Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Borough to designate use for entitlement properties


Wrangell’s Planning and Zoning Commission will begin the process of zoning entitlement lands and other undeveloped, remote areas owned by the Borough. The 9,006 acres of land being considered include lands transferred to Wrangell by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, which approved the conveyance in April.

Meeting June 9, commissioners were advised to begin discussing how to zone the properties, which are considered unrestricted lands in Wrangell Municipal Code because they are beyond Service Area 1. In presenting the topic to Planning and Zoning, city economic development director Carol Rushmore recommended zoning these lands as Remote Residential Mixed Use, or else determining specific sub-area designations.

The lands include parcels on St. Johns Harbor, Mill Creek, Olive Cove, Crittenden Creek, Earl West, Thoms Place and Sunny Bay, as well as other areas on Wrangell Island. Only St. Johns needs to be surveyed as of yet before being zoned.

Among the ideas for the properties’ future floated by commissioners was using them as a sort of land bank for the compensatory mitigation required by the Army Corps of Engineers during projects affecting wetlands. Acreage in these remote areas could thus be offered to the Corps as compensation for development elsewhere within the Borough, perhaps closer to town.

“It’s one of the prime things we could do in terms of long-term development,” suggested commissioner Jim Shoemaker. Wetlands mitigation can be a major obstacle to new project development on the island, and commissioners pointed out the new lands could be used to spur expansion.

“It’s not going to be a quick, cheap process to do,” Rushmore cautioned. She added that before any of that could be discussed, the commission will need to settle the zoning issue first.

Different options are available, such as undesignated “holding zones” and dedicated timber management, but the commission will need to hold a series of public hearings to determine the best zoning designations. Commission members decided to break the properties down into individual sections and agreed to discuss Thoms Place and possibly Sunny Bay at its next meeting on Aug. 13.

Slightly closer to home, commissioners returned to the topics of waterfront zoning on Front Street and whether to restrict use of container vans outside of industrial areas.

In June 2011 the City and Borough Assembly considered but ultimately rejected setting a moratorium on use of container vans in town. Then-mayor Jeremy Maxand reasoned such a move would adversely affect people involved in fishing and construction. The idea was referred back to Planning and Zoning but the issue passed unrenewed.

An appearance by resident Cheri Wickman at the commission’s June meeting resurrected the idea, while also suggesting a zoning change for the lot between the SNO building and City Market. The lot currently has a collection of containers and equipment stored on it, which some find unsightly.

Wickman wanted commissioners to look into changing the zoning—currently designated as waterfront—which she felt had become out of keeping with the neighborhood. On Planning and Zoning’s advice, she submitted a letter to that effect to the Borough Assembly as well.

“We don’t want container buildings along Front Street to be used,” commission chair Terri Henson said in agreement. “There’s a certain atmosphere that we’re starting to create.”

The property’s owner, Chuck Jenkins, came to the meeting to explain that a container-made building is not his intention.

“I don’t like containers either,” he said. “All that stuff you see in that lot right now, it’s temporary.”

Jenkins explained he has just had a survey of the property completed, and he intends to apply for it to be subdivided into two lots, one with access to Front Street and the other to Silvernail Road. On the Silvernail side, he wants to build a 40-by-83 foot arched steel structure, 38 feet tall and topped with fabric. He said its finished look would be similar to Trident Seafood’s new bunkhouse on Case Avenue, and it would be used primarily as a storage building for his welding business. Jenkins explained the building is necessary as the boatyard has run out of space.

“That’s pretty much the last lot on Front Street,” he added. If subdivided, freight traffic would have access to the yard via Silvernail, not interfering with traffic on Front Street. The other 114-foot long lot would remain empty for the time being, to be used for parking.

Commissioners seemed amenable to the plan, which for them solved Wickman’s problem with the site. As for the broader container issue, the commissioners will continue to discuss the idea of a moratorium.

Commissioners also approved a variance application submitted by George Woodbury asking for a reduction in side yard setbacks on his Stikine Avenue property. A warehouse building on the property has since been removed and Woodbury intends to build a single-family residence in its place.

In asking for the variance, Woodbury pointed out the property is narrow to start with, only between 30 and 34 feet wide. The house he wants to build would be 20 feet wide, with a three-foot setback encroachment allowing for its eaves to be two feet from side property lines.

A letter from future neighbor Jeni Hay Thielmann was submitted to the commission, asking for at least a five-foot setback from the property line, primarily out of concern for snow pileup during the winter.

In approving the variance, commissioners added the requirement that gutters be used along the eaves and that “snow-stops” be installed along the roof to mitigate its impact on neighbors’ yards.

Other concerns had to do with the proposed dock that would be built behind the property, which would require fill and extend out by 60 feet. In addition to Thielman’s letter, nearby resident Steve Murphy appeared in person to comment on it.

“I think it’d be a log-catcher,” he said. “I’m opposed to the dock being built.”

Woodbury has already received Section 404 permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the fill, and commissioners had no comment on the proposed dock in approving the variance.

Commissioners also considered a temporary use request by Mark Mitchell, to store pots and conduct other on-shore activities on city property near Thoms Place. Mitchell is one of Wrangell’s 53 registered commercial Dungeness crabbers, of 198 in Southeast Alaska.

“My request is simply for a piece of shoreline to stack equipment,” he said, explaining usage would be “very short-term,” between and after crabbing seasons. The request would be for August 15 through the year’s end.

“I have a float out there in the bay now,” Mitchell explained. He added there might be some incidental undergrowth removal during crabbing activity, but he anticipates no damage to nearby trees.

Commissioners approved the permit but amended its description to restrict use to 2,000 square feet, as recommended by city staff, rather than the original 40,000 requested.

“It would be nice to keep it as small and tight as possible,” Henson explained. The request will move to the Assembly, which Mitchell sits on, for further consideration, as well as setting a rate for his use of the property.


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