By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Three years ago, in response to a shortage of housing for hundreds of seasonal workers, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution allowing residents to house trailers and motorhomes on their property.

The ordinance required sanitary and unique hookups to city utilities. 

“In 2018, the Assembly adopted the attached Resolution No. 18-12R that allowed for a temporary permitting system for living in RVs, but it expired on May 1, 2021,” said Skagway Borough Clerk, Emily Deach.

Deach said the MOS code section that applies to RVs, Section 15.15, is now back in place. Section 15.15 covers normal storage and habitation (no habitation) for recreational vehicles.

Resolution 18-12R, proposed by the Planning and Zoning Commision had a three year limit. The resolution recognized the need for seasonal housing for employees and “the proliferation of the habitation of recreational vehicles (RV) in conflict with SMC 15.15.”

The commission’s goal was to mitigate the seasonal housing problem “to coincide with the development of a municipal RV park over the Pat Moore Bridge and to gradually transition current RV users to a legal use of RVs.” 

In addition to requiring a permit every year, RV users were required to be properly connected to city water and sewer. Proof was needed to make sure the utilities were in the owner’s name.

The plan was adopted April 19, 2018 with a sunset date of May 1, 2021.

Fast forward through a pandemic, no seasonal workers for the 2020 season, the closing of the Garden City RV Park  and the lack of a new RV park across the river. 

Several residents fell upon a new conflict and Facebook lit up. 

People who had done business in Skagway for decades and lived in the RV park were faced with no place to return to for the 2022 season.

Kathy Warchuk had been considering selling her fifth wheel. With a month’s notice, she had to move the RV out of Garden City RV Park where she had arranged to leave it for the winter. Now she faced not being able to sell the RV or park it legally in the future for housing. The RV park sits empty.

“Those who were lucky were able to sell their RVs, but without affordable seasonal housing, we will not be here to provide tourism attractions. Our letters to the assembly fell on deaf ears,” Warchuck posted on a Facebook thread.

Residents who had installed RV hookups to city utilities on their property were also left without the option of accommodating seasonal housing.

Business owner Steve Hites asked at the Sept. 2 assembly meeting that a resolution be made to reopen the Garden City RV Park’s 87 spaces in anticipation of the 2022 influx of seasonal workers.

“The seasonal worker, the people coming up here to make money, they don’t have a lot. If they have a little camper, an RV, and they can tie it in and work the Skagway job … Otherwise, they are going to go to another market,” said Hites, suggesting the employees will find work in other tourist cities because of a lack of inexpensive places to live in Skagway. 

Facebook threads topped 170 comments discussing the issue.  

Assemblymember Reba Hilton cited a “very well-written” Facebook post by Heath Goebel. While she felt it started a good conversation, she was frustrated by the repeated use of the term “lack of transparency” by other people in the comments.

“People are so uninformed. It really wasn’t a lack of transparency, it’s a lack of awareness and a lack of participation. And it makes me mad.” 

“If you want to complain on Facebook, then show up to a meeting, write a letter, give us constructive feedback. Help us solve the problem. We are not politicians, we are civil servants,” Hylton said.

“It wasn’t meant to be a permanent solution,” said Matt Deach, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

In closing remarks, Assembly members commented on revisiting the RV park and 18-12R.