Keep rural character or add more jobs? Conflicting questions at Key Pen planning board’s table

Rodika Tollefson, KP News Like many rural areas, the Key Peninsula depends largely on nearby cities for its jobs. And most people who are lured to the area by its beauty and peacefulness don’t mind — the commute is the price they are willing to pay for their small piece of tranquility. But as the Key Peninsula population continues to grow, so does the pressure to bring more services and jobs to the area. The local business community says the imbalance between housing and jobs is a problem. Some residents disagree. The Key Peninsula Community Planning Board is looking to find the happy medium. “One thing affects another. If development were to happen such that jobs for all residents are created on the Key Peninsula, the character of the community will be very different from what it is,” says Rob Allen, economic development specialist for Pierce County. “The trick is to find the balance — what’s the appropriate mix?” One of the KP planning board’s communitywide goals says, “Providing employment opportunities for local residents is a community priority.” Another says that “commercial activities in rural centers should provide the basic goods, services, and employment needed by local residents.” Part of the board’s vision statement is to “promote a small town, socially connected community dominated by a rural landscape” and “preserve the characteristics of the community…” Within this framework, the group will create a vision of how the Key Pen will look in the next 20 years, and how much development it should encourage. The numbers vs. ‘the experts’ Pierce County estimates show that 387 firms are located on the Key Peninsula and employ about 1,270 people. More than 70 percent of residents commute 30 or more minutes to get to work. Roughly 14 percent of the residents who are in the workforce are self-employed (compared to 6 percent in the county). “We think jobs for residents out here are a quality of life issue, and there aren’t many jobs for the family wage earner. We’re also concerned that everyone who lives here has to commute and puts a strain on transportation. We consider that an imbalance between jobs and housing,” says Ed Taylor, owner of the Westwynd Motel in Purdy and member of the Key Peninsula Business Association. Taylor chaired a KPBA committee that submitted the business association’s position on economic development to a recent meeting of the planning board. The KPBA’s statement says there will be an eventual need for thousands of jobs, and “enough property should be designated for commercial uses.” Providing areas for administrative and professional offices on or near roads feeding into the planned State Route 302 corridor is one of the suggestions. That may suit the local needs well, since nearly one-third of the local population is estimated to work in management, professional and related occupations, and another 23 percent in sales and office jobs. Providing a large area for future development of senior housing, another priority outlined by the KPBA, is also backed up by statistics. While only 10 percent of the Key Pen’s population was 65 years or older in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, by 2020 another 27 percent of residents will be in that age category. Yet statistics are not necessarily the biggest ingredient when it comes to planning the area’s future economic development. “The people who live in the community are the experts on the community,” says Allen, who has been guiding the KP Community Planning Board through the economic development element. “They know better than anyone else what their community is and what it should be.” A good portion of Key Pen residents seem to agree with the KPBA. A survey done in conjunction with the planning board’s work shows that 59 percent of the respondents would like more KP employment opportunities, and 42 percent feel more commercial property should be made available for professional and retail businesses. The need is there too — 77 percent of the respondents said they purchased the majority of their commercial goods outside the area. However, nearly half of the respondents said they were satisfied with how far they had to travel to get those services. The board meetings have generated a wide interest, and Allen says this participation is one of the Key Peninsula’s strengths in creating the future vision. “I am constantly amazed at the number” of people who come to the meetings, he said. “The fact that the business community was willing to come out and make a presentation … speaks to the involvement and the desire for self-determination.” The challenges Not everyone wants to see office buildings and more retail pop up on this side of the Purdy Bridge. One resident posed this question to the board: “Why do you want to bring the city here?” “Nine out of 10 Washingtonians don’t know where the Key Peninsula is and we like it that way,” Pat Latshaw said at a recent meeting. That doesn’t sit well with one of the KPBA suggestions: creating a destination resort on the waterfront. The idea of bringing more tourists is attractive for business owners, and certainly fits the concept of economic development, of bringing in more money than flows out. On the other hand, more tourists means more traffic on already problem roads, and more pressure on services like first aid that are already stretched to the max. “Some say, ‘Get out of the way and let economic development happen,’ and others say Gig Harbor North is close enough,” is how resident Judy Austin, who has attended subcommittee meetings regularly, sums up the dilemma. KP population is expected to grow to 19,800 in year 2020, based on Office of Financial Management estimates (the county’s numbers are slightly more conservative). The increased residential base puts more pressure on local services such as schools and fire districts, yet provides much less tax revenue to support those services than commercial use would. “Our tax base is being really restrictive but as people move out here, they want more service,” says Jim Bosch, a Fire District 16 commissioner who is on the 15-member planning board. At this rate, the fire district will not be able to handle population growth, he says. In fact, the district’s 2004 budget showed a less than 2 percent increase in revenues from 2003, and a 12 percent increase in expenditures (a big part is due to Initiative 747). The district’s projections show an additional 69 service calls per year through 2012; from 1994 to 2013, that’s about double the number of calls. “Homes bring patients and costs, and commercial (use) brings money,” Bosch says. On the other hand, as Allen stated, providing too much commercial development would alter the community character, and preserving the character including its “unique marine attributes, history of each distinct community and agricultural and forest lands” is one of the plan’s objectives. And even providing more commercial development may not be as easy, because geographical limitations narrow the market for some industries. People will only be willing to cross the Purdy Bridge for certain things, which means some retail and professional services may not have a sufficient customer base. “There is potential conflict” between jobs and maintaining rural character, and “the community has to come to grips with it,” Allen says. The Key Peninsula Community Plan is intended to do just that, find the right balance, and outline the current conditions and the desired ones along with specific actions and recommendations. “Successful rural communities use tools, like comprehensive planning, to attract or retain the kind of business that makes sense for the area,” says a document by the state Community, Trade and Economic Development Department titled “Keeping the Rural Vision: Protecting and Planning for Rural Development.” The document is one of the references used by the planning board sub-committee on economic development and land use as it looks to formulate the next element of the plan. Will the Key Pen become a successful rural community? Time will tell. If the diverse group that has been engaging in spirited, if not heated, discussions continues to participate in the process, chances are good that the planning board members will find that right mix between jobs, development, and preserving natural beauty and character. Board members say they are ready to listen, and to use the diversity to create the right plan.  Next month: We take a look at issues of land use.
KP community planning For information about the Key Peninsula Planning Board, including a list of members, the work program, agendas, maps, and an opportunity to provide input, go call 798-2700. The meetings are twice a month, at 7 p.m., and the new location is the Key Center Library. The July meeting dates are 6 and 27.