The Skagway Borough Assembly approved relaxed regulations for accessory housing at its Thursday meeting. Officials hope the more flexible standards will help with the town’s housing shortage. The assembly also agreed to work toward purchasing a popular piece of land on Long Bay and they lodged no protest against a fledgling marijuana cultivation business.
The relaxed standards for accessory housing are part of the municipality’s effort to make tiny homes a more viable option in Skagway. Orion Hanson sits on the planning commission, which recommended the code changes.
“We have a lot of less-than-standard rental units out there right now,” Hanson said. “So we’re hoping this will encourage people to develop decent housing, but it can also be very small, in the tiny housing line of thinking.”
Hanson explained the revisions remove a requirement for each housing structure to have its own water/sewer hookup, an expense that might make building a tiny house unaffordable.
Planners also recommended reducing the required time period a primary dwelling has to be in place before secondary housing is built, from five years to three years. The waiting period isn’t required if the accessory housing is for an immediate family member of the main building occupant. Anyone who wants to build accessory living quarters needs a valid certificate of occupancy.
The assembly unanimously approved the code revisions.
“I hope we can move forward with this partly because I think it addresses a need for summer housing and does it in a way where the housing is not gonna be substandard,” said Assemblymember Spencer Morgan.
Much of the public comment at Thursday’s meeting was related to another topic. People spoke in support of Skagway purchasing scenic property on Long Bay to keep it for public use. The land is owned by the family of deceased resident Bud Matthews. Residents say Matthews let the public use the beach on his property, and they don’t want to lose that space.
“It’s part of Skagway’s heart and soul,” said Jan Wrentmore. “There are just a few spots around this valley that are important to people and I think that’s really one of them.”
The assembly has held two executive sessions to discuss the potential property purchase. At the end of the closed-door meeting Thursday, they voted to direct the borough attorney and manager to work toward purchasing the Matthews’ property with the goal of preserving it for community use. Officials have not said how much the property is expected to cost.
Also in the executive session, the assembly spoke with attorney Bob Blasco about talks he’s had with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad officials. What the attorney and White Pass talked about is unknown. Mayor Mark Schaefer said that information is protected by attorney-client privilege.
There was almost no discussion about a limited marijuana cultivation business license that came before the assembly. Two Skagway residents have applied for a permit with the State Marijuana Control Board. Their business, called ‘Coyote and Toad’s Garden,’ is to be located in Liarsville, an industrial-zoned area. The assembly did not protest the license application.
The assembly held its third reading of the proposed borough budget, but ended up postponing adoption. Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said before the budget it approved, he wants to examine how Skagway might cope with a loss of cruise passenger head tax funding.
The legislature recently reversed a proposal to withhold $15 million in passenger taxes from the port communities the money usually goes to. Skagway is set to get about $4 million. But Burnham said even though the distribution of the money is included in the recent budget compromise, Skagway isn’t out of the woods.
“There are a lot of basic services that are funded with [passenger taxes] and were that to be gone we would need to accommodate it somehow,” Burnham said.
The governor hasn’t signed off on the proposed budget yet. But even if the passenger funds are safe this year, Assemblyman Morgan said they could be at risk in future years.
“I think it’s time to start looking as if that money may not be there in the future and we need to start coming up with an alternate budget every year,” Morgan said. “Because this battle, as long as oil prices remain low, I think it’s going to be a battle in the state legislature.”
The assembly finance committee has a meeting Monday, where alternatives to passenger tax funding will be discussed. The borough budget is set for another reading and adoption at the next assembly meeting, on June 16.