Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

P&Z continues entitlement talks, denies tidelands purchase


At its regular monthly meeting Aug. 13, Wrangell’s Planning and Zoning Commission continued its evaluation of entitlement properties held near Thoms Place.

The territory is part of 9,006 acres transferred to Wrangell in April by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. In addition to Thoms Place, these include parcels at St. Johns Harbor, Mill Creek, Olive Cove, Crittenden Creek, Earl West, and Sunny Bay, as well as other areas on Wrangell Island.

Different options exist for how best to zone the lands, but public hearings and residential input will have to be sought before a final designation is arrived at.

“You don’t need to make a decision tonight,” economic development director Carol Rushmore explained to commissioners.

Looking at current usage at Thoms Place, commissioners felt some of the new lands should be managed the same way, with emphasis on recreational use. However, the commission was in agreement that limited selective timber harvests and larger-scale lodging opportunities existed.

Currently, properties in that area wanting to operate a lodge or bed and breakfast are limited to one or two rooms, with a four-bed maximum. No outright decisions came of the discussion, but the future of Thoms Place and other entitlement lands will continue at later meetings.

In other business, a request by Brett Woodbury to purchase a section of city-owned tidelands north of the ferry terminal was not supported. The property is being filled in, and the additional tidelands would provide for deep water access for boat haul-outs and moving heavy equipment.

Neighboring property holder James Stough came to express his objection to the proposal. He explained that the family trust controlling the lot has held an Army Corps of Engineers permit since 1982, and has intermittently used the barge ramp.

He explained deep water access in town is limited due to Zimovia Highway’s siting and that, left as is, Woodbury would not be lacking deep-water access.

Commissioners voted unanimously against the proposal. Planning and Zoning’s recommendation will be taken into consideration by the Borough Assembly, which will make a final decision on the proposal at its next meeting. Also considering the proposal, the Port Commission had earlier declined to either recommend or oppose the sale.

Commissioners revisited resident Harley Johnson’s request to trench, culvert and fill the First Avenue drainage ditch along his property. At its June meeting, Planning and Zoning passed the issue back to Public Works, giving the department 60 days to return a recommendation.

In a letter to the commission, Public Works director Amber Al-Haddad maintained the department’s stance that the request for construction be denied. After monitoring runoff from Park Avenue uphill from First Avenue, she said crews determined the majority of that water was being diverted to its proper ditch and catch basin.

Commission chair Terri Henson felt more investigation would be needed for the fix, which commissioners agreed would be a larger scale of project.

“I think what we need to do – talking with staff – is put this on the city’s project list for engineering,” she said. “To me, it’s better to do it right once than wrong umpteen times.”

“There’s a lot of things that need to be addressed in that area,” agreed commissioner Jim Shoemaker.

At his recommendation, commissioners requested the trench request be denied, following that decision up with an explanation for the Wrangell Borough Manager that would also encourage him to seek out funding for the wider problems on First Avenue as a capital improvement project.

Preliminary plat review was approved for a replat and storage easement vacation requested by Chuck Jenkins. The property straddles Front Street and Silvernail Road, and he wants to split it into two lots, one with access to Front Street and the other to Silvernail.

On the Silvernail side, Jenkins wants to eventually build a 40-by-83 foot arched steel structure, 38 feet tall and topped with fabric. It would be used primarily as a storage building for his welding business, alleviating a lack of space at the boatyard nearby. The other lot would remain as it is, for parking.

Commissioners granted preliminary plat review to a request by Robert and Jamie Rusaw to subdivide their Wrangell Island West property. The approval came with the added condition requiring a 10-foot utility easement along both sides of the property line.

A variance permit request for backyard setback reduction by Susan and Brennon Eagle was approved, with staff recommendations for 15 feet from Etolin Avenue and 10 feet from Pine Street.

Commissioners also approved conditional use for daycare and preschool services to be held at Hope Community Church of God. Before the business can operate, pending Assembly approval, the applicants Leeann Martin and Briana Schilling would have to obtain state licensing and the necessary inspections.

“If there’s one thing this town needs is a little more childcare,” commented commissioner Don McConachie.

Abstaining from the vote, commissioner Betty Keegan expressed concern about allowing private business to operate on a tax-exempt church property. Henson pointed out the church already operates a roller rink on the property, charging for use.

“That isn’t really our decision, it’s the city’s decision,” McConachie weighed in. He said Planning and Zoning was only reviewing whether such use would be appropriate, not how the business would be taxed.

Commissioners approved a request by Lloyd Ward for conditional use at his waterfront development-zoned property on Peninsula Street. Ward wants to construct a 22-unit storage building, at 48-by-132 feet. He explained no on-site parking would be allowed, and junk vehicles already being kept at the property would be removed once the building is completed.


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