City Council Rejects Proposed Zoning Changes

Wednesday, July 23 2014

The city will go back to the drawing board on new regulations for subdivisions and construction camps after council voted down a set of proposed changes last night.

The vote was five to zero against revisions to city zoning code that have been in the works for months.

The ordinance covered five separate parts of Title 8 – but councilors and citizens who testified focused on two: new rules for subdivisions, and construction camps.

Planning staff say the new subdivision rules would reinforce existing laws, making sure future lease lots are up to code. The language clarifies that landowners have to establish lot lines for subdivisions and address things like utility hook-ups and easements.

That process is called platting, and it has to happen before tenants or landowners can get building permits. The proposed changes say leased lots have to be platted just like lots for sale.

But property owners like Rick Miller, the CEO of the Ounalashka Corporation, are concerned about having to plat all the land they lease.

Miller said OC often wants to rent out pieces of land that are off the grid and are smaller than the city’s 10,000-square foot minimum lot size. He said they shouldn’t have to go through a costly platting process every time.

"OC’s business is leasing land. Therefore, this portion of the revised ordinance cannot help but present changes to the way we do business -- changes that may be unforeseen for OC and its possible tenants," he said during public testimony. "When government adds requirements to the conduct of business, it creates cost both in time and money."

Councilor Dennis Robinson pointed out that the zoning changes could disproportionately affect large landowners like OC.

Robinson also reiterated his concerns about the proposed rules for construction camps. He’s worried about encouraging too much temporary housing, when he says the city should be focusing on permanent development.

"A camp allows for a temporary structure for temporary workers to come in here, extract as much revenue as they can out of the community, leave nothing but our growing dump behind, and then leave," Robinson said.

But former mayor Frank Kelty said during the public hearing that the city shouldn’t discourage camps, either.

"I would encourage the council to be careful what we do with this language and don’t make it too restrictive, because I think it could have major impacts to existing housing and to the cost of projects in the community," Kelty said.

In the end, council couldn’t offer specifics on what they wanted to see changed. But they want to review the zoning changes piece by piece -- not as a package deal. They voted against the ordinance as-is, and asked city staff to write new, separate ordinances for future discussion.

Also last night, council approved a sole-source contract for Aleutian Electrical Contractors to replace the utility boxes that control city streetlights. The $102,000 contract did not go out to bid -- public works director Tom Cohenour says Aleutian Electrical is the city’s ”electrician of record.”

Councilors Robinson and Tom Enlow both expressed disappointment that there hadn’t been an open bidding process. They voted yes on the contract, but Enlow asked city staff to find out what other companies might have come forward if the project had gone out to bid. He said it’s council’s job to encourage competition.

"This is not in any way to say that Aleutian Electrical isn’t the group that should be awarded this work and shouldn’t be our retained electrical contractor," he said, "but it does oftentimes get us into a box whereby, you know, we’re devoting public funds to one organization, one corporation."

Council also moved forward on a project to bring Alyeska Seafoods onto the city’s electrical grid. The tie-in would require a $341,000 loan to the electric proprietary fund -- on top of the $1.4 million dollar loan already in place for other projects.

Acting city manager Patrick Jordan says tying Alyeska in to city power would help keep rates lower for everyone.

"It’s a case of the demand-creators being the rate-payers, which is a good thing," Jordan said.

The project is set to be done by next summer.

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