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By Dan Rudy 

Waterfront plan starts to take shape


Submitted Photo

Corree Delabrue discusses one of the eight concepts presented to Wrangell residents at the Nolan Center Jan. 14 during the Waterfront Master Plan session. The concepts were arranged by architects using ideas collected at a Jan. 12 listening session.

A team of architects and civic planners appeared before Wrangell officials and residents last week to start drafting a master plan for the city's future waterfront development. The eventual goal is to develop the fill area along Campbell Drive into a mixed-use property for businesses, locals and visitors to enjoy.

Chris Mertl of Corvus Design, James Bibb of North Wind Architects, Dick Somerville of PND Engineers and Meilani Scheijvens of Rain Coast Data make up the team assembled to develop the master plan. Last week's visit is the first of several planned as the project takes shape.

About 50 people participated at two meetings in the Nolan Center held on Jan. 12 and 14, an assortment varying between Borough board and committee members, business owners, residents, Wrangell Cooperative Association representatives, fishermen, workers and others.

"This is your waterfront master plan," Mertl told them at Monday's listening session. "You're here to drive."

The waterfront development plan continues the process that began 15 years ago with the city's downtown revitalization.

In 2007, the Harbor Department secured an intertidal fill permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, initially with the intention to expand the Marine Service Center and barge areas and make room for the addition of inter-island ferry access.

"Once we had Front Street going, we applied for this," said Carol Rushmore, Wrangell's economic development director.

"That is a tough one to get," Harbormaster Greg Meissner said of the permit. Since then, he explained it has become much more difficult to acquire. "You wouldn't get a permit for greenspace."

The area in question spans from the City Dock to the boatyard, several acres of tidal area roughly running along Campbell Drive. Meissner explained the estimate to fill in the area back in 2007 was $5 million.

Prefacing Monday's listening session with an economic report for the borough, Schijvens identified a rise in employment between 2010 and 2013 for all sectors except for tourism.

"Your community continues to move in the right direction," she said.

The report found that maritime jobs accounts for about a third of Wrangell wages, a quarter of its total employment, and makes up nearly half of its private sector. Around 300 of the community's jobs are maritime-related, bringing in $18.8 million in wages each year.

The town has added 225 people since 2006, making Wrangell one of the fastest-growing communities in Southeast. It is also a graying community; between 2010 and 2013, the over-65s demographic increased by 16 percent. The median age in Wrangell is currently at 47 years old.

School enrollment has decreased, but that trend may change. Schijvens reported the under-4 population has increased by half in recent years.

"So have your kindergarten teachers ready," she advised.

"What the numbers really indicate is that there's room for growth," Schijvens concluded. Looking forward, she said Wrangell ought to promote itself as an "authentic" community, and target development to suit.

Collecting ideas at their Monday meeting, planners found Wrangellites largely enjoyed the waterfront's utility, its aesthetics and accessibility to the business district.

"It really makes perfect sense," said Mertl. "Wrangell is a really great, working coastal community." Mertl praised the unique look of Wrangell's waterfront, which not only caters to pleasure craft but also serves the fishing fleet and work vessels.

Among those things residents did not like is the limited space available to develop with. There was also division on how to best proceed, with some residents unhappy with current industrial use of the area, while others wanted more space allocated for use by the barge company and boatyard.

"We know we can't do absolutely everything we'd like to," Schijvens said. The design team would instead try to incorporate those seemingly disparate goals in drawing up their prospective plans. "That's our challenge."

Working with city departments, businesses and residents in a series of open-door small conferences all day Tuesday and most of Wednesday, the planning team returned to the Nolan Center that evening with eight concepts for a mixed-use waterfront.

"Everything you see on the walls have been developed in Wrangell," Mertl told the audience. "We were tasked to create three or four options. We came up with eight. You guys should be really proud you have a lot of great ideas."

Of the eight, all but two took a phased approach to development, easing into changes over a fifteen- or twenty-year process of smaller scale projects. People were free to peruse the drawings, discussing available options, leaving notes and marking off what they liked.

In the end, three concepts stood out above the rest. Concept C would be an alternative fill project, enlarging the barge company area, adding a seawalk and rerouting traffic from Campbell Drive to Front Street via Outer Drive. Further phases of the concept would restore a natural beach setting to the current riprap area and adding a pier for recreational use.

Concept F would also be an alternative fill project, instead adding to the area around the boatyard and Nolan Center, and building a wharf, promenade and seasonal floats.

"This could be looked at as an alternative," explained Bibb. "This is just a different way of thinking about how you can keep edge space and water space," rather than maintaining the shoreline straight-edged from City Dock to the Marine Service Center.

Concept H was another radical departure from the standard fill ideas, in the long-term relocating the barge companies and reclaiming Campbell Drive, with the resulting area used instead for park space and boatyard expansion. The situation of the greenspace would also focus the Nolan Center as the main view for arriving boats.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for Wrangell, it really is," said Mertl. He and the other planners will return at the end of February with a revised plan to consider further. The concepts are available to view and comment on online at http://wrangellwaterfrontmp.blogspot.com/.


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