The Planning Commission voted 5-2 to forward to the Haines Borough Assembly a draft ordinance that would codify definitions of yurts and container homes and restrict them in the townsite.

The proposal, which was recommended to the commission in November by the Government Affairs and Services (GAS) Committee, would allow yurts in the townsite’s rural residential and rural mixed use zones but would prohibit them as primary residences in the rest of the townsite. The structures still would be unrestricted in the Mud Bay, Lutak and General Use zoning districts.

“This to me was a good compromise,” said commissioner Diana Lapham. “We owe it to the community to see this through and have our input, have the assembly’s input and hopefully come out with a good planning tool.”

Lapham, along with commissioners Rob Goldberg, Zack Ferrin, Justin Mitman and Lee Heinmiller, voted to recommend the ordinance to the assembly. Commissioners Don Turner Jr. and Sarah Roark voted in opposition.

The Planning Commission in 2013 recommended that the assembly add yurts, wall tents and RVs to the list of “temporary use dwellings” in the townsite, limiting habitation in those structures to 18 months, but the assembly rejected that recommendation 5-1.

The idea to limit yurts emerged again at a planning commission meeting last summer. The assembly referred the issue to the GAS Committee, which last month recommended that code define “yurt” as “a dwelling with a fabric covering over a frame of wood or other material.” That would include teepees and tents. “Container home” would be defined as “a shipping container or Conex that has been converted into a dwelling.”

“When we approached this in 2013, people latched onto this as the yurt ordinance, which it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to address the issue of permanence in dwellings,” said Goldberg, noting that borough code already restricts impermanent dwellings like motorhomes and RVs.

Goldberg said that residents still would be allowed to have yurts as accessory structures or guest houses on their property throughout the townsite. The ordinance would restrict only using yurts as primary residences in two zones.

“I’m against this in the townsite,” said commissioner Turner Jr. “I am not in favor of stretching it out to tents and teepees.”

Commissioners Ferrin, Mitman and Roark expressed difficulty deciding on the motion, not wanting to tell people how to use their private property but also seeing value in defining the structures in code.

“It’s almost like a double-edged sword,” said Ferrin. “I find no problems with yurts and container homes… But on the other side of the coin, yeah, I don’t think we want to see a bunch of blue tarps strung up in the trees… It’s Alaska—the Last Frontier. If someone wants to move up here and live in a mummy bag in the trees on their chunk of dirt, then why not? I’m stuck. I want to see revisions to code, but I’m stuck on the fence here.”

In other news, the Planning Commission approved two conditional-use permits for residents wanting to rent their homes out as Airbnbs.

The commission passed two variances for structures built within the setback from Mud Bay Road.

Jerry Lapp was elected to the commission. Lee Heinmiller was reelected. Sarah Roark’s term ended, and she did not seek reelection.

The commission unanimously upheld a decision by borough manager Annette Kreitzer to follow code and not to plow the end of East Mathias Avenue. The Sanborne family appealed the manager’s decision, saying that the section of East Mathias in front of their home has been plowed since they bought the home a few years ago and that Kreitzer’s decision, made earlier this fall, posed a financial burden. (Kreitzer became borough manager on Oct. 1.)

The commission approved 35% plans for Young Road repairs and for a new public safety building. The borough doesn’t have funding to proceed to 65% with the public safety building without action from the assembly.