By DAN FOX
A trio of steps have been put into motion by the Borough Assembly to work on Skagway’s housing crisis.
At the July 5 meeting, Assembly Member David Brena made three successful motions.
The first was to have borough staff proceed with negotiations with the state of Alaska for the acquisition of land southeast of Seven Pastures Ball Fields, and west of White Pass, better known as the old paintball field.
Assembly Member Orion Hanson said the land southeast of Seven Pastures is “very desirable,” and the land by White Pass is also useable. The first motion passed 6-0.
Second up, Brena made a motion for the assembly to write a letter to the Mental Health Trust Land Office, appealing it release lands near the Klondike Highway and along the Dyea Road.
Hanson said some of the developable properties along the Dyea Road are near the overlook, as well as land in the vicinity of the Liarsville turnoff on the Klondike Highway.
“It just seems like maybe a quick letter, and that could be put out to the public for purchase,” Hanson said. “We all know there is very little available to the public right now, it’s really stifling people who want to stay here, people who are here and have been waiting for a long time and would like to buy [land].”
Finally, Brena motioned to direct municipal staff to file an application with the U.S. Forest Service for a section of land in the Denver Valley.
“This is probably a longer-term thing, although the application seems that it can be done relatively quickly,” Brena said. “It would be up to the Forest Service to survey and to get it [the land] appraised, the way I read the application.”
Building a road to the land would be possible, Brena believes, if it were put in place just outside the railroad right of way.
“This is a big thing to do – we’d have to buy it, we could buy it in phases, but it could solve our housing problem,” Brena said.
Hanson agreed that Brena’s final motion was a “big idea,” and that it would not be a quick one. He said the idea would require congressional action, but that he thinks “it’s very positive and progressive.”
“I think something along these lines, it’s a bold thought, but I think it’s the right one,” Hanson said.
Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. questioned whether the city was “putting the cart before the horse,” and said the municipality should be sending the idea to its planning arm and engaging the citizens to discuss the possibility.
“At least when we reach the point when we are going to spend money or we’re not,” Steve Burnham said. “But if we plan it improperly or shortfall it, then we don’t end up with a community that compliments the town site of Skagway as it is.”
While Assembly Member Jay Burnham agreed the community should have input on the idea, he said, “As far as the cart before the horse, we should see if we can even buy the horse.”
Brena said he always envisioned the process going through the Planning & Zoning Commission.
“But I don’t think it’s appropriate to start having town meetings before we even know if we can actually get the land,” Brena said.
The first two motions were approved 6-0, and the final motion was approved 4-2, with Steve Burnham and Assembly Member Dan Henry against.