Planning commission to look at selling downtown lot
March 16, 2023
To allow opportunity for more public comment, the Haines Borough Planning Commission delayed a vote until April on classifying for sale the three-quarter acre lot on Third Avenue and Main Street.
The planning commission in 2012 voted to hold the parcel for 10 years before deciding on the future of the land that some want to see sold into private ownership and others want developed into a public space. The lot in question was once the site of the Haines school. Former planning commissioner Robert Venables’ proposal in 2012 was to set aside the lot for a “town square” with space for parking, snow removal and wood-heat infrastructure. Others wanted the borough to sell the land to recoup costs associated with the purchase of land the current school is built on.
In a November letter to the borough manager, Gomi’s Garden owner Sabine Churchill expressed interest in purchasing the land. Churchill has held seasonal plant sales from her home for the past four years. She wrote that her business has outgrown her space.
“As Gomi’s Garden has outgrown the original location of my private educational garden, I am looking for a suitable replacement property,” she wrote of the lot. “My intention is to keep the experience of visiting a garden and parklike setting as well as to expand the seasonal plant sales to year-round educational opportunities and hosting a German-style Christmas market.”
She said the sale of the property to her business would enable efforts to beautify downtown and create year-round tourism and events.
At last week’s meeting, the majority of the commissioners favored selling the land. Commissioner Don Turner Jr. said he thought the borough should sell the land with the caveat that it retains space for snow removal and require that anyone who purchases the land has to construct a building worth at least half a million dollars to bolster property tax revenues.
Commissioner Travis Eckhoff said the lot ought to be maintained as a public space.
“In my opinion it seems like this should be designated what it’s used for now, which is a park,” Eckhoff said. “Maybe we revisit that in the future, if there’s a need for additional commercial property. Right now, it’s serving basically as a town square, which is a need identified in the comp plan.”
Larry Larson has long advocated that the lot remain public, and that it be developed to serve as a town square. “While there’s no question that it has great commercial value as well, what really makes this piece special is its civic potential as a town square, or hub, sitting as it does, strategically at a major downtown intersection, adjacent to other public buildings, open fields, southern exposure and mountain views,” Larson told the CVN.
Larson said he thinks turning the lot into such a hub would increase the value of nearby properties, which would still benefit borough coffers.
“Ideally this should become a ballot measure - letting the public decide what is best for our public property and the town of Haines,” Larson said.
At the meeting, commissioner Zack Ferrin said that the Tlingit Park longhouse and the Small Boat Harbor parking lot gazebo provide a public space that was originally conceived for the Third and Main property in 2009. At the time, the assembly discussed the fate of the old school properties, which triggered a $40,000 study that planned for a recreation center, public space and amphitheater in the area.
“Within a very short distance there’s two other venues that are achieving the same sort of idea,” Ferrin said.
The other lots in the original parcel at Third and Main were sold, one of which is now home to Haines Brewing Company.
Commissioner Richard Clement said he’d like to see more commercial activity in the area.
“We do have some very good parks in the area and I personally would like to see more commercial activity or an option for more commercial activity on Main Street,” commissioner Clement said.
Public facilities director Ed Coffland told the commission they could consider putting out a request for proposals that targets a specific development. “You would sell a property to a person who had the best plan for use of the property. They would develop whatever architectural schemes or plans, enough to demonstrate what they wanted to do with it,” Coffland said. “Then you could decide who to sell it to.”
The commission will consider classifying the lot for sale at its April 13 meeting.
The commission also recommended appointing Scott Hansen, one of three applicants including Mark Smith and Bill Jurewitz, to fill a seat left vacant by Margarette Jones. Jones filled an assembly seat left vacant by Tyler Huling.