Haines residents play bocce ball on a recent evening at the empty lot on 3rd and Main. It is currently being used as a sort of unofficial park. (Emily Files)

Haines residents play croquet on a recent evening at the empty lot on 3rd and Main. It is currently being used as a sort of unofficial park. (Emily Files)

The idea to create a park out of an vacant lot on 3rd Ave. and Main St. fell flat at the Haines planning commission’s most recent meeting. But it brought up a bigger issue: Parks are not defined in borough code.

The conversation about whether the lot in downtown Haines should be designated as a park turned into a debate over commercial vs. recreational interests.

The request came from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Burl Sheldon is part of that group.

“The way I look at it right now is it’s an awfully nice space and parks and rec committee would like to see that retained and enhanced,” Sheldon said.

He pointed to the Haines comprehensive plan, which calls for a ‘town square.’ He said his committee would like planners to consider rezoning the vacant lot, from commercial to recreational.

But some of the commissioners saw a problem with that. Brenda Josephson said setting it aside as a park would limit future business growth.

“When we’re setting aside areas and saying you can’t grow here, we’re strapping the hands of hope for future growth,” she said.

Commissioner Donnie Turner said it’s fine to leave the area grassy, and put a couple picnic tables there. But don’t protect it as a park. He pointed to the new hotel and brewery on Main Street, and how much revenue those businesses generate for the borough.

“I’m not in favor of pulling that out of the commercial downtown,” Turner said. “You’re talking about Haines, it’s only a block and a half of Main Street. It’s not like we’re New York.”

The New York comparison stuck. Commissioner Heather Lende pointed out that New York’s Central Park increases the desirability and value of the property around it.

“Having that right in the city creates a thriving thing,” Lende said. “And I know Haines is small but it’s the same planning to have the little parks like that. Having one on Main Street is of value.”

But Josephson pushed back, saying Haines is not lacking for green space. There are acres and acres of state forest, Chilkat State Park, and more. She said Haines needs to protect commercial spaces.

Since the commission was split, it didn’t take any action on the parks and rec request. But how the borough would even go about designating a piece of property a park is unclear. Borough code is lacking when it comes to parks.

“I think this points out a gap in our code if we really don’t have a section that addresses parks,” said  planning chair Rob Goldberg.

He said there are a few exceptions that apply to specific locations, like Picture Point.

Sheldon had done some research about what other towns, like Wrangell and Petersburg have done with parks in their code.

“To dig into this question, you realize ‘huh park isn’t in our code.’ There’s no definition of a park,” Sheldon. “And we’re on the parks and rec committee. That’s an interesting conundrum.”

Goldberg said the planning commission will take up the question of parks code at its June 9 meeting.

But parks and rec chair Rich Chapell says his committee is not giving up on that patch of land at 3rd and Main.

“We think there’s great development along Main Street, some great new businesses have been started recently on borough land. But we think it’s a wise idea to preserve a little bit of green space along Main Street to keep it an attractive place for the future.”

Chapell says he plans to talk to the borough manager and planning technician to see if there is any possibility of creating a downtown park.