Recent fines leveled by the Haines Borough against residents for zoning violations ranging from raising too many chickens to failure to obtain a permit for an RV have the planning commission reconsidering its one-size-fits-all, $250 penalty.
Planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui has been enforcing the code more than her predecessors, said planning commission chair Rob Goldberg. That has surprised residents including Penny Fossman, who is appealing her $250 fine for keeping more than three chickens in the townsite.
The Haines Presbyterian Church also appealed a fine for using an RV as a temporary residence on church property without a permit. Minister Ron Horn said the oversight was a “simple mistake” as the church has filed for the permit for years and merely forgot this year.
In a letter to the commission, Horn called the $250 fine “heavy-handed” and said a simple phone call or warning would have prompted correction of the problem. “We are not asking for special favors, but we are requesting fair treatment. In this instance, the planning and zoning technician is not being fair with the church,” Horn wrote.
Horn said land use laws are intended to penalize residents who fail to comply with permit requirements for remodeling, construction and other major projects.
“Perhaps fines and penalties should be scheduled based upon the severity of the violation. A permit for placement of an RV is routine and immediately granted. If a fine is assessed, it should be proportional to the violation, and the violation in this instance is a minor one,” Horn said.
Goldberg said he understood Horn’s reasoning. However, the commission voted 7-0 to reject Horn’s appeal.
Horn’s suggestion about making fines more proportionate to violations sparked discussion, though, and the assembly on Aug. 13 mulled the possibility of implementing a warning system or amnesty period for people to get their affairs in order before enforcement continues.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel floated the idea of a 30-day amnesty period to allow people to come into compliance, but the idea received a lukewarm response. Mayor Stephanie Scott said she would not support an amnesty period, but would like to see tiered fines and a warning system.
The assembly voted unanimously to have the commission work with the administration to come up with recommendations for adjustments to code enforcement procedures and penalties.
In an interview this week, commission chair Goldberg said he applauds Cui’s enforcement of the code – why have laws if they aren’t enforced – but said all infractions don’t warrant the flat $250 fine.
“We’ll be talking about perhaps lowering the fine for certain kinds of infractions and protocol for warning letters being sent out,” Goldberg said.
The commission will take up the issue at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.