The proposed ALPS expansion, as seen from Swan Lake. The addition would be built on a lot now occupied by Northern Credit Services.

The proposed ALPS expansion, as seen from Swan Lake. The addition would be built on a lot now occupied by Northern Credit Services.

The ALPS Federal Credit Union in Sitka is going to have to take its plans for expansion back to the drawing board.

The Sitka assembly Tuesday night (9-8-15) voted unanimously to deny the credit union’s request for a conditional use permit to expand its facility into an adjacent lot.

The credit union recently began offering financial services in nine communities outside of Sitka, and more room is needed in its headquarters at the corner of Erler Street and Halibut Point Road.

But it’s a tight fit already, with the existing building pressed up against neighboring homes, blocking views.

Kristy Totten owns the house right next to ALPS.

“ALPS is a credit union doing business as a bank. A business that should never have been allowed to operate in a residential area in the first place. Gary Sterton, the 1998 CEO of ALPS, along with the previous owner, pressured our residential community into a conditional use permit based on plans for a smaller building with a lower profile. Even then I voiced real concerns about the increased traffic this business would bring to Erler Street, a road which provides no shoulder, no sidewalks, a blind hill, and is dangerously inadequate for two-way traffic.”

The area is zoned R-2, which is a multi-family residential district. Limited business uses are allowed in R-2 zones, including professional offices, as long as the residential characteristics of the zone are preserved.

Despite the hard feelings over the size of the structure that was built in 1998, ALPS is a local success story. The credit union was founded in 1960 by a small group of workers at Sitka’s pulp mill.

Totten’s husband, John, testified that no one could have anticipated the credit union’s growth.

“In directing us here with your vote, not only do you have to pronounce on the technical merits of their application, you also have to give us guidance on whether when the code was drawn it conceived of the fact that we would have a regional financial institution next to Swan Lake, next to the Russian Cemetery. In my mind, the code hasn’t conceived of this problem, and we’ve reached the limits of conditional use permits when we allow a regional financial institution to operate in a residential area.”

The Sitka Planning Commission met in August to review the ALPS conditional use permit application, and found fault with it in several areas: traffic flow, public safety, and parking. Planners Mike Scarcelli and Maegan Bosak restated many of the commission’s concerns.

ALPS CEO John O’Brien understood that he was facing an uphill battle. He appealed to the assembly to consider the institution’s mission.

“What we’re asking for here is the ability to continue to serve our membership and our community, in a world that has changed drastically in the last 16 years since the building was built. And approval of the conditional use permit will allow us to do that going forward.”

O’Brien was supported by civil engineer Dan Jones, who had submitted a design of the expanded credit union exterior, along with a site plan for additional parking, and a drive-thru service.

But the assembly didn’t see the situation any differently than the Planning Commission. Member Steven Eisenbeisz is often very sympathetic to the needs of businesses in Sitka. He said he would oppose this application, but hoped ALPS would be back.

“I’m not sure why they didn’t come to us with a complete plan. I’m not sure why we’re being approached with a rough draft saying, Just trust us and we’ll fix all these issues later. Why not fix them now? Why not give us something that’s complete that we and the community and the people who live around here can actually believe in this plan.”

The assembly voted 5-0 to deny the conditional use permit application for the expansion of the ALPS Federal Credit Union, with Mayor Mim McConnell and member Ben Myasato absent.