Lookout Park (Emily Files)

Lookout Park is one area of concern in the harbor expansion plan for some residents. (Emily Files)

A growing wave of citizen concern about the small boat harbor expansion plan has prompted the Haines Borough Mayor to form a working group focused on harbor aesthetics. A meeting to organize the group took place Monday night. The meeting was well-attended by residents uneasy about how the harbor expansion will impact the Haines waterfront.

The meeting started with a presentation from Borough Manager Dave Sosa. He explained the background of how the current harbor expansion design, number 14B, was agreed on.

“So this all occurred over the course of years,” Sosa said. “And there were a lot of opportunities for the public to be informed, but like I said earlier, people didn’t show up.”

Now, people are showing up. Almost every seat in the assembly chambers was taken in Monday night’s meeting.

Parts of the expansion plan, including a bigger parking lot that extends in front of Lookout Park, and an extended steel wave barrier, have some people asking if the plan will degrade the beauty of the waterfront.

Haines Mayor Jan Hill hopes a new working group can find a solution to those concerns. The harbor aesthetics working group will be made up of Mayor Hill, representatives from the planning commission, Tourism Advisory Board, and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. The group will also include a Chamber of Commerce representative, a community representative and the borough manager.

The various committees and boards plan to select their representatives in the next couple weeks.

Hill says the purpose of the group is to receive and discuss input on the aesthetic design elements of the waterfront. The goal would to be to set conditions for community acceptance of a final design for the aesthetic components of the harbor.

During Sosa’s presentation at the meeting, he said it might be a gradual process for the habor expansion to look as appealing as some residents hope. To make that point, he asked this question:

“Who here built their own house in Haines? How long did it take you?”

Some people responded two years, 43 years, eight years.

Sosa asked what the houses people built looked like after a year. An audience member responded, “a mess.” After year four? “A mess.” Year eight? “Livable.”

“And I think we may want to think in terms of that metaphor as something that may be applicable to this situation,” Sosa said. “We will have something that we can appreciate. But I think there will be a period of time where it is not all that we want. But what we can do is coordinate with each other to minimize the amount of time it takes for it to look like what we want it to look like.”

Sosa said his recommendation is that the borough should stick to the current design plan, instead of taking any steps backward.

But during the public comment period of the meeting, some residents disagreed. Rhys Williams said that ‘sticky’ questions like whether design 14B is the best option should be up for discussion.

Debra Schnabel said another design, 3A, looks more compact, and might have less of an impact on the aesthetics of the harbor.

Planning Commissioner Rob Goldberg pointed out one change that could help soothe concerns about the Lookout Park aspect of the design. He said the parking lot planned in front of the park could be lowered so that it’s not on the same level as the park.

That suggestion may be part of the conversation at the harbor aesthetic working group’s first meeting, which is scheduled for July 27 at 5 p.m. Hill says the group’s recommendations will need to go through the planning commission before reaching the borough assembly.