Skagway residents have started work on the community’s next 10-year comprehensive plan, meeting Feb. 28 with the borough’s consultant who will draft the planning report.
Barb Sheinberg, who leads the Juneau-based consulting group Sheinberg Associates, has overseen the writing of the community’s past comprehensive plans for 2000, 2010, 2020 and now 2030.
Joining Sheinburg at the Skagway meeting were representatives from Spruce Root, a community development and entrepreneur financial adviser based in Juneau. Sheinberg reached out to Spruce Root for its assistance because of their expertise in community and economic planning.
Starting out the meeting, Sheinberg emphasized the comprehensive plan is about looking at the big picture for where Skagway is going and how residents would like to see the municipality grow.
“This process where we dialogue is as important as (the comprehensive plan),” Sheinberg said.
Residents can reach her and her team at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch the progress of the comprehensive plan at Skagway.org.
The meeting was the first of several scheduled during the spring, each with individual topics. Future meetings will cover land use and housing and are scheduled for March 28 and April 25, respectively. In addition, Sheinberg will hold a town hall meeting at the Elks Club and April 5 during the burger feed.
Due to the summer season being busier in Skagway, Sheinberg plans on having more meetings in spring and fall, while working on data research and drafting the plan in the summer.
The Feb. 28 meeting agenda included the issues of population, visitors, work and income.
Sheinberg said Skagway’s population grew from 811 in 1998 to 1,088 in 2018.
“There’s clearly something going on in Skagway that people like,” she said.
With the growth rate over the past 20 years in mind, Sheinberg forecast that population in 2030 could be 1,300.
From 2010 to 2018, Skagway has seen a growth rate 1.5 percent annually. Alaska as a whole saw a little under a half of a percent growth and Haines actually saw a reduction in growth of 0.14 percent.
Sheinberg said the biggest areas of growth for Skagway were children 5-19 and seniors 65-79.
In light of that, Sheinberg asked residents at the meeting what they think young families and seniors need in Skagway.
Among one of the first things mentioned by residents at the Feb. 28 meeting was housing and jobs. “We’ll make sure that it’s added on every list” of questions for the comprehensive plan, Sheinberg said.
Residents also brought up concerns on keeping the community safe for young families, and consequences of the governor’s proposed cuts to school funding. For seniors in town, the plans for a future senior center and whether it will include housing and services was the top concern.
In regard to visitors to Skagway, the numbers are up. “(Skagway) is going to have an 11 percent increase this year,” Sheinberg said.
In the next two years, Sheinberg said that Skagway could expect to see 1.1 million cruise ship visitors.
In response, Sheinberg asked what Skagway could do to handle the increase in visitors.
Residents noted that traffic routing of visitors during the cruise ship season would be a necessity, as well more RV parking spots and lodging in town. Additionally, with a more visitors in town utilizing cell phones and internet, lack of sufficient connectivity (Wi-Fi and cellular) was brought up as a hardship on heavy cruise ship days. Residents also mentioned the idea that maybe Skagway shouldn’t seek more cruise ship visits and that the town may be better if the number of visitors is capped.
Moving on to income and careers, Sheinberg presented data that showed employment in Skagway totaled 1,727 jobs during the peak of the 2017 summer season, compared to 519 in the winter season.
Sheinberg asked the residents at the meeting what could be done to increase the viability of year-round employment, and residents offered solutions of more municipal jobs, better internet service to accommodate remote workers and options for adult education. Others commented that some people enjoy working only in the summer and taking time off during the winter.