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Setbacks idea hits resistance


The Haines Borough Planning Commission is trying to put setback limits on development in general use zones, but some assembly members are skeptical about the ramifications of such a change.

The commission is proposing any industrial development on general use land require a 50-foot setback from residential lots. The ordinance, if passed, would also require residences in general use zones to have 20-foot setbacks from street lot lines and 10-foot setbacks from other lot lines.

Manager Mark Earnest said the primary motivation behind the change is concerns about emergency vehicle access. He also said it is to “protect property interests.”

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said placing restrictions on general use zones opens up a larger discussion about planning and zoning in the borough, as development on general use lots currently is virtually unrestricted.   

“It’s a total philosophical step that we’re taking here if we introduce this, and I think it’s very important for us to be very conscious that that is what we are doing,” Schnabel said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott agreed that such a step would represent a precedent of sorts. “This isn’t a matter to be lightly adopted, and for that reason it can have as many public hearings as it wishes to have,” she said.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman disagreed with Schnabel, saying the first step toward implementing planning and zoning regulations outside the townsite in general use zones has already been taken. Property owners building outside the townsite need to file a construction declaration if their development exceeds $5,000 in value or is more than 500 square feet, Waterman pointed out.

“The first step has already been taken,” she said.

Planning commissioner Rob Goldberg said commissioner Robert Venables brought up the issue of setbacks in general use areas at the commission’s July meeting. “(Setbacks) reduce conflicts between neighbors, and in a multi-use zone they can add a bit of space between industrial uses and residences,” Goldberg said in an interview.

Setbacks would also allow firemen to maneuver around buildings and prevent fires from spreading easily from one building to another, Goldberg said.

Residents George Campbell, Bill Kurz and Sean Gaffney testified against the ordinance. Campbell, who lives up the highway and owns several parcels of general use land, said potential business developers want to use their entire space. Enacting a setback requirement now would also punish landowners who have bought property but not yet developed it, as they didn’t purchase the land with knowledge of the requirements.  

“We have lots and lots of people that build right on the edge of the property already, so this is kind of shutting the barn door a little bit after the horse is gone,” Campbell said.

Assembly member Steve Vick, though, said setback requirements come down to ensuring quality of life for residents. “You wouldn’t build your house next to a gravel pit, but if you built your house and then a gravel pit opened up on your lot line, then that would probably tick off the landowner.”

“I don’t think it’s uncommon or burdensome to do something like this, I just think it’s something new,” Vick added.

The assembly voted 5-1 to forward the ordinance to its second public hearing. Assembly member Dave Berry was opposed.

The assembly will discuss the issue again Tuesday.