May 16, 2017
I appreciate your responding to my email addressing my concerns about the One Harbor Point development being all but a done deal. I wish I could say that you allayed my concerns, but you did not. I am sharing these comments with the rest of the council.
When you acknowledge that you have had two meetings with Mr. Cheney and Mr. Hickey about the project because they wanted to “let you know that they are applying,” that doesn’t square with me. It wasn’t a meeting about that because that could easily be accomplished in an email. They have met with most councilmembers to sell you on their project. They are not getting the three minutes in front of the council to state their case like the rest of us, they are getting a private meeting. In that meeting, they are not only selling the deal and creating a personal relationship with you, they are gauging your support for the project (how you will vote). This is where you all are at risk of implying your consent for their proposal. At the Planning Commission meeting, the project group was all but high-fiving one another in the front of the room, with faces beaming—that told me something. This was in a room otherwise filled with constituents mostly opposed to the project who were not allowed to speak.
If you have not gone to the Planning Department and reviewed the four binders of plans Cheney has submitted, you and the other council-members need to do so. You will see in those binders that my estimation of their expenses to develop this project are not that off base and there has to be increased risk to the City if you deny them when they have gone to such great expense to develop their proposal. It is my contention that they would not have gone to those great lengths without reasonable assurance they would prevail. That is what belies my quest to discover how they might have believed that they would have a great chance at getting their project approved when their variances are so far outside of zoning regulations for density, etc.
You say in your memo to me that you won’t have a problem voting “no” and that you don’t believe “we will get sued if we ultimately don’t make something happen.” I don’t think it is the job of the city to “make something happen.” I think it is the job of the councilmembers to abide by the Comprehensive Plan, the Harbor Vision and the zoning restrictions that the others of us have to adhere to. You said, “My biggest problem with ‘zoning’ as we know it….” As a council person, I don’t think you get to have a personal problem with zoning. I think you have to defend the ordinances the rest of us have to abide by—no special favors to rich people or other developers. None of the residents in the view basin would be allowed to build a three-story house, or develop a small parcel at four-times the allowed density. You all should by now have notified the applicant that you can’t grant them a variance on density—that they must abide by the zoning regulations. The council is about to give leeway to a certain class of builders, in a sensitive view corridor, and ruin the iconic view of our city.
The Cheney Foundation is not doing this development to give benefit to the residents of Gig Harbor, they are doing it—as all developers do--to make money developing real estate. Again I want to say that under development agreements, developers are entitled to offer gifts (or benefits) for favors of circumventing zoning regulations. This is becoming the rule, not the exception.
I wouldn’t belabor this if the Olympic Property Group weren’t waiting in the wings to get more favors of relaxing zoning regulations in the huge area that was once our town center. In the blink of an eye, our character is about to change. We’ll look like Kirkland—not Gig Harbor. What you give to one, you have to give to all!
I want to talk to you about public trust because our council is losing that trust. This Wikipedia definition uses language I wouldn’t choose, but it applies to the concerns I’ve raised with the councilmembers. Specifically, gifts for favors, special interest groups (benefits to a certain class of builders), and groups within our city that sway decisions with their allegiance to business development (the Chamber, the Waterfront Alliance, and Rotary—two of which the city subsidizes). When an applicant hires a PR firm to give presentations to these large groups and then these groups show up at an Open House, the council will perceive widespread support from the community. In the case of Ancich park, city staff called members of these groups in to show support at meetings of council which did hold sway.
Public office is a public trust. See Wikipedia definition of "Public Trust"
The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society; therefore, whatever trust the public places in its officials must be respected. One of the reasons that bribery is regarded as a notorious evil is that it contributes to a culture of political corruption in which the public trust is eroded. Other issues related to political corruption or betrayal of public trust are lobbying, special interest groups and the public cartel.
No one questions the generosity of the Cheney Foundation—they have done so many great things in our region. In Gig Harbor, they have pledged a generous donation to the Kayak Club’s Recreation Center, and they have recently given $25,000 to Wildwatch. But these “goodnesses” should not give sway to development. Everyone on the council knows that I stood in disbelief that the honor and distinction of a zone devoted to Historic Working Waterfront was ignored and a recreation center for a private club will take up most of that space in Ancich Park. That is where you lost my trust.
I think the only safe place for the Gig Harbor council to stand is BEHIND THE ZONING ORDINANCES that all of us must abide by.