The Chisel Building is the tallest building in downtown Haines. (Christopher Cotrell/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Chisel Building is the tallest building in downtown Haines. It was built before borough height restrictions were in place. (Christopher Cotrell/Flickr Creative Commons)

After initially thinking about loosening restrictions on building heights, the Haines Planning Commission is now leaning in the opposite direction. If the commission approves a proposed change, builders in the Mud Bay, Lutak and General Use zones would have to keep structures under 30 feet.

The commission’s first idea was to relax height restrictions. At previous meetings, commissioners wondered aloud where the current 30-foot restriction for many zones came from.

At the most recent meeting, they got their answer.

“It was set at 30 feet because that’s the height at which the fire department can safely rescue somebody and handle a fire in a building that height,” Commission Chair Rob Goldberg said. “So it became immediately clear to me that 30 feet makes sense.”

Haines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Clay told the commission that the department’s ladders are 24 feet tall. That means the maximum building height that the department can safely serve is 30 feet. To respond to taller buildings, the department would need expensive new equipment.

“When you start raising the height requirements it’s gonna put a heavy load not only on my department but out the road,” Clay said. “Klehini Valley [Fire Department] has 14 firemen and two trucks.”

This new information shut down the commission’s motivation to raise heights limits. But it sparked a new idea: maybe the areas that aren’t restricted to 30 feet should be.

“Currently our code allows Mud Bay and Lutak to be beyond the 30 feet,” said Commissioner Brenda Josephson. “Sounds like that’s a hazard, needs to be reduced down to 30.”

Commissioner Jeremy Stephens said if the regulations do drop to 30 feet, people should still be able to apply for conditional use permits.

“If the developer or a builder has a situation they want to build over 30 feet, they should have the right to try to jump through all the loopholes in the conditional use permit,” Stephens said.

The commission voted to change height limits in Mud Bay Rural Residential, Lutak Rural Residential, and General Use zones to 30 feet.

Before its finalized, there will be a public hearing on the proposal at the commission’s next meeting on March 9.