Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday agreed to make changes to a comprehensive plan for the new borough. In response to public comment from around the new municipality, assembly members voted to require an advisory vote before implementing any new land use law outside of the old city limits for Petersburg.
Public comment on the comprehensive plan came in person and in writing from all different corners of the new borough. Most of those comment was opposed to any extension of planning or zoning authority outside of Petersburg’s old city limits.

Kevin Stelmach said he represented fishing lodges on the Wrangell Narrows and questioned the impact on his property on Mitkof and Kupreanof islands. “We own land, I’ve owned land since 1989 out there,” Stelmach said. “I have businesses both on this side of the Narrows and the other side. And for me to go ahead, I have permits now to go ahead and do what I want to do in the next five years for a warehouse. And this comes along and I can’t do it without another permit? What’s gonna be the deal?”

Adoption of the comprehensive plan does not start up zoning or any new permitting. However, that could happen down the road and officials said it would include a public process. The borough’s Community and Economic development director Liz Cabrera explained. “What the comprehensive plan is saying is at some point in the future we should start having that conversation about what land use should look like outside of service area one,” Cabrera explained. “And the way, it proposes a little bit more in detail saying the type of land use that we would envision that would work outside of service area one is a very minimal type of zoning where just about every use is a by right use, meaning that you would never have to get a permit to do a warehouse or run a home business or anything like that.”
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Petersburg’s comprehensive plan, drafted by consultants last year, envisions creating a conditional use permit, with a public process for large scale industrial use of land as a protection for remote home owners. Cabrera said consultants heard that concern from people who have built new homes on Mitkof Island during public outreach. “There was sort of this uncertainty about what could occur on neighboring properties. And so they came back and said ‘look, if you wanna see people willing to spend money and develop properties outside of service area one, you need to be able to give them something that protects their property values.’”

The planning document includes a general land use map that outlines existing uses throughout the borough. That is essentially the first step for looking into zoning restrictions in the future. Zoning creates areas where certain uses are allowed, in general resident, commercial and industrial. It also usually includes a public process for vetting requests that fall outside of those allowed uses. P

apke’s Landing resident John Murgas wondered why remote residents had not been asked whether they wanted zoning protection. “Liz said her main concern is protecting neighbor from neighbor through zoning. In my 27 years at Papke’s, to my knowledge, there has never been a need for such protection. That’s why we all live there to begin with.” Murgas wanted the assembly to consider leaving the land use map out of the plan.

Other remote residents wanted more discussion of the issue and thought the borough was over-reaching.

“It’s a big move for me it sounds like,” said Papke’s Landing resident Mike Stocks. “I wasn’t for the borough, still aint. I love Petersburg I wouldn’t move. I just feel like this is another choke hold on the land owners out there and you should take into consideration what the people think.”

Letters of opposition to extending any zoning authority also came in from remote residents on Kupreanof, the mainland and even Petersburg. Most said to forego any borough wide land use law until remote residents came to ask for it.

Planning and Zoning commission chair Chris Fry explained the intent of the plan. “What we tried to put forward was something that just gives some general feel, maybe if we’re gonna do it, this is what we’re gonna do outside of service area one but it’s not set in stone it’s just kind of a road map to look at for the future. But for zoning to happen that has to be done through borough assembly. There has to be public hearings. There has to be a lot of input from the people on that.”

Petersburg’s plan also recommends the assembly extend subdivision authority borough wide. That could mean standards for things like lot sizes and access for future subdivisions.

Bob Lynn moved to add language to the comprehensive plan requiring an advisory vote of affected voters before the borough extended any land use code outside service area one. “We need to make sure we develop some credibility’s not the right word, maybe it is, with the folks outside. That’s what my objective is here,” Lynn explained.

Other assembly members noted that they were not committed to forcing any land use law on remote residents.

“I’ve lived rurally for most of my life,” said Jeigh Stanton Gregor. “I’ve had running water for the last five years, feels pretty good. I don’t want anybody messing with what’s going on in my back yard, live and let live. I don’t see anything in this comprehensive plan that is meant to be intrusive on people’s individual property rights. I don’t see it and I’ve tried to really put on a critical eye and look for it. That being said, I don’t see any harm in what member Lynn is planning right now. I think that is uh, cant do any harm. I’ll definitely be supporting that.”

That amendment passed 5-2 with Nancy Strand and Cindi Lagoudakis voting no. The amended ordinance then was passed in second reading 7-0. It takes one more assembly approval before that plan is adopted.