By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – At its regular meeting on April 1, Seward Planning & Zoning Commission voted to recommend that city of Seward dispose of a narrow lot in harbor subdivision by negotiation solely with Alaska Railroad. By unanimous vote of four commissioners present, SP&ZC passed resolution 2014-04 regarding the trade of city-owned Lot 1, Block 6 of small boat harbor subdivision. One commissioner had an excused absence and two positions on the commission remain vacant. The lot currently sustains parking, utilities and access points to ARR parcels in the north harbor area.
The lot has a shape like a knife blade minus its handle. The cutting edge parallels Fourth Avenue for about 450 feet. The hilt abuts the former Coast Guard building site at Fourth and North Harbor Street. The spine parallels Chinook’s Restaurant and J-Dock Seafood. The tip ends just outside the entrance to Holiday Inn Express. At a maximum width of about 35 feet, the lot would appear difficult to develop as a stand-alone property. City records give its size as 13,632 square feet. City of Seward has it zoned as “Harbor Commercial”.
According to city planner Donna Glenz, ARR has proposed that city of Seward trade the lot in exchange for what city of Seward characterizes as encroachments onto ARR right-of-way. Tim Sullivan, Manager External Affairs for ARR characterizes them as leases amounting to about 20,000 square feet for which the city pays ARR. He said that ARR proposes that in exchange for the lot, city of Seward retain the leases, but pay no rent to ARR. Examples of encroachments/leases include the fish cleaning station at J-Dock, used-oil dumpsters in the harbor and at least part of the harbor’s east breakwater, newly extended.
Although all commissioners voted to pass the resolution, all questioned it and expressed a desire for more information. Commissioner Janet Coulter asked about advantages to Seward of the trade. Commissioner Christopher Edgar questioned continued public access to J-dock and F-float ramp. Glenz pointed out that the resolution recommended retaining public access. Glenz noted that all crossings of the lot at points other than J-dock fire lane, constituted trespass on city property. She also noted that access to F-float lay south of the lot at issue. She told SP&ZC that city administration had instructed her to consider only the lot and not surrounding areas.
Citizen Ron Wille of Seward questioned impacts to parking if ARR acquired the lot. Currently the lot has a concrete sidewalk and parking space for about 12 cars end to end. City code does not require private businesses in the harbor to provide parking.
Tom Tougas, who recently acquired the green building and ARR ground lease at 1400 Fourth Ave. adjacent to Lot 1 said, “All this does is clean up a jumbled mess, it’s only logical to trade.”
When asked why she voted for the resolution, Commissioner Cindy Ecklund said, “I know that the city will have access [to the harbor]. The railroad will bring more business, add to the tax base, and beautify the area. If they can bring more people to town, then a trade is the right thing to do.”
SP&ZC did not voice certain questions. What happens if the city refuses the trade and continues the status quo unchanged? Will this trade settle all encroachment/lease issues between the city and ARR? Which specific encroachments/leases have a value equal to the value of Lot 1, Block 6?
In unrelated action, SP&ZC elected Cindy Ecklund Chair and Bixler McClure vice Chair after they cross nominated each other.