A rezone to allow a new tour opportunity on Gravina Island took about three hours of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly’s time on Monday. The assembly eventually approved a first reading of the rezone, with some changes.
Tab and Sarah McNabb own Ketchikan Outdoors, which has operated since 2006 out of the Saxman Seaport. They bought a residential-zoned lot on Gravina, and applied to rezone it for general commercial use.
The business plan calls for five buildings: The McNabb’s private home, a shop, two cabins for tourists to have snacks and buy souvenirs, and a restroom building.
According to the rezone application, the business anticipates between 50 to 150 visitors daily during the peak of the summer season.
During his presentation to the assembly, Planning Director Richard Harney said the Planning Commission and borough staff oppose the rezone. He cited concerns over how a commercial business could affect neighboring property owners. Additionally, Harney said, if the rezone were approved, the borough would have limited ability to curb activity.
There was concern about the area turning into a congested tourist destination.
There was significant public comment on the rezone request. Tab McNabb was the first to address the issue. He said he understands people’s concerns, but it’s not possible for the business to veer from the limited activity in the plan. McNabb said they had to get an Army Corps of Engineers permit.
“It’s not just our dock that’s permitted. It’s the entire facility and the nature of our business that’s permitted,” he said. “The Army Corps of Engineers, and I have the letter right here, clearly states if we veer away from that or desire to go in a different direction, we stand the chance of losing our permit. And that would obviously shut us down.”
McNabb said he would not have bought the property if he hadn’t been led to believe the rezone would be possible. He said borough staff were among those who indicated it would not be a problem.
Other Ketchikan residents spoke in support of the rezone. Jai Mahtani said the new location for the tour would help reduce congestion in downtown Ketchikan. And Jenn Tucker, who works for Ketchikan Outdoors, said the tour company celebrates the wilderness experience.
“The purpose of the tour and why I continue to stay with them and invest my time with them is because it is about preserving what we love about here and showing it to our guests,” she said. “So, within all the training it is all about respecting the neighbors and not getting too close. We’ve not heard a complaint. If there is a complaint, let me know.”
But some neighboring property owners say they’re concerned. John Holt was among them. He lives on Gravina year round, and said it’s not easy, but he loves it. Holt said the McNabbs are great people, the tour they offer is good quality and environmentally friendly, but…
“We’re concerned about the issues of precedent. Between my home and the nearest home to me are four vacant lots. They’re all zoned just like mine,” he said. “What would happen if we grant this rezone to those? They’re right on the power. They’re really desirable lots for somebody to come in and say, ‘let’s run a tour out of here.’ It completely changes the character of our home.”
Harney said the Planning Department recommends a master plan for the area to provide guidance. But, the assembly leaned toward approving the rezone with limitations, despite reservations.
Assembly Member Sven Westergard said he grew up on Pennock Island – between Gravina and Revilla Islands. Westergard said he understands the concerns of neighboring residents.
“I know the McNabbs and I know that they’re outstanding people,” he said. “It’s who comes in afterwards that I’m scared of. … So, I think if we can get some good special limitations to allow them to still do their work but stop the slippery slope … I will definitely be in favor of this.”
The rezone request with added limitations drafted by borough staff will come back for a second vote for the assembly’s first meeting in April.
Also Monday, the assembly unanimously approved a resolution opposing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget. The resolution is a joint effort with the City of Ketchikan, City of Saxman and the Ketchikan School District. The other governing bodies will vote on the resolution during later meetings.
The assembly wasn’t able to complete its agenda on Monday. The meeting lasted until 10:30, and there wasn’t unanimous consent to extend it beyond that time. The only action item not considered was an ordinance to dedicate 100 percent of the borough’s tobacco tax proceeds to public schools.
That ordinance will come back to the borough’s next meeting, which is March 18.