According to documents presented to the assembly, after YAS was denied a permit to convert a Dodge Circle property into a residential treatment center for teens, the owner of this duplex on Halibut Point Road reached out. YAS applied for a permit to convert the HPR duplex, and it was denied in April. (KCAW/Rose)

Sitkans eager to weigh in on the proposed location of a residential treatment center for teens will have to wait a bit longer to share their views. Citing an outstanding legal issue, the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (5-9-23) postponed action on an appeal brought by Youth Advocates of Sitka, whose plans for the project have now been denied twice by the local planning commission.

For the last year, Youth Advocates of Sitka, also known as YAS, has been in the planning phase of opening a residential treatment center for teens and young adults. In its most recent iteration, “Coastal Haven” would serve a dozen 16-21 year-olds from Sitka and throughout Alaska experiencing homelessness, substance use, or trafficking. The project is backed by $2 million dollars in federal grant funding, that was awarded in 2022. 

In January, YAS tried to secure a permit to convert a duplex on Dodge Circle into the facility, but neighbors circulated a petition with concerns about noise, traffic, and maintaining the single family nature of the neighborhood. In response, the Planning Commission unanimously denied their application. In April, YAS tried again, this time for a waterfront duplex several miles out of downtown on Halibut Point Road. The second proposal gained more public support, but it also saw pushback and a petition from neighbors. The commission denied the application on a split vote. YAS decided to fight the decision. 

In documents presented to the assembly for its appeal process on May 9, YAS outlined a list of arguments for overturning the Planning Commission’s decision, even asserting that the denial of the conditional use permit violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination when renting or buying a home. It was on that, and a few other legal and constitutional concerns that municipal attorney Brian Hanson recommended the assembly press pause on the process, until they got further legal counsel:

“In particular, some of the questions that have been brought up…whether it’s legal to require a conditional use permit for a quasi-institutional group residence? If it is legal, did the Planning Commission exceed its authority by denying the permit on unconstitutional grounds,” Hanson said. “And the third one, if it didn’t exceed the authority was the decision based on unconstitutional bias. In other words, were they discriminatory under the Fair Housing Act?”

Hanson said he’d been out on vacation when the appeal was filed, and it wasn’t until earlier that day that he’d had time to review the legal questions surrounding the case. That hadn’t been enough time to form an opinion. So he recommended that the assembly hold off on a decision and stay the hearing. 

Around 40 residents packed the assembly chambers to hear the appeal– one Sitkan voiced frustration that the assembly was considering a postponement when there was a crowded room of people ready to speak to the issue, but several were supportive of the delay, including YAS executive director Heather Meuret. 

The assembly unanimously voted to postpone consideration of the YAS appeal until the June 13 regular assembly meeting.

Assembly calls for increase to BSA

The Sitka Assembly is calling for the Alaska legislature to increase state funding for local schools. 

When the group met last night/on Tuesday (5-9-23), it approved a resolution supporting a boost to the annual Base Student Allocation, or BSA. That’s the amount of money the legislature dedicates to each school district, per student, each year. It’s only been raised once since 2017. 

The assembly’s resolution doesn’t specify an amount or percent increase they’re supporting. Assembly member Kevin Mosher, who cosponsored the resolution with JJ Carlson said he’d be fine with including a number if that was the assembly’s preference, but he mostly just wanted to get the message across.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence they’re going to do a lot with this, other than it’ll be important for legislators to have and say, ‘Listen, we need more,'” Mosher said.

“It’s not just about money, it’s about consistency,” he added. “We need to have a steady income so that people can plan every year.”

The resolution passed unanimously.