Selling Gig Harbor?

Vernacular (definition)  "Architecture concerned with domestic and functional rather than monumental buildings."

One Harbor Point’s presentation on Monday night (5/1/17) was rife with inaccuracies, perhaps the worst of which were the references to the proposed development’s “surrounding vernacular.” Gig Harbor’s vernacular is exactly what a majority in our community want to see preserved and honored as the view basin evolves.  So, we should be disappointed and alarmed at what we saw and heard from the OHP “expert team.” I was.

I’m disappointed because the One Harbor Point project, contrary to the presenting “team’s” eloquent rhetoric, does not honor the local vernacular - at all. It does the opposite! The OHP project dumps intense multiplex units that belong in Kirkland, or some other gentrified locale that no longer bears any resemblance to what was, smack in the middle of the Harbor’s authentic vernacular landscape.

 The project doesn’t honor the Harbor’s vernacular; it makes a mockery of it.

I get vernacular landscapes. I’ve studied them, have written about them, and I’ve been passionately involved in preserving the vernacular landscapes and architecture of our town.  In Reading the Land - A Guide to Identification and Protection of Massachusetts Heritage Landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes are described as, “places without formal design” and includes rural farmsteads, town centers, maritime ports and shipyards as examples.  Historic vernacular landscapes as defined by The National Register of Historic Places in National Register Bulletin 30; “such landscapes mirror the endeavors of people who pursued everyday work in farming, fishing, mining, or related activities.” These heritage landscapes are often central to the identity of a community, providing a local people with a strong sense of place.  Hmmm….. glitzy over-sized out of character multiplexes = Gig Harbor’s identity? Wow, hard to believe the “team” tried to sell that to our two elected officials.

The “team” actually said that they “borrowed language from the surrounding vernacular.” Perhaps they’re referring to local architectural aberrations like the Russell Building, or a couple of multiplexes towards the ferry landing. There is zero, “borrowed language” from the authentic surrounding vernacular that includes most buildings downtown, Gig Harbor Marina, the Tides, the Spiro Babich home and netsheds and the Boat Barn structure. 

The OHP multiplex project bears no relation to the Harbor’s vernacular, and that raises the question: why refer to it, why the lofty language? The Development Agreement process disallows public input.  Monday night was a classic sample of that sad fact.  The “team” wasn’t talking to us, their mission was to convince two council members, Paul Kadzik and Rahna Lovrovich, who in turn can convince a few more and then, despite community outrage, something few want appears. Why? The Development Agreement process is a bypass of regulation. It’s use can expedite projects that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.  Why else implement it? If a development project had merit, if it had public benefit that intrigued the community, a project might make it through the City permitting system we all have to suffer through.

And I’m alarmed. A 2-1/2 hour presentation designed to convince two council members and no opportunity for a Gig Harborite to even ask a question.  

Where’s the community’s 2-1/2 hours? The OHP “team’s” presentation of beautiful birds-eye views are misleading, (elevated views that bear no resemblance to what a person would see is a common device used to sell development projects). The Soundview Drive elevated sight-line was repeated, and repeated, and repeated, in slide after slide - it’s the only view from Soundview, and as far as I can tell it really is for the birds. Look… the “team” is doing their job; they’re selling a couple of people on a proposed project. They might have sold the public if the rhetoric matched reality. 

I’ve heard a few Council comments that have characterized community behavior as “mob” like. Passions are up, no doubt, but actions of the few don’t reflect the majority. 

It would be a mistake to attribute community reaction to the OHP project as an isolated problem welling up from nowhere. 

The cause: a poorly conceived Development Agreement process. The effect: community outrage. Credit where credit is due.

Guy Hoppen

OHP OPEN HOUSE | Mon - May 24, 2017 - 4 to7 pm

Gig Harbor Civic Center | 3510 Grandview Street

Submit your written comments (for the record) to Peter Katich at the City.