Plans for expansion of the Small Boat Harbor would nearly double the footprint of existing parking lots. That’s a concern for at least one member of the Haines Borough Planning Commission, who believes the lot would eat up valuable waterfront property and sit empty most of the year.

Port and Harbor Advisory Committee chair Norman Hughes presented PND Engineers’ 35-percent design to the planning commission last week. The design would add about 2.75 more acres to the existing lot, for a total of about four acres, Hughes said.

The gravel lot will have pull-through lanes for trucks with long boat trailers, and will provide staging areas for people to work on their boats, Hughes said.

The parking lot would completely surround Lookout Park, except for where the park abuts Front Street. The lot would stretch about 150 feet south of Lookout Park toward the Old Haines Highway.

Planning commissioner Heather Lende said setting aside that much waterfront for a parking lot is a “mistake” for aesthetic reasons. “I would just hate to see the whole waterfront be a huge parking lot,” she said.

Lende said she also is skeptical about whether the lot would be used, as the harbor currently has a dirt lot south of the ice house that is usually empty. (The borough started leasing the lot this winter as an area for boat storage).

“I just want to know that (the lot) is necessary before we do it, and I haven’t seen that,” Lende said.

Putting a large lot along the waterfront will also be “a deal-breaker” for tourists, she said. “People coming off the cruise ship will walk down there toward town and turn around when they hit the parking lot. They’re going to think they went the wrong way.”

If the lot is completed as outlined in the current conceptual design, Lookout Park would literally look out onto a gravel lot. That also wouldn’t be very inviting for residents and visitors alike, Lende said. “You’re going to sit there in the dust and the dirt and listen to all the fishermen swearing?” she said.

Public facilities director Carlos Jimenez said he disagreed with Lende’s description of the current lot as underutilized. “From what I can tell, the parking lot will be used and it may not be full all year-round, but neither is the cruise ship dock,” Jimenez said.

Material dredged for expansion of the harbor will be used to construct the parking lot, saving the borough money in two ways, Jimenez said: It won’t have to pay to dispose of the dredged material, and it won’t have to pay to bring fill material in for the lot.

The borough doesn’t have funding to pave the lot, though the plan would be to pave it in the future. “I think it’s going to be very tasteful,” Jimenez said.

Port and Harbor committee member Bill Rostad, who represents non-commercial interests on the committee, said he has received plenty of feedback from harbor users about the parking lot.

“When I went around the harbor and polled the non-commercial people and asked them what they wanted to see in the harbor, the two biggest things that came up were parking and a new drive-down ramp,” Rostad said.

When commercial fishermen are out on the water and leave their vehicles in the lot, other users can’t find parking spaces, he said. “We really need the parking,” Rostad said.

Rostad said he doesn’t have a problem with the location of the lot in relation to Lookout Park and the Fishermen’s Memorial in the conceptual design. “That memorial is a great tribute to the people in town, and I think we need it and I think it will work fine. I don’t see a lot of conflict there,” he said.

The harbor expansion project will add 59 more slips to the harbor, increasing the facility’s berthing capacity by about one-third, said port and harbor committee chair Hughes.

A 700-foot steel wave barrier breakwater will shelter the additional slips. The project also would add a two-lane drive-down dock and boat launch ramp.

PND Engineers will incorporate comments from the advisory committee and borough staff before releasing the 65-percent design in March. By May, bid packets should be ready and the contract should be awarded by July, Hughes said.

On-site construction could start as early as this fall, he said.

Comments on the 35-percent design can be sent to the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee for inclusion in its next meeting packet. The committee’s next meeting is at 10:30 a.m. Monday in assembly chambers.