The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly held a marathon meeting on Monday, with hours of public comment on a variety of issues. The Assembly made it through two long public hearings, but recessed the meeting at about 10 p.m. before getting to any new business items.

One of the big topics was a proposed rezone of property uphill from Bear Valley.

Paul Hamilton owns a big chunk of land next to Ketchikan’s Third Avenue bypass, and it is zoned low-density residential. The trouble is, it’s a steep mountain made of rock.

With the current zoning that’s in place, he can blast that rock, drill it, take it out in truckloads – all kinds of noisy construction – because he’s allowed to develop the property in order to make is usable. But Hamilton has a different use in mind. He wants to crush the rock on site, and sell it commercially to make money while developing the land. That requires a heavy industrial zone, which led us here.

Before we go further, I should state that Hamilton’s property is next to the KRBD radio station, and KRBD’s board of directors is opposed to rezoning the property to heavy industrial.

The radio station isn’t the only neighbor opposed to the change, though. Six individuals also protested the rezone, all residents of nearby Bear Valley. Here’s Donald Wrobel.

“Industrial zoning has no place in Bear Valley,” he said. “Heavy industrial allows for uses like junk yards or burning waste, much less the constant sounds of heavy equipment over our neighborhood. Rock crushing is incredibly annoying, with ensuing digging and loading with no restrictions on those activities. Loading shot rock into dump trucks creates huge noises traveling great distances.”

There also was concern over dust, improperly blasted rocks, strong vibrations, safety for young library patrons, and water running off the excavated mountainside.

Two people spoke in favor of the rezone – one of them is George Lybrand, a longtime local contractor and engineer who is working with the owners on the site development plan.

Lybrand says serious excavation is needed for the property, and it will take place no matter what. The only difference that the rezone will make is that it will also allow rock crushing. The plan restricts that activity to 30 days a year, and only between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and Lybrand says that it should not create significant noise for neighbors.

“The nearest house is 1,000 feet from where the crushers,” he said. “I’ve been through this noise and vibrations ever since I’ve been an engineer. Rock crushers, at 1,000 feet are not producers of noise above the existing background level.”

Lybrand added that the crushers would be placed behind a rock berm, to further mitigate any noise.

Despite his assurances, those who opposed the rezone were not swayed, and the majority of the Assembly agreed that a rezone to heavy industrial went too far. The actual recommendation was a split rezone, with part of the property changed to general commercial, and another section heavy industrial.

Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson asked why not change the second section to light industrial, rather than heavy, and let Hamilton crush and sell rock until the development is complete through a special use permit. Because the final use for the property – as proposed by the owner – would be compatible with light industrial.

Planning Director Tom Williams says the code doesn’t really allow for that.

“When you look at the types of things you can do in light industrial, it doesn’t have that use,” he said. “It doesn’t have resource extraction. It doesn’t have rock processing or aggregate storage.”

He says that the regulations are in place to provide a distinction between light and heavy industrial use.

Thompson responded that Planning Department employees did what they could with the regulations that are in place now, but he doesn’t want to rezone a property to heavy industrial, even with special limitations, when the long-term use intent is light industrial.

“The other thing is, when you have an industrial heavy zone, 20 years down the road, somebody’s going to forget there was a limitation on this and all of a sudden anything is possible because it’s heavy industrial,” he said. “I think those are the types of things that we make mistakes going forward when we have a procedure in place that doesn’t work.”

Assembly Member Agnes Moran proposed sending the issue back to the Planning Commission to look into creating a plan that would change the proposed heavy industrial section to light industrial. The motion passed 5-1 with Mike Painter voting no.

Also Monday, the Assembly approved an ordinance establishing a permit program for tour operators who take visitors to Herring Cove.

The Assembly will resume Monday’s meeting on Wednesday following the already-scheduled Board of Equalization meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers.