Marijuana plants (Michelle Grewe/Flickr)

The public will have a chance to weigh in on proposed changes to building height restrictions in Haines, a subject the planning commission has returned to several times in the last few months. But there’s one topic the commission won’t talk about further for now: commercial pot.

Last week a Haines resident took an official step toward opening what would be the first local marijuana business.

Carol Waldo is seeking to open a cultivation facility on Helms Loop.

Beyond state rules, local governments can choose to be more restrictive by imposing additional zoning regulations or taxes. Or, they can take no additional actions.

Borough planner Holly Smith brought Waldo’s application up at the latest planning commission meeting.

“If we did nothing, which is one of our options, this permit would be approved,” said Smith. “Because this is going in a rural residential area where crop production is allowed. So we wouldn’t have to do anything. But it is right next to a single residential neighborhood.”

Planner Rob Miller said the location in a rural residential neighborhood does raise a concern.

“Although cultivation is not necessarily unduly noisy or harmful or anything, two buildings worth of marijuana in full flower are going to produce a lot of odor,” said Miller.

But chair Rob Goldberg said by current zoning rules, there’s nothing prohibiting the business.

“Right now it’s a legal crop to grow and crop production is a use-by-right in our code in that zone,” said Goldberg.

The group decided to not take any action on the issue at this time, unless directed to do so by the assembly.

Then, the commission turned to a familiar subject. One that’s come up time after time in recent months: building height restrictions.

At its last meeting, the group said every building zone should be restricted to 30 ft., even those that aren’t currently limited. That’s because of concerns from Haines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Clay, and the state fire marshal. The local fire department doesn’t have ladders tall enough to safely serve buildings higher than 30 ft.

But now, planners have loosened that restriction for some areas.

They took another look at the heavy industrial, commercial and general use zones.

For heavy industrial and commercial, they said buildings could exceed 30 ft. with a conditional use permit.

They said the general use zone could exceed 30 ft. if the building is considered industrial or commercial use and there is no human occupancy beyond 30 ft.

“I think we have to be careful in our language not to permit something that would allow either a residence or a workplace that has people in it to be on the third floor,” said Goldberg.

The group also said significant structures, or historic buildings, should be limited to 60 ft. with a conditional use permit. That includes historical replicas and replacements. One example they noted is the tower in the fort which is a historical replica.

Finally, planner Smith suggested expanding the boundaries for who receives a public notice when a development is proposed in their area. Smith suggested changing it from 200 ft. to 500 ft. from the development in question. That was motivated by criticism from some residents during appeals of a resource extraction permit last month who didn’t feel they were properly notified of the project.

Several commission members discouraged making the change. Here’s Brenda Josephson.

“You got to remember that what’s in code is your legal responsibility and I think setting your buffer to 500, that’s great. You can do that but I wouldn’t recommend changing the code, I think that could be challenging,” said Josephson.

But Smith said it shouldn’t be an issue.

“Increasing this, it’s not going to solve our problems. But I don’t think it’s going to create new ones to increase the limit,” said Smith. “I also think it’s an appropriate response.”

The group voted 5-2 to make the code change, with Josephson and Larry Geise opposed. That code change, as well as revised height restrictions will come back to the commission for public hearings.