This land use map breaks down the greater downtown Petersburg area.

This land use map breaks down the greater downtown Petersburg area.

The comprehensive plan for the Petersburg Borough is wrapping up with an ordinance to pass the plan going in front of assembly Monday. The borough’s planning commission is sending the assembly recommendations on some proposed land use issues that are in the plan. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:
The comprehensive plan has been in the works for about a year.

At the last planning meeting, Liz Cabrera, Community and Economic Development Director, led the commission through the public comments regarding land uses and zoning issues in the plan.

Without much discussion the commission approved a land use map. The borough was formed in 2013 and this is the first land use map that addresses areas beyond the old city boundaries. The map also breaks down specific land use in Service Area one, the downtown area. It creates a historic area around Hammer Slough and it prioritizes parts of Petersburg’s waterfront for commercial and industrial use.

Commissioners took up the issue of float houses in the plan. There are a few float houses north of Papkes near Falls Creek cove. Resident, Joni Johnson, owns one of them and the land nearby. She asked the commission to include her house in the comprehensive plan which would make it okay with the state’s Department of Natural Resources laws.

“The state regulations that are currently in place, there’s nowhere written in that you can have a residential float house adjacent to residential uplands, you can have commercial or otherwise,” Johnson said.

Chairman Chris Fry said he was fine with supporting existing float houses.

“I don’t see any problem with putting that in there to allow for those at this time,” Fry said.

The Planning Commission agreed that they didn’t want to encourage people to build more float houses near their property. Cabrera said that could be taken care of by recommending appropriate language in the comprehensive plan.

“I think the way we’ll craft it is specify the area and “existing” of those things,” Cabrera said.

The planning commission discussed a public comment regarding air quality in the downtown area if more residents start using wood stoves. Commissioners didn’t want to go there. They didn’t think there would be an issue like there is in other communities such as Juneau.

“I think this is more of a northern Alaskan issue since we don’t seem to have the issue of air inversions here,” Commissioner Dave Kensinger said.

“We don’t have the air inversions here number one,” said Chairman Chris Fry. “Number two we have so much rain coming down that (laughs) it’s kind of a natural scrubbing system.”

The commission did agree to put into the comprehensive plan meetings with an ad-hoc fisheries committee every three to four years to keep the borough informed.

Cabrera said it would be a continuation of a meeting the borough had a few years ago with a fishing group.

“[We] came up with a list of recommendations on things that they thought would help keep the fleet here or add more boats here or would be positive to the industry and Petersburg,” Cabrera said.

The planning commission also took up the issue of tiny houses. Tiny houses are what they imply—they are small—often around 200 square feet—and usually exist on a trailer making them mobile. Advocates say they encourage minimalist, sustainable living.

Borough Building Official Joe Bertagnoli said the borough has received several inquiries into whether or not tiny houses are allowed in Service Area One. He said it’s a growing national trend.

“It’s becoming big,” Bertagnoli said. “I mean, economically-wise, mobile-wise, whether they be on trailers or whether they be on a permanent foundation, small homes are becoming very popular. And there’s just really no specific place that we can place them.”

Bertagnoli asked the commission to consider could the houses go in someone’s back yard or does it need to be in commercial or industrial zoning?

The commission agreed to include the discussion item of tiny homes in the comprehensive plan but said the details needed to be spelled out in future meetings and through the ordinance process.

This isn’t the last time the planning commission will weigh in on the comprehensive plan. The borough plans to hold a public hearing on the plan March 7.

The proposed ordinance on the comprehensive plan as well as final versions of the Comprehensive Plan, Generalized Land Use Maps & Definitions, the Petersburg Borough Waterfront Master Plan are all available for download.

For more information or to submit written comments you can contact Liz Cabrera, lcabrera@petersburgak.gov.