A proposed rezone on Gravina Island to allow a tourism business on what is currently residential property has been delayed and sent back to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Planning Commission.
Following significant public comment, the borough assembly voted unanimously on Monday to accept the Planning Department and Commission’s recommendation to instead start a neighborhood master plan process for the Clam Cove area.
Many of those commenting own property across the narrow channel on Pennock Island. Everyone who owns property in that area who commented Monday opposed the rezone. They said a commercial tour operation would negatively affect the character of the area.
The borough’s Planning Commission Chair spoke in favor of allowing the neighborhood plan to move forward. Sharli Arntzen said allowing a spot rezone is a slippery slope, and would set a precedent to allow more commercial rezones in that area.
“Rezoning the property would eliminate yard requirements. In other words: How closely they can build up to their property line. (It will) allow building heights up to 50 feet, maximum height, and not limit development,” she said. “So that means they could cover, corner to corner, the entire property with their commercial development.”
Those are according to borough rules, Arntzen noted. Other entities, like the Army Corps of Engineers, have their own rules and limitations for the proposed development.
Two people spoke in support of the rezone, and of owners Tab and Sarah McNabb’s plans to run Ketchikan Outdoors from there, rather than their current location at Saxman Seaport.
Jen Tucker works for the McNabbs and said it’s frustrating how Ketchikan tends to shut down innovation over a fear of change.
“And people always say ‘it’s a dangerous precedent. It’s a slippery slope. We can’t let it change.’ Well, it’s gonna change whether we let it or not,” she said. “Unfortunately, I really think with the way we constantly push back against anything that’s different, what it’s going to change into is a place that nobody can afford to live.”
The assembly, though, preferred to allow the neighborhood plan process to move forward. Through that process, the borough will organize a public meeting for affected property owners to provide input. That meeting will happen in April or May.
Planning Director Richard Harney said the results of that meeting then will go to the Planning Commission for its June meeting. A recommendation will come back to the assembly in July.
Assembly Member Judith McQuerry said her vote in favor of a neighborhood plan is not a vote against the proposed rezone.
“I just really have heard from everybody involved that spot rezones are a bad idea and without a plan, it leaves everybody — to do a spot rezone leaves everybody in limbo,” she said. “That’s really, in my opinion, not fair to the other property owners.”
Also Monday, the assembly introduced an ordinance that increases the spending authority of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District, but not by as much as the district requested.
The request was to increase spending from about $42.7 million to about $45.1 million. The increased costs are related to a new teacher contract approved last fall, which was retroactive to the previous school year. The district has to provide back pay for that previous school year, including reimbursement for health insurance premiums.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey submitted an amendment to reduce the proposed spending authority increase by about $512,000 – the cost of insurance reimbursement.
Bailey said he’s concerned about the state budget process, and wants to hold back at least a little until the funding level for the coming school year is known.
“I don’t want to see teachers laid off, but I want to find a reasonable approach to let the Legislature clearly know that we’re doing everything we can to squeeze every nickel that we can,” he said.
Bailey said the issue can be revisited later. His amendment passed unanimously.
In other matters, the assembly adopted an ordinance to designate 100 percent of tobacco tax funds to public schools. The borough had originally designated 85 percent to schools and 15 percent to a tobacco cessation program, but the borough wasn’t able to find a program that fit the borough’s needs.
The money already collected and held for tobacco cessation will be transferred to the school district’s reserve fund, along with all future tobacco tax revenue.
The next Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting is April 15.