Haines assembly considers incentivizing subdivisions, restricting yurts and container homes

Haines is experiencing a shortage of available and affordable housing in both winter and summer seasons (Photo by Corinne Smith/KHNS)

The Haines Borough Assembly is looking for ways to ease the community’s housing crunch. On Tuesday, they introduced a tax incentive for developers of subdivisions. But they also furthered a proposal to restrict unconventional structures such as yurts and container homes, which are favored by some as a less-expensive housing alternative in the community.

The new ordinance would incentivize building subdivisions for single-family homes by amending borough code so that when developers subdivide land, they wouldn’t have to pay property taxes until the new homes are built and sold — or for up to five years.

Borough manager Annette Kreitzer said at the housing working group meeting last week that the new measure would mirror state law.

“When you have someone putting in a subdivision, and they pay for the sidewalks and the water and the sewer and the other amenities for that, it’s a lot of investment,” Kreitzer said. “The statute recognizes that that’s a lot of upfront cost. And so to encourage developers to subdivide, the state passed this law in 2012.”

The working group was formed last month to address a shortage of available and affordable housing. It’s made up of the borough planner, manager, mayor, clerk, and members of the planning commission, and community non-profits.

The tax exemption would only qualify for residential developments, not commercial or industrial projects.

The plan would require developers to pay borough taxes on the entire bulk property but not on the improved sites for up to five years. The working group also discussed lobbying the state legislature to change the law to allow for a longer tax exemption.

Haines Borough Planner Dave Long told the working group a greater incentive would be a tax deferral up to 10 years.

“And I did talk to two property developers and both of them thought five years is not long enough,” Long said. “Maybe seven or 10 years is more reasonable.”

Long said the proposal is aimed at lifting a portion of the tax burden from developers, but there are additional challenges to developing new housing in Haines — such as labor, expertise, and cost of materials.

Rob Goldberg, a member of the planning commission, cautioned the working group that the incentive may not actually create more subdivision development.

“Looking back on all these years, and how  many long plats (i.e. lots of four or more) have come to the planning commission over the last 20 years, it hasn’t been very many,” Goldberg said. “We can put these incentives in place, but it doesn’t really guarantee that anyone’s going to put in a subdivision.”

The assembly will hold a first public hearing on the ordinance on Feb. 8 and a second on Feb. 22.

Meanwhile, the assembly held a second hearing on a proposal to restrict yurts and container homes to areas outside the townsite. The issue has been the subject of heated debate over the last year, with proponents claiming that alternative housing structures like yurts harm property values.

Opponents say it would restrict affordable housing options for Haines residents.

Joe Aultman-Moore was among those who spoke out against the proposal on Tuesday. He said he was displaced from a dry cabin on Beach Road during last December’s deadly landslide, and he and other residents have struggled to find permanent housing.

“I believe I speak for a lot of people my age in this town in my situation is: we want to build,” Aultman-Moore said. “We don’t want to live in subsidized housing, we’re not looking for tax breaks for developers. We don’t want more landlords. And we don’t want to be worried that if we take another job, we might make too much money and lose our housing. We want to build. But what we can afford to build generally are cabins, tiny houses, yurts and container houses.”

Assemblymember Caitie Kirby brought up splitting the ordinance into two parts — one to define yurts and container homes in borough code, and the second to define where they would be allowed.

She also asked to define structure “creep” which was cited by the planning committee as a concern around alternative housing structures like yurts.

“I’m not really sure what creep means,” Kirby said. “And if it’s a definable term that can be used to say, objectively, oh, this person’s property is showing signs of creep, you need to do something about it. How we, as the borough are supposed to manage that. And if the zoning choices are based on a term that isn’t really something that can be objectively defined, I’m a little worried that we might end up with murky code in the future.”

The assembly is scheduled to hold a public hearing and possible vote on the ordinance at its Feb. 8 meeting.

KHNS - Haines

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