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Yurts, wall tents, RVs get assembly's OK


People staying in yurts and wall tents can live there as long as they want, even though the Haines Borough Planning Commission would have it otherwise.

The Haines Borough Assembly Aug. 27 struck down the planning commission’s recommendation to add yurts, recreational vehicles and wall tents to the borough code’s definition of “temporary use dwellings,” a change that would have limited habitation of those structures to 18 months in the townsite.

The assembly voted 5-1 to reject the planning commission’s recommendation, with assembly member Joanne Waterman opposed. Waterman is the assembly liaison to the commission.

Residents Heather Lende, Sean Gaffney and Fred Einspruch testified against the ordinance for varying reasons. Gaffney warned the assembly to approach the issue cautiously due to possible negative impacts, while Lende said she was confused about who would enforce the new rule.  

“We had all these discussions about trailers as businesses and that was okay, but now someone can’t have a yurt? Who’s even going to enforce it? And I know there are people that have them for massage studios or guest houses currently in the townsite service area, and they’re not unattractive and don’t seem to be causing any problem,” Lende said.

Planning commission chair Rob Goldberg said construction of a yurt by resident Ira Henry is what prompted recent discussion of the issue. “The general feeling among planning commissioners was that people in the townsite who invest in a permanent home should be given some assurance that something similar will be built next door,” Goldberg said.

Yurts are, by definition, a temporary dwelling, Goldberg said. “The commission thought that allowing yurts as permanent dwellings in the townsite could bring down property values,” he said.

Commissioner Andy Hedden was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance on July 11.

Assembly member Steve Vick made a motion to remove “yurt” from the ordinance, but it failed for lack of a second. “I don’t believe that yurts are temporary. They have decks, they are massage studios, they are peoples’ spare rooms, and they don’t necessarily need water connected to them. There are multiple yurts in town and they’re very nice,” he said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott, who lived in a yurt for several years, said the ordinance would effectively make yurts illegal. “I wasn’t lighthearted when I said this ordinance outlaws yurts. Anybody reading this ordinance is going to say you can’t have a yurt unless you are going to get out of it (in 18 months).”

Assembly member Norm Smith raised the issue of school buses being used as residences in the townsite and moved school buses be added to the list. It failed for lack of a second.


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