trend” towards larger metropolitan cities like Tacoma.
Unfortunately, this lower growth target came too late for Gig Harbor as much of the buildable land in the City had already vested. When I spoke, it was in defense of the City and the unfairness of a conditional approval which is essentially the fault of PSRC’s regional growth planning, not the other way around.
It’s completely understandable for people to be concerned by the explosion of growth, particularly because its concentration is different than the historic pattern in our community. But in order to protect rural lands, that old way of doing business is now prohibited under state law and regional growth plans.

There’s another issue that was too long to include in the letter. Ms. Woock also says that regardless of the explanation, the City must reduce their growth target. Whether you agree with this demand or not, it’s not possible. State law does not allow local governments to revoke vested development rights. This is why I may ask for reconsideration and a full approval.

The practical effect of the conditional approval is basically zero. The City is still eligible and will compete well for the countywide transportation funding grant cycle decided by Pierce County Regional Council. That’s how we we funded the latest phase of Cushman Trail for example. As a small city, it’s unlikely Gig Harbor would find itself in the regional competition held by PSRC because those funds are intended for regional growth centers. The other state grants referenced by Ms. Woock have nothing to do with PSRC and only require adoption of a valid comprehensive plan.

Again, questions about the explosion of growth we’re seeing in our community are completely understandable. It’s happening fast and unless you’re paying very close attention to local/regional land use policy, it may be unexpected. But it is in line with two decades worth of planning and requirements of the State’s Growth Management Act. For people like me who care about preserving rural areas and habitat, growth within the City is very natural consequence.

If you want to know more, watch this space. I’ll be writing on Medium more to address issues like land use policy. As Chair of Pierce County Council’s Community Development Committee and member of PSRC’s Growth Management Policy Board I’ll also have more on County and regional planning policy along with other County business like human services, public safety, and transportation. If there’s anything else you’d like me to cover, just let me know.

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