First planner: Commercial trailers weren't anticipated
Planners who wrote local laws restricting trailers and mobile homes to designated "parks" didn’t anticipate they would be used as retail businesses in the downtown core, according to Dave Nanney, a former City of Haines administrator who helped launch the planning commission and served several terms on it over the course of two decades, including as chair.
Housing was tight when the timber industry was booming here in the 1970s, and house trailers popped up all over town, according to Nanney, who now operates a bed-and-breakfast at Fort Seward.
"Enough people saw it as a problem that we did a bootstrap operation, we looked around town and identified areas for trailer parks, and eventually that’s where they were located," Nanney said in an interview.
"We went through all the definitions of what is a trailer and what is a permanent foundation and there were some minimum standards set. The effect of it was that we didn’t have trailers, or structures that looked like trailers" in the downtown business district, he said.
Nanney said he couldn’t remember anyone at the time attempting to run a downtown business from a trailer or mobile home. That’s probably why language in local laws defining trailers and mobile homes centered on residential uses, not commercial ones, he said. "We didn’t foresee businesses operating out of trailers."
Haines Borough Planning Commission members last fall cited code references to residential use in their determinations that modified trailers used as food stands near downtown weren’t prohibited by borough laws regulating trailers and mobile homes.
Nanney said this week the current commission "waffled" in October when it discussed food businesses in modified trailers. He said he was disheartened by that discussion that "shied away from any in-depth analysis of what’s going on."
A code allowance for trailers as a "temporary use" was created for situations such as office trailers that are set up beside construction sites. As some construction jobs carry over more than one season, a renewable permit was established, he said.
"We were trying to be as permissive as we could. Nobody wanted to be unduly harsh or preventative, but we never really envisioned that there’d be some kind of perpetual, revolving-door use every year. That’s really working the regulation to the limit," Nanney said.
"P is for Popcorn" was a food cart operated on Main Street for two summers during the 1980s, then was operated a number of years on Portage Street as a coffee stand. Nanney said he couldn’t remember what permitting was required of that stand.
Recent borough decisions that have permitted the trailers have been made "in a way that wasn’t really in the light of day," Nanney said.
He said a more open and robust discussion of the issue was needed.
"The idea that we accomplished all that in the mid-seventies almost seems unbelievable. This place was like the Wild West then. Nobody even liked planning. If we were able to do that then, you’d think that four decades later, we could have some kind of reasonable discussion and come up with some reasonable solutions," Nanney said. "If people want a proliferation of trailered businesses, it needs to happen after a vigorous debate, so we know what we’re giving away. The way that it’s happening is all gradual."
Nanney said allowing a seasonal ice cream stand on Second Avenue about 10 years ago represented the "camel’s nose under the tent" in terms of permitting commercial trailers downtown.
"When you allow one, how do you deny the next one? That’s the conundrum we got ourselves into."
Nanney said during his tenure, the commission never specifically defined structure, relying instead on language that buildings be fixed to permanent foundations.