Last week we reported on the decision by the Haines Borough Planning commission to deny a permit for a dog boarding kennel at the Tanani Subdivision. There was only one other item on the agenda for that meeting – that was a request from Lynn Canal Conservation to have the commission comment on a project planned for the Portage Cove waterfront. But that discussion devolved into a lengthy one about the Haines waterfront in general and whether the borough is using all the tools it has to engage the community.
The agenda said the commission was going to discuss the Front Street Project – a project being proposed on property owned by Roger Schnabel. He wants to extend the pad at the RV park to possibly offer boat storage or a build a new building there. Lynn Canal Conservation was asking the commission to weigh in on an application to the Army Corps of Engineers about the project.
Commission chair Rob Goldberg said he was willing to discuss other waterfront projects, especially in light of concerns being echoed around the community about the Small Boat Harbor. Only four audience members were at the meeting but all four made comments. Then Commissioner Heather Lende took the opportunity to discuss her concerns. She said the community is not following the borough’s comprehensive plan when making decisions about the waterfront. She recapped her points after the meeting.
“My feeling as a member of the planning commission is that our job is to take a look at the big picture especially when it comes to future and planning growth,” she said. “We have a plan for Portage Cove and I don’t know why it’s become contentious when you say “Shouldn’t we be following it?’”
Lende said she didn’t think the borough was listening to the public in a constructive way when engineering the projects. Goldberg disagreed and the two went back and forth for a while until Goldberg attempted to wrap things up with this comment:
“Heather, dare I say, try to Find the Good?”
Goldberg was referring to Lende’s recently published book. But she didn’t find it funny. She accused borough and elected officials of stonewalling the public.
“You have good minds here who want to help and make this town better,” she said. “And you won’t listen. And it’s really, really hard and people care. I would like to find the good and I think that kind of comment at these meetings makes it very hard for people to want to volunteer at these things because it’s just like, ‘Be quiet and go away. We’re building a project little lady and you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And I’m so tired of that.”
Goldberg said that wasn’t his intent. But his attempt at a lighthearted comment follows a common sentiment recently – that some in the public feel like they weren’t being treated with respect by elected and borough officials.
At Thursday’s meeting Commissioner Donny Turner eventually encouraged the group to move on and refocus on the items on the agenda
But let’s get back to the comprehensive plan and whether the borough’s decisions makers are following it. Lende’s point was that the planning commission at least, is not.
The plan was finalized by the planning commission and assembly in 2012. Planner Barbara Sheinberg helped the borough develop the plan. She says it takes discipline for a community to use and refer the plan. There are two ways a community can do that. One is for the assembly to use the plan to set its priorities for each year. The second is to refer to the plan anytime there is a new major issue or capital project in the works.
“Go back to the comp plan and see ‘What did we say about it?’ when we had the luxury of stepping back without a specific proposal breathing down our necks when we had the luxury of time to step back and systematically look at the physical, the social, cultural and economic issues all together and try to achieve an appropriate balance for our community.”
Sheinberg says a community isn’t bound to a comp plan for making decisions, but if used correctly, it can offer consistent guidance.
“That’s sort of planning and managers job too is to remained decision makers whether it’s the assembly or planning commission or other bodies, let’s go back and look at this.”
Lende says even as a commissioner she doesn’t expect to sway people with her points of view. But she says she doesn’t want people to be dismissed for expressing their opinions and concerns.
“It does get a little difficult to always be the one who is dissenting on these things. I’m starting to think I’m the crazy grandma in the room. But at the same time when I talk to residents and I talk to people who care about the waterfront it seem like I’m not so crazy and there are other people who think that way.”
The Haines Borough recent said the 99 percent design for the small boat harbor project has been delayed until August. The comment period for the application to the Army Corps of Engineers on the Front Street Project is already closed.