Gig Harbor North
A Place for Growth
By Rachel Kelly
Photo Courtesy of Gig Harbor Senior Living
Gig Harbor has always been a place of growth. The story of Gig Harbor’s growth was widely associated with its close association with Tacoma. Because Tacoma was growing, Gig Harbor was also expected to grow. However, Gig Harbor, throughout history, has continually established itself as having its own distinctive feel. Gig Harbor has always been unique. With beginning industries such as logging, fishing and world-class ship building, Gig Harbor bustled with its own activity. Town centers grew around its ferry docks, and everyone in town owned a boat. That changed once a successful bridge was built after WWII, which made owning a car more practical. Gig Harbor has only since expanded.
While the major industries that formed downtown no longer exist, the character of Gig Harbor still remains. People still fish, people still own boats, and people still know their neighbors. And even though tourism has replaced its historical industries as a regular part of Gig Harbor’s economy, it doesn’t feel at all touristy. Today we have a new part of town, aptly named Gig Harbor North. The story of its conception, development and expansion is the story of the preservation of Gig Harbor’s history and character. Because of the innovative Gig Harbor North, Gig Harbor is still distinctly Gig Harbor.
Their story begins over 30 years ago. In 1990, Washington state passed a new law to prevent urban sprawl, called the Growth Management Act. The underlying principle behind the law was that land is a finite resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no more. Forests and farms were falling, only to be replaced by illogical subdivisions that would or would not prove to be successful. The Growth Management Act directed any growth and new subdivisions toward current cities, preventing unincorporated turmoil. However, the law was vague. For the next 10 years, the courts warred over how the law was to be interpreted.
Meanwhile, while the courts battled and debated, Gig Harbor was thinking ahead. Gig Harbor was to accept new growth, according to state law, but was interested in doing so on their own terms. How was Gig Harbor to handle the influx of families, while preserving its unique character? Gig Harbor North would be the place that the city directed their growth, while keeping in mind the goal of making it an integral part of Gig Harbor’s heart.
Planning for Gig Harbor North (more than 700 acres) began in the late 1980s and became a reality when the area was annexed to the city in 1998. It provided an area to direct growth, while preserving the character of Gig Harbor’s downtown. In 2001, construction began on the Target, Albertsons and Home Depot. The largest project in the newly annexed area is Harbor Hill’s 320-acre mixed-use development, which was owned at the time by Olympic Property Group, a subsidiary of Pope Resources.
Contrary to the usual way of doing things, it didn’t just start with houses. Gig Harbor North began with neighborhoods. “We brought in the YMCA, partnered with the school district, and built two parks,” says Raydient Places + Properties Vice President Jon Rose. From the YMCA, the schools, and the parks came homes for families. Each neighborhood built was then connected by a series of trail systems. The trails connect the homes to all the amenities of its neighborhood, continuing a Pacific Northwest tradition of safe access to its outdoors. Gig Harbor North furthered its accessibility by connecting transit, specifically the Pierce Transit Trolley, which connects Gig Harbor North to the historic downtown.
Today, Gig Harbor continues to increase in orderly growth. With Gig Harbor North has come a host of essential city businesses. Gig Harbor no longer has to cross the Narrows for basic services. What’s more, the downtown is preserved. Gig Harbor has not diminished in its growth. If anything, Gig Harbor’s character has only been expounded upon.
“People love the neighborhoods,” says Jon Rose. And it’s no wonder! With its connectivity, accessibility, and neighborhood feel, Gig Harbor North is not just a group of houses. They are homes. However, there is still one last development to build. Gig Harbor North is soon to begin construction on its crowning jewel: Village Center. Building Village Center begins with its anchor tenant, a grocery story. The grocery store will fill a hole in providing for a basic need in the community, from which the rest of Village Center will expand. After the anchor tenant comes other various shops and restaurants, all further connected by a network of trails. Walkability is a high priority for Gig Harbor North.
And so this story has a happy ending. Gig Harbor is not just a place for owners of historic homes within walking distance to downtown. It’s not just a place for tourists to visit. It is not just a picturesque little town with all the character that comes with the title. Gig Harbor is more. It’s a place that has grown to include a greater community, one that firmly establishes its independence from its larger surrounding cities. Gig Harbor is thriving and connected. Gig Harbor is all its own. Gig Harbor is a community.