February 10, 2011 |

Decision on food trailers looms

Three modified trailers serving food downtown are poised to gain permanent status under requests to Haines Borough officials to redefine them as "light commercial" instead of "temporary use."

The borough will decide the classification of the trailers – and likely decide their long-term fate – within the next two months. Manager Mark Earnest will decide on issuing the permits.

"Hog Heaven," a taco and doughnut stand next to the post office that opened Feb. 1, may be the first permit decided. It’s located behind another trailer serving pizza that opened last summer, part of a development by landowner George Campbell described as a planned "food court."

Trailers and mobile homes are prohibited in downtown’s commercial district, but borough staff has determined the structures don’t fit into borough definitions of either mobile homes or trailers. Members of the borough’s planning commission have come to similar conclusions.

"They want to operate out of there continuously, not on a six-month basis," said borough planning staffer Steve Ritzinger, explaining the requested switch in classification from "temporary use." As a use "by right," a light commercial designation would remove a current requirement that the trailers get annual permits.

The third trailer has operated as an ice cream and sandwich shop about 10 years on Second Avenue near the visitor’s center. Its permit also is set to expire.

In borough code, temporary use "means a building or structure that is capable of being immediately moved, or a use which is for a limited time up to six months." Under permit requirements for most of its existence, the ice-cream shop had to be removed for half the year.

A drift toward permanent status for modified trailers started under former borough manager Tom Bolen, who eliminated the removal requirement from the ice cream shop permit. It continued last summer when pizza trailer operator Jason Joel opened his business under a temporary use permit, but said he wanted to keep the business open year-round.

Borough planning commissioners discussed the issue Sept. 9, but made no recommendations to borough staff or assembly. They said most of the complaints they’d received were about the looks of Joel’s establishment, but also expressed a willingness to find permitting that worked for Joel.

"The right thing to do is to just shut him down – but that to me doesn’t fit the definition of temporary – but I understand that was the right thing to do, is not try to cut his throat, and now he has a chance to work toward an actual, permanent permit," said commission member Donnie Turner.

Ritzinger said borough staff has taken its lead from the Sept. 9 commission meeting.

"The planning commission didn’t make recommendations to management and staff to disallow what Jason was doing. Jason’s temporary use permit is set to expire and he’s going to be seeking a light commercial permit to operate continuously," Ritzinger said this week.

The ice cream shop’s temporary use permit expires in March, he said. "Most likely they’re going to apply for something to operate continuously."

At the Sept. 9 meeting, commission member Robert Venables said the pizza business didn’t fit the code definition of a mobile home. "I know this is splitting hairs, but that’s what people do when you start appealing stuff. But a mobile home is a factory-assembled residence. (Code) doesn’t say anything about a factory-assembled business."

According to code, a "mobile home" is defined as "a factory-assembled residence in which a chassis is an integral part of the structure. A mobile home shall continue to be classified as such regardless of its actual placement on concrete or other permanent foundation or removal of wheels, or addition of base skirts, or any combination of the foregoing."

Planning commission staffer Steve Ritzinger told the commission Sept. 9 that borough workers had come to a similar conclusion. "It was a mobile home Jason Joel bought from Kenny Waldo, but he took the whole thing apart and just worked with the frame only and turned it into, uh, what it is today," said planning commission staffer Steve Ritzinger. "So, indeed, it’s not a factory-assembled residence."

At the Sept. 9 meeting, commissioners didn’t address whether the pizza business fits the code’s definition of trailer, but Ritzinger said he, manager Earnest and clerk Julie Cozzi determined the pizza business don’t fall under it.

Code says, "a trailer means a vehicular-type portable structure without motive power or a permanent foundation, which is meant to be towed or hauled by a motorized vehicle and is primarily designed as a temporary living accommodations…"

"The trailer definition clearly includes residential language, which it’s not," Ritzinger said this week. "It’s clearly not primarily designed as temporary living accommodations."

Borough manager Mark Earnest this week wouldn’t say how he’d act on the new permit requests. "I don’t have any basis for making a determination one way or another at this point."

Hogg Heaven owner Nancy Coleman said she hoped to open last July but "ran into walls" at the borough after Joel’s operation came under scrutiny. "They’ve been watching us do this for months and months now. It’s not like we’ve been hiding. We’re right out in the open in front of the post office."

Coleman said she wanted to have her own building "but the overhead downtown is way too high." She said Campbell’s parking arrangement made the location attractive to her, and that she’s not looking for a building for the business she runs with her daughter Kathryn. "We’re fine here."

Ritzinger was asked if he thought a decision to grant light commercial permits to modified trailers would lead to more trailers around town, such as ones for gift shops. "I don’t know. We’d have to look at that case by case."

Ritzinger described how planning staff works with developers seeking permits. "When someone comes in, they have a goal to do something. We look up code and see what code allows, and there’s some give and take there potentially. We find something that fits along the lines of what they want to do. They may have to give and take, compromise to get to the point their operation meets code. When it does, a permit is issued."

Hog Heaven was closed by the borough Monday for operating without a permit. Owners had not submitted required information about its structure’s foundation. The closure continued Tuesday when borough officials determined its wood-block support didn’t meet the borough definition of a permanent foundation.