There were two big requests up for review at Thursday’s Haines Borough Planning Commission meeting: a conditional use permit for a private heliport at 36 Mile and a draft plan for a 72-lot subdivision. The commission gave preliminary approval on the subdivision, but postponed a decision on the heliport permit.
Property owner Michael Wilson, of Alaska Heliskiing, is requesting a conditional use permit to build on 10 acres of his property near 36 Mile of the Haines Highway. He says the heliport would allow the company to move operations from a road-side area at 33 mile to a more remote and safe place away from residences and traffic.
“Once we get the conditional use we’ll be able to build up the infrastructure in the area and we will hopefully begin to move the heliski operation away from the highway at 33 mile to a safer area of operation at 35 mile way outside the residential areas and highway.”
Wilson says if the heliport is approved, he plans to build a lodge on the property as well.
Six members of the public spoke out against the heliport. They voiced concerns about the ‘proliferation’ of heliports in Haines, saying it’s not in line with the comprehensive plan.
“Together we can come up the solution where people’s peace and quiet, people’s’ property rights, where all of those things are considered and valued and also the heliski industry is allowed to flourish,” said Highway resident Jessica Plachta. “But it’s gonna take work and I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Thom Ely said it would be a ‘huge mistake’ to approve another heliport in Haines.
“Residents should be able to determine what they want in their neighborhoods,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be an adjacent property owner to a heliport.”
It turns out, the borough doesn’t have a definite idea of what neighboring property owners to this proposed heliport think. That’s because it’s unclear who owns property west of the area. Planning Technician Tracy Cui said it’s likely a Native allotment. She reached out the Bureau of Indian Affairs to try to determine the ownership, but there’s no answer yet.
The commissioners agreed to postpone a decision. They decided to revisit the permit at next month’s meeting.
The commission took a second look at the proposed Hill Top Subdivision. At the last meeting, commissioners turned back the proposal because the plans were 20 years old and didn’t conform to code. Now the plat’s been updated.
Property owner Roger Schnabel proposes the 72-parcel multiple residential subdivision on about 34 acres of land. The area is border by Major Road, the Port Chilkoot Subdivision and Tower Road. At the last meeting, neighbors of the property said the subdivision would be too dense and make them reconsider living in that area. Most of the proposed lots are between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet. A few residents echoed that concern at Thursday’s meeting.
“It seems way overpopulated,” said Tresham Gregg.
“I think we can do better in Haines, I don’t think we need to make a 72-lot trailer park,” said Thom Ely.
Commission chair Rob Goldberg said trailers aren’t allowed in residential areas.
The project manager for the subdivision, Dave Smith, says one of the goals is to create affordable housing. Commissioner Donnie Turner says he supports that.
“Part of the problem we have is kids who are working here can’t afford the $100,000 and $75,000 lots that we have around here,” Turner said. “So I personally don’t have a problem with the lot sizes.”
The commission approved a variance request for one of the streets in the plan that has a steep grade. They also disagreed with a borough staff recommendation to reserve one of the larger lots for a park or open space for five years.
“We’ve got plenty of space to recreate so I don’t see that as a great need here,” said Commissioner Robert Venebles.
The commission unanimously approved the initial subdivision design. (Brenda Josephson recused herself from the vote, and Heather Lende was not present.) But before the vote, Commissioner Rob Miller addressed the public. He said he wanted to assure them that he was listening to what they were saying.
“I agree, it would be nice if there were a park there, it would be nice if the lots were bigger. There’s a lot of things I would do differently if I were doing the subdivision,” Miller said. “But I have to come back to does it meet the zoning, does it meet the [comprehensive] plan? We can’t just put our own preferences and slam then down on the contractors. I just felt that I wanted to say that because I don’t want people to think I’m not paying attention.”
Golberg agreed and said that the lots in the subdivision meet the minimum size requirements in code.
There will be another public hearing and commission vote when the Hill Top Subdivision contractors have the 100 percent design ready.