First look at new plan to develop Port Gamble
Draft master plan for Port Gamble fits within existing zoning regulations and would restore the town to what existed a century ago, developer says.
Special to The Seattle Times
Future of Port GambleOlympic Property Group, the real-estate arm of Pope Resources, expects to submit a final proposal to develop historic Port Gamble by the end of the year to Kitsap County for approval. It is soliciting comments from neighbors and other interested parties regarding its draft plan, which includes:
Residential: 260 homes
Commercial: Offices, shops, a hotel, restaurants
Waterfront: Marine-biology labs and a dock for visiting boats
Source: Pope Resources
Port Gamble, the historic mill town and popular stopover on the road to the Olympic Peninsula, may be headed for a dramatic makeover.
A long-anticipated master plan, drafted by the corporate owners, calls for expansion of the familiar town at the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula, with more than 260 homes, a hotel, restaurant, retail shops, marine-biology labs and a dock for visiting boats — all designed to fit architecturally with the 19th century New England motif.
The plan is the latest effort by Olympic Property Group, the real-estate arm of corporate owner Pope Resources, to balance the desires of stockholders against those of environmentalists, historic preservation and the neighboring S'Klallam tribe.
"This is the first draft of a blueprint for future development of Port Gamble," said Olympic Property President Jon Rose at a neighborhood meeting in a Kingston school gymnasium. "We're going to preserve what you love about Port Gamble, because this town is absolutely authentic."
But he cautioned that it is likely to be years before any construction begins.
Port Gamble was founded by New Englanders in 1853 to support a mill built to produce lumber for the California gold rush. The architecture and layout of the town were patterned after a town on the coast of Maine, and the town remained wholly owned by Pope and Talbot, the lumber company that built it.
The mill operated for some 140 years before closing in 1995. Since then, Pope Resources, a spinoff successor to Pope and Talbot, has been trying to develop the property. An earlier plan, which called for 1,200 homes and a marina, encountered stiff opposition from environmentalists and from the S'Klallam tribe, whose reservation is directly across the bay from the town.
Last year, the company negotiated a tentative deal with regional conservation groups to sell nearly 7,000 acres of surrounding timberlands and two miles of beachfront — if the groups can raise the millions it needs. The land is being appraised, and that sale remains tentative, Rose reported.
Meanwhile, the company has been cleaning up polluted sediments from the mill site, he said. And the state Department of Ecology is expected to announce its own cleanup plan later this year.
Meanwhile, the company has worked with local groups to develop a popular network of trails through those forestlands, an effort that has won over some of their local opposition.
The townsite itself consists of historic homes, small businesses and other facilities surrounded by rolling lawns. The site is used for weddings and summertime events ranging from medieval fairs to antique car shows.
But those events don't bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of maintaining the site, Rose said.
So, 17 years after the mill closed, the future of the town itself has remained in limbo.
"It takes time to do these things — years and years," Rose said. "You just don't do things like this quickly. Not in this part of the country."
He emphasized that the new plan is a draft, which is likely to change.
Visitors to last week's open house were generally favorable. And the neighboring S'Klallam tribe took a wait-and-see approach.
Tribal chairman Jeromy Sullivan said he hopes the tribe will one day be able to have a presence on the site of the tribe's ancestral village, which was moved across the bay to make room for the mill some 160 years ago.
"And I worry about what's going to happen along that shoreline," he said. The proposed dock could affect water quality in the bay, where tribal members collect clams and oysters, he added. "That's always been the scary part for us."
Because of those concerns, the company eliminated earlier plans for a major marina on the bay. But the new master plan includes a dock for tourist boats and other transient vessels.
Rose said the draft master plan fits within existing zoning regulations. In effect, he said, it would restore the town to what existed a century ago.
Port Gamble peaked in the 1920s but began to decline with the arrival of automobiles, which allowed millworkers to build their own homes and commute to their jobs. "The town died because of cars," he said. "We want to bring it back to what it was, with the original street grid."
The plan calls for small homes on small lots, he said. "I don't want this town to be a quiet place where people come to retire. It will be walkable. It will be vibrant and diverse and fun."
Neighbors raised concerns about traffic and noise from Highway 104, the main route between Seattle and the northern Olympic Peninsula.
The road takes a sharp, 90-degree turn in the middle of Port Gamble, and there is no plan to reroute that highway, Rose said.
There are two versions of the proposed master plan, one of which would include a smaller mill on the site of the original mill. But Rose doesn't expect that idea to draw much support.