Editorial: Borough has good plan for Institute property

It was 25 years ago last month that Wrangell received title to the former Institute property near Shoemaker Bay. The 134 acres have mostly been unused since the Bureau of Indian Affairs shut down the boarding school almost 50 years ago.

There have been plans, proposals, wishes and dreams over the decades of turning the property into tourist lodging, senior citizen housing, a school or training center.

And now the borough is moving closer to the latest plan - subdividing the land into lots for housing and some commercial use.

Good for the borough to take the smart lead, and good for the community.

Then-Sen. Frank Murkowski in May 1996 handed over the deed for the prime piece of property to Wrangell, after an Anchorage-area Native corporation, Cook Inlet Region Inc., gave back the title to the federal government. The corporation had selected the acreage in 1978 from a pool of surplus federal property, but later decided its hopes of commercial development were not going to proceed and better to return it.

Now, a quarter-century later, the borough is moving ahead with plans to subdivide and develop the property with sewer and water lines, gravel roads and culverts, eventually selling 40 lots to the public. The first phase of site development, at 22 lots, could start next year.

The lots will vary in size between 17,000 and 41,000 square feet, and would all be zoned for residential construction. The community needs buildable parcels for new housing, and the site less than a 10-minute drive from downtown is a great spot for people to live.

Commercial zoning will be kept to the southern end of the property.

The development plan still requires final approval by the planning and zoning commission and borough assembly, and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for wetlands fill. The borough also needs to determine a cost for the surveying and site work to prep the lots for sale, and needs an appraisal of the land value so as to figure out how much to charge for the lots and how to pay for the work.

And one more good step: The Wrangell Cooperative Association tribal organization is working on a name for the subdivision "as part of the healing process of past memories (of the boarding school) and the cooperative effort to develop the land," according to the material presented to the planning and zoning commission.

The borough is doing a good job of putting together all the pieces to make this happen. It's been a long time since the Wrangell Institute closed, and it hasn't been easy settling on a use for the land that makes economic sense, but this subdivision looks like the answer.


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