A crowd starts to gather on a morning earlier this month at the Chilkoot River. (Jillian Rogers)

A crowd gathers on a September morning along the Chilkoot River. (Jillian Rogers)

From marijuana zoning to vacation rentals, the Haines Planning Commission made progress on several issues at its latest meeting. Gates installed on the Chilkoot River Corridor that stirred controversy last year are back on the commission’s radar.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources installed gates on the road last year. State parks had just taken over the road from the Department of Transportation. The parks department said it was a precautionary measure. But, the action drew concerns from residents worried the state might try to limit access.

The gates weren’t on the planning commission’s agenda, but Larry Geise brought the issue up.

“That stupid gate they’ve got out there that blocks RVs from getting through. Makes people drive out into the bushes to get around it. And it’s just retarded,” said Geise.

The commission instructed borough manager Debra Schnabel to write a letter to State Parks about continued concerns around the gates.

The group also turned to staff for direction on marijuana. Commissioners voted to direct borough staff to write a draft ordinance for commercial marijuana facility zoning.

There are currently five applications for pot businesses in Haines pending at the state level. Right now there is nothing in borough code regulating the industry.

Two issues related to the Mud Bay neighborhood were discussed at the meeting.

The commission held a hearing to determine whether Bill and Kim Chetney are violating the conditions of their permit to operate Viking Cove Guest Homes.

Neighbors have raised concerns about the property at the last couple planning commission meetings.

“I walk up and down there a lot and to me I’ve noticed more traffic,” said Lauri Dadourian. “That’s a really hard thing to weigh out. Especially for you guys because you don’t live out there. But there has been an increase in traffic and noise.”

Several residents also wrote letters in support of the Chetney’s business.

Borough staff found the Chetney’s were in violation of their conditional use permit by operating more rentals then allowed. Their permit allows for three and they have six.

Bill Chetney defended his operation. He said they’ll still only rent to three parties at a time.

“We think that we’re trying to be really understanding of the community and the residential nature of the community,” said Chetney. “Compared to the alternatives we think we’re a lower impact user of the property then other people might be.”

The commissioners disagreed with staff, and voted against finding the Chetney’s in violation of their permit. Part of their reasoning came down to the fact that even though there are more rentals than allowed, they are within the original footprint. Here’s Donnie Turner.

“He didn’t build any more structures,” said Turner. “He’s never rented over 20 guests. There’s only the four things. In my definition, no accommodations were built, they just named them differently.”

Chair Rob Goldberg told neighbors it could be worse.

“When I made that decision to approve this permit initially, I’m trying to think of what’s going to happen if I vote no on this. There would likely be another vacation rental on it’s on lot, much closer to the neighbor’s property, and causing much more impact to the neighbors,” said Goldberg.

The group voted 6-1 against finding the Chetney’s in violation of their permit. Rob Miller was opposed. The commission is also reviewing the definition of ‘vacation rental’ in borough code. A draft ordinance is scheduled to come back for a public hearing next month.

The group also decided to hold a second workshop on resource extraction rules. Right now there is nothing in borough code that addresses the activity in Mud Bay. The issue has been on the table for a couple months now.

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for September 7.