Sitka’s Planning Commission is in the process of revising the Comprehensive Plan, a vision for the local economy, housing, and land use for the next fifteen years. They reviewed some of the top ideas at their bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday (01-03-17) . (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

What should Sitka look like fifteen years from now? The Planning Commission is drawing a picture, by updating the Sitka Comprehensive Plan. The 50 page document is in draft form right now and the commission is seeking public input. 

If you’re interested in weighing in on the comprehensive plan, the Sikta Planning Commission has developed “meetings in a box” for citizens to take home and fill out through February.

Downloadable audio.

While November 8, 2016 was dominated by the election, roughly 100 Sitkans broke away from the polls to weigh in on local issues. On that night, the Planning Commission held an open house to gather public input on housing, land use, and economic development.

Roughly thirty citizens voted on which initiatives they liked best and the results of that Open House were shared during the Planning Commission’s meeting on Tuesday night (01-03-17). Commissioners were then asked which ideas they’d like to include in Sitka’s Comprehensive Plan. See those results here:  Open House Results

Tiny homes and sweat equity programs, including homesteading and Habitat for Humanity, were the most popular initiatives to address Sitka’s housing crunch. Commissioners, like Richard Parmelee, were interested in reducing Sitka’s minimum lot size, which is currently 8000 square feet. “You could take a 5000 square foot lot and you could build a starter home for somebody on it. It would be perfectly fine for a young couple and they could still raise two children on it. And I think  our society today, not just Sitka but everywhere, I think that’s what we’re looking at – is scaling our lifestyle back to smaller houses,” Parmelee said. 

But they had questions about how to classify and finance tiny homes. How, for instance, can a bank put a mortgage on a tiny home if it’s on wheels? Isn’t that an RV? Commissioners weren’t sure. What they do know is that the Sitka market doesn’t have enough housing for all and what’s available isn’t affordable for many.

Barbara Sheinberg, a consultant leading the plan re-write, said that nearly a third of Sitka taxpayers have $625 a month for house payments. That’s not enough to make a mortgage payment on most Sitka homes. During persons to be heard, Charles Bingham shared his experience. “In this town, unless I win a lottery, there’s no way I can afford to buy anything. I can barely afford rent. Just trying to get something out there that’s more in line with where wages are now I think is really critical now. We lose young people I think we’re going to lose a lot of vitality in this town too.”

On the subject of the local economy, Open House participants were most interested in switching to electric vehicles and developing a marine center at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

When it comes to land use, Sitkans put the most votes towards maintaining and improving walkability and business vitality downtown and promoting social connection through public spaces. Commissioner Debra Pohlman shared an idea for what could be down with Sitka’s parade grounds. “When I was up at the Pioneer Home I had a discussion and there were a significant number of people who wanted to see the parade ground removed and become a garden. A productive garden,” Pohlman said. 

Commissioners were also interested in developing in-fill property and redevelopment. When it comes to raw land sales, Chair Chris Spivey was cautious about taking landslide risk into account before laying out development plans. Citizen Clyde Bright agreed. Bright said, “I think part of our problem with comprehensive planning of course is the landslide risk assessment mapping won’t be out for a while. And that’s going to affect use drastically in town.”

A community-wide hazard map, funded by FEMA, will be published in the next two years. The Sitka Comprehensive Plan will be finalized sometime this spring.