It took a local group of citizens more than two years to put together a 20-year community plan for the Key Peninsula, but it will take the Pierce County Planning Commission only a month to take action on it and forward its recommendation to county council for final approval. With the Key Peninsula Community Planning Board’s work concluding in April, the plan is on track to be adopted by this fall.
At the final meeting of the community board, Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee assured board members he will defend the plan on their behalf. “I intend to make sure the vision of this board is implemented,” he said. “Key Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places and I’m pleased you rallied… to protect what you have out here.”
The meetings over the last two years have run tense at times, with some issues bringing in large crowds. One of the hottest topics was geoduck aquaculture, which is a unique issue among other community plans in the county. But the concluding meeting carried a cordial atmosphere, with compliments going all around.
Several board members told the KP News they lured with the plan even though they “didn’t get their way” all the time. “I was pleased because we were a diverse group and didn’t come up with the same decisions. We learned to respect each other’s decisions,” said board member Claude Gahard.
Lori Deacon, another board member, felt some of the direction of the plan was predetermined by the county, especially when it came to environmental protections and property rights. “It was emotional. For the most part people out here are good stewards and to try to impose more rules and regulations was difficult,” she said. “Change is inevitable — I think we created a good foundation… (The plan) did protect everybody who has a vested interest at this point, but will restrict excessive growth and protect the community character.”
One of the aspects that make the plan unique is its focus on preserving the area, even while encouraging economic development. Tourism opportunities that take advantage of the area’s natural features are especially promoted. One of the biggest differences between this plan and other community plans within the county, however, is the fact that most of proposed ideas are “encouraged” rather than required, which makes implementation at county level challenging.
“It is a reflection of the community, and the community has several camps,” senior planner Mike Kruger, who coordinated the plan, said in an interview. “I think it’s balanced… It definitely has the community’s fingerprints all over it.”
The plan’s maximum development scenario shows that if all 7,000-plus vacant lots are developed, the population of the Key Peninsula will double. Some citizens have been concerned what such a scenario would mean for local traffic and water. Kruger said based on available studies, the Key Pen has enough well water to accommodate that population, because the local drinking water comes from aquifer recharge. “I’m not offering any guarantees obviously but the research that’s been done shows there’s enough water for 35,000 people,” he said.
Both the planning commission and the county council will hold public hearings and can make their own changes to the plan, although Kruger doesn’t think they will make significant changes. Nonetheless, he encouraged board members and the public to follow the process and appear at the May hearings.
One of the residents who plan to go to the hearings is David Mikelsen, who had advocated for a moratorium on building permits until clearcutting, water and road issues are resolved. Mikelsen, whose grandfather owned Taylor Bay Estates and whose parents were the last owners of the Longbranch Mercantile before its recent sale, lives in Longbranch and has been a frequent participant in the planning board meetings. He said he’s accepted the fact that the area will change and is “reasonably happy with the plan,” praising the work done by Kruger and the board. Still, he feels the issues of transportation and quality of life remains, and plans to make his views known to the commission. To demonstrate his concerns, he held a one-man protest in April at the site of construction of a new church off Key Peninsula Highway (see related story on page 12).
Chuck West, one of the planning board members, said the plan is only the first step in planning the future. “I really look at this as the beginning of the process —this is just the paperwork,” he said. “We still have to go into the community and make these things work.”
The plan, once adopted, could still see changes. “It’s a fluid thing, amendments are constant,” said James DePew, a Gig Harbor resident who owns property on the Key Peninsula. DePew was on the Gig Harbor community planning board that updated Gig Harbor’s comprehensive plan in 2000. “If you find something in the plan that’s a mistake and unworkable, it can change,” he said. “People don’t have to fear they have to have it absolutely right.”
The Pierce County Planning Commission will hold the following discussions and public hearings on the community plan elements:
May 9, land use
May 16, facilities and services, community character
May 23, natural environment and economic development
Testimony will be taken only on the element scheduled. The commission is expected to hold discussion and take action on May 30. All meetings are at 7 p.m. at Key Peninsula Lutheran Church’s McColley Hall, 4213 Lackey Road KPN. Citizens unable to attend may submit their comments in writing; comments may also be delivered to the public hearing. For details regarding procedures, call county planning at 798-2785.