Haines residents looking to build their own homes could have the opportunity to go a little higher soon. At its last meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to change a number of building height restrictions in borough code.
Right now, there are few exceptions to the 30 ft. height restriction on buildings in Haines. Commissioner Brenda Josephson wanted to know why.
“I was trying to understand why we had a 30 ft. height restriction throughout all the zoning districts in the town site,” Josephson said. “And I wasn’t able to discover any explanation, any reason that we considered this, we came up with this for these reasons.”
Josephson referenced height restrictions in other communities in the state. She looked at Sitka, Cordova and Juneau. What she found was that the the most restrictive height in those communities is 35 ft. And, it’s common to have different rules based on zoning district.
She proposed increasing the limit. That would change things for everywhere except the Mud Bay and Lutak Rural Residential zones, and the General Use zone. Mud Bay and General Use have no height restrictions, and Lutak’s limit is already set to 35 ft.
“I’m proposing that we change to 35 ft. The argument might be ‘well why 35, why not higher in the different districts?’ I think that that’s a good starting point.”
Chair Rob Goldberg said the current height limit has been an issue for some members of the community.
“I don’t know who put this 30 ft. limit in or when it happened but it’s caused a lot of problems,” Goldberg said. “I mean we’ve got an abandoned building right there on main street because of that height limit resulted in a lawsuit and there the building is just standing there empty.”
He said he doesn’t object to Josephson’s proposal, but he did want to consider those people that have already had to deal with the current limits.
“I think that looking at changing the height limit in some of the zones like in the industrial zone,” Goldberg said. “I think it would be very easy for an industrial building to exceed 30 ft. I don’t have any problem with raising the limit there and maybe in some of the other zones. I have a little bit harder time thinking about changing it for residential just because of what we’ve made people go through to stay under that limit.”
Commissioner Donnie Turner questioned the need to change the restrictions. He said he’s never heard complaints about it not being high enough. In fact, he said it’s the opposite.
“All the negative I’ve heard, all the complaints I’ve ever heard is that the 30 ft. is too high,” Turner said.
Borough Planner Holly Smith said she was concerned about implementing an overall increase, when requests to build higher could be looked at individually.
“I think maybe the code we have now probably works okay and we can do this on a case-by-case basis where if we open it up to 35, it could be an issue because we don’t know what it’s going to do to viewsheds in certain areas of town,” said Smith.
But Josephson said the code as it is now does not work, because it does not allow people in residential buildings to apply for a conditional use permit if the builder wants to go higher than 30 ft. She suggested keeping it at 30 ft. for the single residential zone, but allowing residents to apply for a conditional use permit. That would allow the commission to look at requests on a case-by-case basis.
Commissioner Lee Heinmiller said that process would put a lot of scrutiny on proposals.
“The variance process, or conditional use, either one, is pretty restrictive as far as letting your neighbors come in and weigh in on the issue,” Heinmiller said.
The planners decided to break it down by zone, relaxing the height restrictions across the board, but to different degrees. The only zones that would stay at 30 ft. are the single residential, commercial and waterfront zones. But people building in those areas would be able to apply for a conditional use permit if they wanted a taller structure. The most dramatic change is raising the height restriction in light and heavy industrial zones from 30 to 50 feet.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal at a hearing in January.