The Sitka Assembly has unanimously agreed to remove language about landslide management from city code. 

After the deadly landslides in 2015, which killed three people and destroyed one home and seriously damaged two other properties, the assembly commissioned landslide mapping to assess risk throughout Sitka, and adopted a new section of city code with restricted development in areas with “moderate” or “high” landslide risk. But city administrator John Leach said that information is now being used by insurance companies and lenders, causing unanticipated challenges for some homeowners.  

“The difficulty with this is we had an area that was already developed. And suddenly, all these homes were placed in this restricted land slider, and they had no choice. And now, they’re kind of boxed out from refinancing, they’re boxed out from insurance, when really nothing has changed for them over the years,” he said.  

At Tuesday’s meeting  (8-10-21), assembly member Thor Christianson was in favor of removing the landslide language, but voiced some skepticism at it being the solution for the insurance and financing problems. 

“It will be interesting to see if this really removes the loan lending issue,” he said. “I have a sneaking suspicion this ordinance is being used as an excuse,” he said.

And Leach agreed. 

“The intent is to not be a barrier to lending and insurance,” he said. “But this is a little bit of a litmus test to see if we were the barrier.”

One member of the public asked if the landslide legislation would be replaced with something else, and Assembly member Crystal Duncan was similarly concerned

“And I’m glad we were able to find a solution, but it kind of plays on what came up as a concern is that we’re rescinding that entire section, which in itself is sending a message, whether we intend to or not,” she said.

Leach said they wouldn’t be removing preventative landslide regulations from the city’s purview. He wants studies to continue and said he’s working on how landslide risk mapping will be further incorporated into Sitka’s building code in the future.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly…

-Voted 4-2 in favor of approving a question on the potential sale of the former Sitka Community Hospital property on the municipal election ballot this fall, with members Crystal Duncan and Kevin Knox opposed. Read more about the vote here.

-Approved a lease between the city and Shee Atiká Inc. for 17 acres of city owned land out Halibut Point Road, for $60,000 a year with a $4 per ticket in revenue sharing with the city. Shee Atiká plans to develop a tourist attraction on the property, in partnership with Adventure Sitka. The vote was 4-2 with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz and Thor Christianson opposed, on first reading. Read more about the project here.

-Unanimously passed a resolution declaring support and in-kind commitments to the Sitka Community Boatyard application to the Denali Commission and supporting the development of a boatyard and haul out at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

-It unanimously voted to reappoint 1) Chris Ystad to a three-year term on the Port and Harbors Commission, and 2) James Poulson to a three-year term on the Historic Preservation Commission

-It approve marijuana license renewal applications for AKO Farms and Northern Lights Indoor Gardens on a 5-0 vote.

-Approved submittal and execution of Municipal Harbor Facility Grant application to the State of Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) in the amount of $2,218,646 for the project entitled Fishermen’s Work Float Replacement.