Borough has a lot of decisions to make on next year's subdivision land sale

While ground work is underway at the Alder Top Village (Keishangita.’aan) subdivision upland from Shoemaker Bay, borough officials are at work researching options for how the residential lots — as many as 42 — will be sold.

The sale is expected by next summer or fall.

“People are excited about it,” said Kate Thomas, the borough’s economic development director. The community has never seen so many building lots come up for sale at one time, she said in an interview Friday, Oct. 6. “This is a new opportunity for us.”

Borough officials want to get the land into private ownership so that people can build homes, Thomas said. A shortage of housing — either existing homes or lots for development — is often cited as a problem for attracting and retaining new residents, businesses and workers in town.

The subdivision is divided into two phases, totaling 42 lots. The 22 lots in Phase 1 range from 0.39 to 0.54 acres. The 20 lots in the Phase 2 have not been measured but appear on the map to be slightly larger in size.

Thomas said next year’s sale could include just the Phase 1 lots, or maybe all the parcels from both phases of the development, even though the road and utilities work will be completed by next fall only for the first phase.

When to sell the lots and how to sell them are among the decisions the borough assembly will need to make over the next several months.

The borough could sell all the lots under the same process, or spilt the parcels into differing offerings with different terms. “At this point, we are looking at all possibilities,” Thomas said.

Staff have been talking about the goals of any sale, emphasizing that the process should be fair and equitable and the lots affordable, she said.

The borough assembly could adopt stipulations for the parcels, such a development deadline to prevent people from buying and holding the lots for speculation.

The five-member Economic Development Board will make recommendations to the assembly, which has final say on the sales process, Thomas said.

The board is tentatively scheduled to hold a work session on Nov. 16 to discuss land sales options and to hear from the public.

Borough code says the lots must be sold at fair market value, which will be determined by the municipality’s contract appraiser. But the code allows the assembly to sell property for less than market value in the interest of promoting economic development.

The criteria in code for a below-market-price sale include creating jobs, putting the property in private ownership and on the tax rolls, and benefiting the economy.

Borough staff has been researching and discussing different ways the lots could be sold, including an open auction, sealed bid, lottery or simply over the counter at a fixed price, Thomas said. That decision will be up to the assembly, as well as a request from the Wrangell Cooperative Association for two of the lots in the first phase.

Ketchikan Ready-Mix and Quarry has been working this summer and fall under a $928,900 borough contract to clear brush and overburden, along with clearing land for roadways.

“The contractor has been working six to seven days a week to complete this work,” said Amber Al-Haddad, Wrangell’s capital facilities director. “They are projecting they will be complete by the established substantial completion date of Oct 30.”

After the prep work, the borough will contract for roadbuilding and utilities installation. The project will include about two-thirds of a mile of paved road providing access throughout the subdivision just off Zimovia Highway.

“We are in the final stages of the design phase for the road and utilities project,” Al-Haddad said last week. The water and sewer design plans have been submitted to the state for review and approval.

Currently, the borough plans to bury the electrical distribution lines underground at the subdivision, she said.

After receiving state approval, the borough will finish its construction contract documents and go to bid for the work. “We anticipate that bidding phase to be conducted over the winter, allowing for an early spring 2024 construction start,” Al-Haddad said.

The borough does not yet have a cost estimate for the utilities and road work.

The utilities will be stubbed at the lot line, and property owners will need to extend the sewer, water and electrical service to their home.

In addition to selling the parcels, the borough is aware of the large undertaking if multiple new property owners all go after permits, contractors and suppliers at the same time, Thomas said. One idea would be to create a resource center “to help people get on their way.”

Though prospective buyers will want to walk the parcels and judge the size and buildable area, property markers will not be driven into the ground until the utility and road work is completed.

The borough took ownership of the former Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school property in 1996. The school closed in 1975, after more than four decades of operation. The school buildings, dorms and offices were demolished in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The borough investigated the property in advance to ensure there are no historic artifacts or remains on the former school land and will continue to monitor the site during subsequent work.


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