Planning Proposes Relaxing Subdivision Rules

Friday, August 22 2014

After months of debate on the city’s rules for dividing land into new lots, the planning department thinks it’s found a solution to landowners’ concerns.

Planning commissioners got an update on revisions to city zoning code -- also known as Title 8 -- at their meeting Thursday night. It was the first time they've met since council asked for an overhaul of the zoning changes last month.

One issue is the code about platting -- what a property owner has to do before they can divide their land into new lots, and build on them. That includes setting up things like utilities and easements. It’s supposed to happen before the city will issue any building permits, and landowners say it can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 or more.

Large-scale landowners like Ounalashka Corporation CEO Rick Miller have said the process is too costly and time-consuming to do for every subdivision -- especially those that don’t need major utilities.

Now, the planning department’s offering what administrator Anthony Grande calls a “more lenient interpretation” of state law -- one that's tailored to patterns of development in Unalaska. Grande says they've made it so the platting requirement would only kick in when a request includes new utility hook-ups and a building permit.

"Some of these temporary types of things, or less impactful developments that don’t require utility connection, may not be important enough to say that you have to plat," he says.

Grande says they want to use the law to set up utilities for future development -- not to police smaller-scale building projects, or things that are off the grid.

OC’s Rick Miller says it’s a step in the right direction.

"What we’re glad to see is that the city is moving the changes to Title 8 toward those more permanent items, where we are building new buildings and not just dealing with more or less smaller development," he said after Thursday's meeting.

OC deals with those smaller-scale projects more often than bigger, lasting installations, Miller says.

But the big projects are the money-makers. And since platting has to come before building, Miller says it can be an obstacle for developers who want to move quickly -- especially in a place where construction season isn’t all that long.

Miller says they’ll keep working with the planning department to fine-tune the proposed changes to the subdivision rules. Those will be up for city council approval on Sept. 9, along with the rest of the Title 8 revisions.

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