Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Public versus private; residents debate downtown property use


October 5, 2017

The Haines Borough Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee recommended Thursday the borough assembly designate the property at Third Avenue and Main Street for public recreational use.

The borough-owned lot has been open green space since the old school was destroyed there in 2008. Mayor Jan Hill said at the meeting that the intended purpose of the lot was to sell it to a private owner to make money through tax rolls as a justification for purchasing the expensive land on which the new school was built.

Others thought the space should be used for public, downtown revitalization. The borough’s comprehensive plan includes plans for future downtown development.

“Right now, the lot really does belong to all of us in the borough,” said resident Jean Meaux Ballanco. “It’s got the potential for a lot of things. And I think it has economic potential. I think it has potential to be an economic driver. I think it has the potential to draw people downtown and keep them downtown if we make it an attractive and inviting space where lots of things are going on.”

Ballanco suggested designing an amphitheater, food kiosks and adding a public bathroom and lighted paths to connect to other locations downtown.

“I think we need to look beyond selling it off to business and having them pay their taxes to something that’s going to benefit all the businesses,” said resident Ellen Larson.

She referenced a town square area in Flagstaff, Arizona that served as a hub for downtown recreation and encouraged local shopping.

Resident Julie Rae said a town square in Haines would act as a gathering place that brings people to town for events and keeps them in town to shop and enjoy.

Committee member Thom Ely said it was the finest green space in town.

“I really think it’s a unique opportunity to use a piece of public land for a much greater purpose than being on the tax rolls,” Ely said. “I think it would benefit this community immensely.”

Committee members Zach Ferrin and Lori Smith were critical of the ideas.

“Where is the funding going to come for this? The school can barely keep the lights and the heat on right now,” Ferrin said.

Smith questioned why the space wasn’t being used as is for community gatherings.

Committee member Burl Sheldon said he didn’t think the community was bound by what the assembly wanted to do with the land nearly 10 years ago.

“New people come to town with new ideas. I don’t think that we’re bound by anything that happened in 2008,” Sheldon said.

The committee sent a recommendation to the planning commission last April that the lot be designated as a park. The commission took no action.

“I really think it’s a long process. There might not be anything that happens there for years, but the first step is to keep it in the public domain, to designate it as public land,” Ely said. “That doesn’t mean the other land around it isn’t going to be developed, but this would put it on the books as public space and then you go from there as far as what you’re going to do with it.”

The recommendation to the assembly passed, 5 to 2, with Ferrin and Smith opposed.


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