Planners Favor Selling City Benchland Tract

Category: Local News
Created on Thursday, 21 May 2020 16:06

Sentinel Staff Writer

The Sitka Planning Commission weighed options Wednesday for a potential sale of a tract of city-owned land off Kramer Avenue in the Benchlands area above Halibut Point Road.

Pioneer Land Development LLC approached the city with a request to purchase a portion of a 41,000-square-foot undeveloped area at the corner of Cushing Street and Kramer Avenue. The lot is in the Whitcomb Heights subdivision.

The land is north of the Kramer Avenue site of a 2015 landslide. It’s zoned Residential-1 Planned Unit Development. A study of landslide risks by the consulting company Shannon and Wilson Inc. said the parcel is in a “low risk area” for landslides.

A map shows the location of a city-owned lot on Kramer Avenue, in which a developer is interested. (Graphic provided to the Sentinel)

The city, as owner of the parcel, made the request to the Planning Commission to consider selling the land.

Jill Hirai, representing Pioneer Land Development, said her company would like to buy a parcel and develop three or as many as five lots for housing.

“It depends on what the land looks like,” as well as other costs, Hirai told the commission. The registered owners of Pioneer Land Development LLC are Jill Hirai, Jarrett Hirai, Clare Lumkong and Peter Lumkong.

Planning Director Amy Ainslie told the commission there are a number of items to consider, with the final decisions to be made by the Assembly.

The first item was whether to sell the land. The panel agreed it was a good idea, for development.

The next question was the method of sale. Ainslie said an auction or sealed bid process is generally the quickest way to get the land into private hands, but the city would have less control over how and when the property would be developed. A request for proposals or similar process would take longer, but the city could put requirements on the property, such as how soon it’s developed, lot size and number of lots.

Randy Hughey said he favored a quick process, but wanted to get as many lots as possible in the development.

Ainslie explained that the  commission needs to pick one way or the other.

“We can’t have our cake and eat it too,” she said.

The panel agreed to recommend the auction/sealed bid process to the Assembly.

“Someone wants to buy it now; their intent is to divide it as much as possible,” commission member Victor Weaver said. “(The bid process) will save them the headache of waiting months or years.”

Commission members acknowledged the auction/bid process opened the risk that another bidder could end up with the property, and then not develop it or make it available to others.

 But in the end, commission members  didn’t want to slow the Hirai group – or whoever gets the bid – in development plans. They also acknowledged that the Assembly did not have to accept their recommendations.

“The Assembly could do something different,” Vice Chairman Darrell Windsor said. 

The vote was 4-0 on the motion to recommend selling a portion of Tract A11 Whitcomb Heights Subdivision through the auction/sealed bid process. 

Shotgun Alley

The commission voted 4-0 on a final plat for a minor subdivision creating two lots at the base of Shotgun Alley in the SFLD single-family low density district, with conditions.

The property is owned by the state. The subdivision would create two lots, 12,287 square feet (Lot 1) and 18,740 square feet (Lot 2).

The property was originally designated as a right-of-way but not developed as such, planning staff said in its report.

“Given its status as a ROW, the owner of 210 Shotgun Alley, Bart Meyer, has been able to utilize the proposed Lot 1 for access and utility connections,” Ainslie said. If it’s sold to anyone else, it would result in either stranding 210 Shotgun Alley, or the “permanent need for the complex entanglement of access and utility easements ... with no net increase in buildable space.”

Staff recommended allowing a new lot to be created by the state, and sold to Meyer. After that, it could be incorporated into a single lot through a lot merger, staff said.

The other lot – 18,740 square feet – would be available for residential development, Ainslie said. The district minimum lot size is 15,000 square feet.

“It is intended that this lot would be available for public auction in 2021 (through the state) pending successful subdivision,” she said in her report.

Other Business

In other business, Ainslie updated the commission on the master plan for the No Name Mountain/Granite Creek area. The total study area covers some 800 acres. Ainslie said the department had a good response to the online survey, with 88 people weighing in on how – or whether – they would like to see it developed.

A joint work session with the Assembly and commission is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 3, prior to the regular commission meeting.