Planners Give Nod to Land Trust Concept

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 08 July 2021 16:15
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Sentinel Staff Writer

The Sitka Planning Commission on Wednesday voted to “support the efforts” to transfer more former city shops property to the Sitka Community Land Trust for more housing.

The vote was 3-0 on the motion. 

No formal action was taken, but the trust’s co-executive director, Randy Hughey, said the organization would appreciate an expression of support for the project from the commission, before the request goes to the Assembly.

Six years ago the city granted land at 1306 Halibut Point Road, the former site of the city shops, to the nonprofit SCLT. In 2006 voters approved a proposition to dedicate the surplus city land at 1306, 1410 and 1414 Halibut Point Road to affordable housing.

Planning Director Amy Ainslie provided some of the history of the project in the information packet for the meeting. She noted that in 2016 the Assembly approved the transfer of the land at 1306 to the newly formed SCLT for affordable housing, but the ordinance said the parcels at 1410 and 1414 would be transferred or sold “pending clear demonstration by Sitka Community Development Corporation that they are able to use such the parcels consistent with the Oct. 3, 2006 vote.”

Community land trust representatives told the Planning Commission the time has come for the transfer to happen. 

SCLT has finished one house on the 1306 HPR parcel, and two more are nearing completion. Hughey said six applicants are in line for the 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom homes that the trust  builds, and that the additional land would be needed to meet the demand.

“We have a lot more interest,” Hughey added today.

The SCLT approached the city in April to start the process of obtaining the additional lots, and is in the initial phases of securing more Rasmuson Foundation funds for site development.

Hughey said there would be enough space in the combined parcels to build the entire S’us’ Héeni Sháak subdivision of 15 houses. The proposed layout shows 14 of the houses grouped together, and one separated from the rest by a slide area on the northwest end.

Hughey said today that a geotechnical engineer evaluated the area for slide risk and mitigation measures that might be needed, in line with the city’s ordinance related to landslides. 

At the meeting, Hughey said the tentative plan is to erect a berm to divert any overburden that might fall from a lot on Edgecumbe Drive that is located above the housing project area. Hughey said the consultant expressed doubt that any slide debris would reach the lots.

The organization has talked to the property owner on Edgecumbe about ideas for further mitigating the risk.

Hughey said SCLT also hired an experienced excavation company in town to dig test holes to find out if there is any pollution risk, and evaluate the structural quality of the soil.

“It looks perfect,” Hughey summarized today. “Thirteen of the 14 holes reached undisturbed native soil within a foot of the surface. It doesn’t mean there’s no contaminant but it means it’s unlikely.”

The concept of the community land trust is to create “permanently affordable homes” by selling the structure only, while retaining ownership of the land in perpetuity.

Planning Commission member Stacy Mudry expressed concern about rising construction costs and the impact on affordability of the homes. 

Hughey agreed it’s a problem, and the land trust is fundraising to help the new owners with down payment amounts.

Other Business

In other business Wednesday,  the commission approved a preliminary plat for a minor subdivision creating two lots at 601 Baranof Street in the R-1 single-family and duplex residential district subject to conditions of approval.

The property at the end of Baranof is owned by David Thomas, who filed the request. He’s proposing creating two lots, one 21,695 square feet and the other 32,444 square feet.

Most of the discussion was about drainage. The conditions of approval include a requirement for a drainage study by a professional engineer, and approval of the study by a city engineer before the plat is approved.

Planning Director Amy Ainslie suggested the owner meet with city engineers to get more information about what will be required in the study.

The commission approved the preliminary plat on a 3-0 vote.