Duck-In Car Wash on Main Street. (Google Maps Streetview)

Duck-In Car Wash on Main Street. (Google Maps Street View)

Should new residences be allowed in an area zoned for light industrial and commercial use? That’s the question the Haines Planning Commission debated at a meeting Thursday night.

Local business owners asked for permission to turn their car wash into a duplex. Some of the planners struggled with the decision, but in the end, decided they had to draw the line to protect current and future industrial businesses in the area.

Karen and Duck Hess own the Duck-In Car Wash on Main Street, just outside of Haines’ downtown core. They want to shut down the car wash and are trying to figure out what to do with the space.

“It’s just getting to be more and more and more work all the time,” said Karen Hess. “So we’d like to turn it into something that could be long-term income and not have to have Mr. Hess out there trying to fix a broken hose every day.”

The Hess’s came to the commission because their plan to build two apartments above the car wash and use the existing bays as garages is not allowed because of zoning.

Planning chair Rob Goldberg said this isn’t the first conflict of uses to come up in the area. It was zoned light industrial right before borough consolidation.

“They zoned a lot of residences into that zone,” Goldberg said.

He said all of the non-conforming uses that were included in the zone make the question of whether to allow residences more complicated.

A section of Haines' official zoning map.

A section of Haines’ official zoning map.

“This zone is kind of a mashup of different things, there’s a duplex in there, there are apartments that are above some of the businesses,” Goldberg said. “And so I think we need to consider this and give this another look.”

A mobile home park was one of the non-industrial uses absorbed into the zone, just a couple blocks from the car wash.  Recently, the planners were amenable to a different code change from that landowner. Spruce Grove Trailer Park owner Leonard Dubber wants to build non-mobile, higher-quality housing on his property to replace aging trailers. The commission was in favor of changing code to allow multiple-single family residences in the light industrial zone by conditional use.

But some of the planners worried about allowing more and more residences in the industrial area. They referred to conflicts in places where the two overlap – complaints about loud truck noises or other nuisances.

“In the light industrial zone, apartments don’t belong,” said Commissioner Donnie Turner. “I really don’t know that having apartments built along the truck route is exactly what good planning is.”

Karen Hess assured the planners that they would vet renters to make sure they understood they are signing on to live in a light industrial zone.

But Commissioner Heather Lende worried about the future implications of ‘picking away’ at industrial use in the area.

“The long-term effect of eliminating more light industrial, changing the nature of it so we call it that but it isn’t really…they lose, the light industry will lose when residents are there,” Lende said.

The planners declined to take any action on the request. Hess said they might instead explore turning the car wash into commercial storage space. That kind of use is allowed in light industrial/commercial zones.