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By Dan Rudy 

P&Z discusses First Street drainage, containers


Rescheduled from June 11, Wrangell’s Planning and Zoning Commission met Friday to address a lengthy agenda.

Commissioners voted to approve a conditional use permit application for hotel and commercial expansion related to expansion of the Stikine Inn. They also approved preliminary plat review of a tidelands reconfiguration subdivision requested by Bill and Cheryl Goodale. The 27,450 square feet of tidelands were previously approved for purchase by the Borough Assembly in April.

Goodale had previously estimated the expansion project should be finished before the decade’s end, adding about 30 rooms to Wrangell’s largest hotel.

“I think it is a very large improvement to our downtown area and I think we should encourage that kind of business development,” said Don McConachie, on the commission.

Commissioners also approved final plat review for vacation of a 15-foot portion of Cedar Street, requested by Tony and Sue Guggenbickler in order to construct a carport next to their home.

A variance application for a yard setback submitted by the couple was amended by commissioners from zero- to one-foot before approval, following encroachment concerns expressed in a letter by Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, which owns the adjacent property. Built up to the property line, the carport could create construction issues for AHFC.

“I don’t believe it would preclude us from moving it,” Tony Guggenbickler said of the amendment afterward.

Commissioners approved final plat review for a Torgramsen-Smith subdivision, requested by Bruce Smith Jr. A request was also made by Donald Glasner for a zone change of 2.412 acres of the property from residential to light industrial in order to build a storage facility.

Commissioners were favorable to the idea, pointing out it would look nicer than a container van while meeting a need for storage. However, they felt a permanent zonal change could invite industry into a residential neighborhood in the long-term.

“That’s the type of thing that can develop there,” commented Henson.

To satisfy both parties, the request was amended to issue instead a contract zone agreement for specific use, with hourly restrictions and vegetated buffer. New commissioner Jim Shoemaker abstained from voting, citing a conflict of interest.

A request by Harley Johnson to trench, culvert, and fill a drainage ditch along First Avenue was not approved. Johnson explained he would like to landscape the property and put up a retaining wall. Additional parking would not be his primary goal, but rather improvements.

The Public Works Department was not in favor of the request, suggesting the project would cause maintenance issues down the line, affecting drainage.

Shoemaker told fellow commissioners he visited the site the previous day, and said he was concerned about sediment buildup inside the altered culvert over time. While open ditches can be dredged out, he pointed out the proposed culvert could not.

Johnson said improvements from the culvert would address a broader runoff issue caused by the city stemming back a couple decades. Doug Roberts, another First Avenue resident, echoed this concern.

“Harley’s not creating a problem. The city of Wrangell created a problem,” he said. Roberts said runoff had been undermining the foundational slab beneath his mother’s garage, causing damage.

“Our house is being destroyed,” he said.

McConachie confirmed there is a runoff problem in that neighborhood, and suggested city staff be sent to check it out.

“I think it’s one little spot of a great big problem,” he said. “It’s the whole hill that has drainage issues.”

Henson said she would not be comfortable allowing a private resident to proceed without city involvement. “I would think we need to work with the public works director,” she said.

Commissioners agreed to give the department 60 days to come back with a recommendation before readdressing Johnson’s request, putting it on hold.

Bringing up another issue, Cheri Wickman appeared early on in the meeting as a person to be heard. A resident of 37 years, she lives at the corner of St. Michaels and Front streets. Her concern is that “waterfront” zoning for the lot across from her home is no longer in keeping with Front Street’s aesthetic, being no longer near the waterline since the area was filled out.

“It’s kind of a free-for-all. They build what they want,” she said. She cited parking, storage containers and general clutter as particular issues.

Wickman said she would like to start up a bed and breakfast from her home in the near future, and expressed hope Planning and Zoning would consider reevaluating the lot’s zoning.

The commission could not take any action on the item at the time, but Henson said it will look into the matter for its next meeting.

“Containers are an issue. They truly are,” she said. In the meantime, Henson advised Wickman to take it up with the Assembly. In a worst-case scenario, she said a civil suit may be another available course to take.


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