TAB keeps public hearings for tour permits
February 27, 2020
Tourism Advisory Board members upheld the status quo during a meeting last week to finalize recommendations about two contentious issues in tourism code: public hearing requirements and exemptions for tour permits.
The board had been meeting weekly throughout February to finalize recommendations that will go before the assembly along with recommendations from borough staff and other advisory committees as part of a multi-year effort to revise Haines tourism code.
The Tourism Advisory Board voted five to one in favor of recommending that tour permit public hearing requirements remain unchanged—all new tour permit applicants or applicants seeking to expand their tour business will need to go before the assembly for a public hearing and final approval. Members Sean Gaffney, Lori Smith, Diana Lapham, Kelleen Adams and Barbara Mulford voted in favor of the recommendation with chair Andy Hedden the sole “no” vote.
For weeks, members had attempted to weigh the public’s desire to have input in regulation of the tourism industry against the desire to lessen the burden of hearing requirements for both borough administration and new tour permit applicants.
Alternative proposals included: a mechanism for triggering a public hearing based on criteria like the number of complaints received; a size threshold, requiring public hearings only for larger tours; a temporary permit approved without a public hearing and valid for only a short span of time in order to give business owners the opportunity to try something new; and a proposal to batch tour permit hearings by limiting them to a set number of dedicated assembly meetings throughout the year.
However, each of these had drawbacks for various Tourism Advisory Board members and the majority felt it was most important to preserve the public hearing as a mechanism for public engagement.
In addition to recommending that the assembly keep current public hearing requirements, the board voted five to one in favor of changing the definition of “commercial tour” to specify that it applies only to activities that take place on a single day in the borough. The recommendation preserves current exemptions for guided hunting and multi-day trips while eliminating the need for a separate exemption code. Mulford was the sole “no” vote, supporting the intent of the recommendation but favoring a definition with cleaner language.
Members explained preserving exemptions for guided hunting by saying that it was never an activity the community intended to regulate. Hedden said exemptions for multi-day trips were necessary because of the often customized nature of these excursions. A business owner specializing in small, multi-day, multi-sport tours would almost need to get an individual permit for each trip, Hedden said. Requiring these businesses go through the permitting process has the potential to squash a rapidly growing sector of the tour industry, he said.
The Tourism Advisory Board will meet Thursday, Feb. 27 to finalize recommendations for tourism code revisions.