Downtown Uprising in Gig Harbor
The future of the Peninsula Shopping Center has been the subject of considerable debate for some time now. Among the possibilities for the site is a phased redevelopment that would make it a “live-work” place with apartments and community spaces.
Prior to April of 2015, Jon Rose, president of the Olympic Property Group (OPG), approached the owners of Gig Harbor's Peninsula Shopping Center (PSC) after learning the Milgard family, the current owners, was interested in the possibility of improving their retail property.
The 5.6-acre site is home to the U.S. Post Office, 7 Seas Brewery, Columbia Bank, and Obscurities Hair and Art Studio and a few other small shops and restaurants. Larger retail businesses, Rexall Drugs and Ace Hardware, have left the shopping center in the past few years. These departures—along with the inability to attract large grocers like Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe's—spurred the owners to consider a multi-use future for the ailing site.
“[This is] a chance to do something amazing, in an amazing town ... by improving the fabric of a growing community,” Rose said.
The OPG decided that before jumping into the official city proposal process, they'd get local input to begin the conversation about the site’s future development. They held four public meetings between April 28, 2015 and May 3, 2016.
“This is just us floating an idea ... starting a dialogue to see if we can get together enough to take the next step,” said Rose to a gathering of about 60 people on May 3. “Someday, if there is going to be an actual project, there will be a city process; there will be applications filed, permits filed, environmental reviews done, traffic studies done, and there will be the right to appeal anything and everything ... but we are not there yet.”
The OPG, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, began influencing Gig Harbor's development in the late 1980s and, according to Rose, has “owned land in the area since Ulysses S. Grant was president.” A recent example of their work is the Harbor Hill development, between Peacock Hill Avenue and Borgen Boulevard. Development there includes a YMCA, Costco, a public park and trails, along with an as yet unfinished performing arts center.
Today and moving forward
Many locals expressed a desire to see the entire shopping center redeveloped, instead of an earlier approach of only working with the older half west of 7 Seas Brewery.
“I think the most likely plan to come out of this process will be a phased redevelopment of the entire property,” says Rose.
For now, the PSC project is still one of exploration, community outreach and preproduction. The Milgard family and Jon Rose plan to continue speaking with local business and landowners in hopes of generating fresh input and ideas.
“This is not a 'have-to' for either (OPG) or the owners (of the property). We either have an idea we can work together on, or we don't,” says Rose. He remains positive the process is working and has laid out three options to move forward with.
The three building options are bird's eye views of what could be built on the location. Given a set number of multifamily residential units—determined by how many will make the project economically doable—the tradeoff between the options becomes one of height versus width. Build higher and there's more room on the ground for open space, small retail and surface parking. Or build lower with more sprawl.
“With the two taller apartment options,” says Rose, “there'd be plenty of room for a town square or community space, donated to the city that could enhance our project's integration with the surrounding neighborhood.” This type of approach to pedestrian-friendly streetscapes is a key aspect of well-designed, multi-use development.
An exciting possibility is working its way to the forefront. Along Judson Street, Rose and his team have suggested offering flexible “live or work” units that could house either residential or retail. This dynamic idea would allow single folks who are starting a business to manage costs by living at work.
Possible effects on postal services
In every community, the post office is essential, and it is often a source of neighborhood cohesion.
“Customers who get street delivery of their mail still visit the Gig Harbor Post Office to buy stamps, mail parcels, chat with neighbors, or to conduct the daily needs of running a small business,” says Corporate Communications Specialist, Ernie Swanson.
For 30 years, Gig Harbor residents have enjoyed the convenient services and security of a post office on site at the shopping center. In consideration of their customers, the U.S. Postal Service feels it's important to continue operating in Gig Harbor as close to the current location as possible.
Challenges to come
A major obstacle to achieving multi-use residential may be the area's zoning and building codes. Currently zoned Downtown Business (DB), building height limits would make the four- and five-story options unfeasible. However, codes are mutable and the city planning department has two avenues the OPG could take to facilitate the necessary changes.
One approach is to apply for the Authority to amend from chapter 17.100: site specific rezones are a type III permit application. Another is to gain an exception for a particular project under chapter 19.08, in which the city may consider, and enter into, a development agreement with a person having ownership or control of real property within the city limits.
Although the ongoing public outreach process is not required by city planning rules, the city's planning director Jennifer Kester is paying attention to the progress. She is also interested in gauging the public's interest. Kester commented that with either text amendment OPG will have to go through the city council. And the legislative process could take at least a year.
The OPG and the city—with input and cheerleading from the public—will have to work through these issues together if the Milgards decide the time is right to begin the official planning process.
Balancing state mandated density with livability
In Washington, the state government requires cities to take their share of population growth. There are also mandates for city planning to direct population into urban growth areas.
Gig Harbor, like most cities in the U.S., has developed along isolated pathways of opportunity. Generally, this is because individual contractors build buildings in shortsighted bursts, overlapping their conflicting projects onto the existing, and often outdated, city zones.
The situation in the downtown harbor area is not unique. The hope of enhancing a languishing retail mall within reach of established neighborhoods, like the waterfront area along the harbor, is a common goal. And many cities have turned to mixed-use designs for solutions.
However, sometimes a development can go up with the best intentions to combine multifamily living spaces with small retail, or postal services and entertainment, but then fail to achieve integrated results. For more information about the redevelopment of the PSC, visit jonathanfprose.com, cityofgigharbor.net or OPG Discussion at pscdf.com.