The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly wants a plan spelling out how the borough can divest itself of unused land in a way that encourages development and benefits the community.
That decision was the result of a months-long discussion that ended Monday with the assembly rejecting a land-sale proposal from local developer Harlan Heaton.
Heaton had proposed buying 18 parcels of borough land in the Mountain Point Subdivision for $10 apiece. He also wanted the borough to retain title to the land for five years, and to not pay property tax on the land until he was able to purchase adjacent lots now owned by Alaska Mental Health Trust.
Heaton also had wanted the borough to establish a Special Assessment District for all Mountain Point Subdivision property owners to help pay for common improvements such as roads and utilities.
Several current Mountain Point property owners spoke during Monday’s Assembly meeting in opposition to Heaton’s proposal. Kate Govaars said she and her husband already have made improvements, and would not want to be included in any Special Assessment District.
“And, I’m quite honestly a bit offended at the proposed sale price of $10 per lot that Mr. Heaton is asking, while also asking for all costs, including taxes and development, be incorporated and shared at no additional expense to Mr. Heaton,” she said.
Heaton also talked to the assembly, giving a lengthy explanation of his proposal. He notes that developing the parcels will cost a lot of money, which is why he wants a tax break and help with funding roads and utility infrastructure.
“My offer to the borough is not just the sale of 18 borough lots, but a plan to complete a dormant 38-year-old subdivision,” he said. “As you can see, there are a lot of lemons in the overall scope of this project. Your job is to make lemonade that would please the majority of stakeholders. Kicking the honeybucket down the road is a lazy way to solve this.”
Heaton added that he already owns property in that area, and pays taxes on that undeveloped property.
During assembly discussion of the issue, there was concern about such an agreement setting a precedent for future land sales. Assembly members questioned whether the borough needs a more defined process for selling property.
Borough Manager Ruben Duran agrees that some kind of policy would be helpful. He said the borough owns lots in different areas, with different development potential.
“And we want to have some discussion about where do you really want to go and in what order, as opposed to just picking spots,” he said. “Because we could pick spots on top of a mountain that could be very difficult and won’t be much of a success. But I think we have some opportunity to take a look at what is it we really want to get done. Particularly over the next five years.”
The assembly eventually voted to abandon the current Mountain Point land-sale process. Members asked borough staff to instead place the issue of land sales and development on the agenda for the assembly’s annual policy discussion.