City of Seward, Council, Economics, Featured

Seward’s Housing Crunch Continues

Seward Library Community Room was overflowing with attendees at Monday night’s City Council Work Session. Photo Credit: Norma Elletson.
By Kelley Lane for Seward City News –

It’s no secret that we have a housing challenge here in Seward. The shortage of adequate, high quality and varied housing is a common topic around town and thus when City Council scheduled a work session on the topic, the Seward Community Library’s meeting room filled with interested citizens. The meeting began with Assistant City Manager Ron Long wading through a list of citizen questions, offering answers on fact-based questions and openings for later discussion on larger topics. One question was about renting out one’s house during the summer on a monthly basis, which Long clarified was legal, as long as a business permit is in place and taxes are paid on the rental income. The rules of the City Campground were addressed, with Parks and Recreation Director Karin Sturdy clarifying that the maximum length of stay in one name campground, of which there are seven along Seward’s waterfront, is 14 days. At that point, a camper can move to a differently named campground and be legal for another 14 days.

As the questions continued from the list and then from people in the audience, the room filled to capacity with late arrivals. There were multiple questions about the city extending utilities to areas within the city limits that are buildable, but currently lack utility hookups. Long explained that the City of Seward operates its utility departments on the publicly held, non profit business model. “Subsidizing hookups doesn’t work because that simply passes the costs along to the [current] utility users, because [the utilities] can’t make it back in sales because they are not turning a profit.” This question was raised a few more times throughout the nearly two-hour meeting. Long explained that people seeking to develop utility connections to properties within the City limits have the option to petition City Council to become Special Assessment Districts. This designation allows individual parties to band together with nearby property owners to share the costs of having utilities installed. These Special Assessment Districts generally allow their members a 10 year payback term. Long went further explained that Special Assessment Districts create liens on the properties involved, meaning that if property owners don’t pay their regular utility-installation costs, they could lose their property, which is why the process of determining these districts takes 6 months. The minimum amount of property to make a Special Assessment District is two lots, but generally includes more, as costs can then be shared by more parties.

Department of Community Development staff members Dwayne Atwood and Donna Glenz.
Department of Community Development staff members Dwayne Atwood and Donna Glenz.

The possibility of creating long term seasonal employee campgrounds was raised. The abandoned Air Force recreational camp that’s located along the Seward Highway, near the Chamber of Commerce was discussed as a potential site for such a development. Donna Glenz, of Seward’s Community Development Office said that such a campground “would require lots of Code changes.” There is one such employee campground located within Seward city limits, as part of the Icicle Seafoods campus on Port Avenue. It is permitted under a conditional use permit and is exclusively for Icicle Seafoods employees, making Icicle responsible for everything that takes place within their campground, according to Glenz. Council Member Squires asked about the legality of private campgrounds within the city limits. Glenz listed the zoning designations that would allow private campgrounds: auto commercial, harbor commercial, industrial commercial, resource management and park.

Senior Center Director Dana Paperman receives Proclamation in support of Older Americans Month from Mayor Jean Bardarson.

As the evening’s discussion continued, Ron Long said that the “questions were addressing two different main concerns.” The first was nightly rentals and seasonal employee housing. The other main topic was housing for year round people. According to Long, these two topics were getting farther and farther apart. Long said that the discussion that was taking place was “evidence of a thriving economy.” Many of the participants in the evening’s discussion requested more public meetings to discuss and work towards solutions to both challenges of the housing crunch. Seward City Council, seated at the head of the room, agreed that more discussion was needed and agreed to schedule more work sessions. “The red salmon are coming” said Jim McCracken, asking that the housing work sessions be held as soon as possible.

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Author Jackie Pels receives Proclamation from Mayor Bardarson.

The Housing work session concluded just ten minutes before the evening’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting was to be held at City Council Chambers. The Council members filed out of the library and walked the two blocks to City Hall. Many of the work session participants filed after them, and the evening’s Council meeting began as scheduled at 7pm. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Proclamations were bestowed on community members. Dana Paperman, of the Seward Senior Center, received a Proclamation celebrating Older Americans Month. “We don’t retire, we become free agents,” said Paperman, expressing her gratitude for City Council’s support. Bill Williamson was honored for his many years spent serving the community as the Chair on the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area board. Williamson acknowledged Ron Long and Sue McClure for their support. The 2017 Historic Preservation award was bestowed on Jacquelin Pels for her work on behalf of Seward, most recently in the form of her new book, “Framed by Sea and Sky: Community Art in Seward, Mural Capital of Alaska.” Pels, when given a chance to speak after receiving the proclamation said “I want to thank you for this great honor and I have made my goal, which is to say, I did not cry” [while receiving the award].

Bill Williamson is Honored for his service on the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area Board.

Cindy Clock in her Chamber of Commerce report stated that 450 hot dogs were served by the Chamber at last weekend’s Mermaid Festival, part of their military appreciation barbecue at the Seward Harbor. Clock reported that the Mermaid Festival was a success and expressed her gratitude to Elle Zernia and Shelly Shank for their organizational efforts. Clock had recently received the data from the 2016 Visitor Info, which included the information that the South Central region of Alaska is the most popular region of travel within the state, if cruise ship travel is excluded. Clock reminded the audience that Friday’s Chamber Luncheon will be held at the Breeze Inn and will include a presentation on heritage tourism by author Jackie Pels and Historic Preservation Commission member John French.

City Council voted unanimous approval for Ordinance 2017-002, which extended the 26 foot height building limit to the South Harbor Uplands. This will allow for two story buildings, and is the maximum distance from the ground to the top of the building. The impact is that buildings on the South Harbor uplands could potentially be a few feet higher than those on adjacent lands, because the level of the ground is higher. According to the Seward Zoning Code, the rationale for this height restriction is to “prevent the loss of life or excessive property damage through the inability of the city fire department to reach upper stories or roofs and to help maintain the character of neighborhoods.”

Council revisited the 2030 Comprehensive Plan as part of the process of sending it along to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for review. Carol Griswold addressed the Council Members requesting that an environmental mission statement be added to the document prior to sending it to the Borough. Griswold presented a statement for review that the City of Rochester had drafted. Council Members were in support of this change and scheduled a further session for May 30th at 5pm to review these additions, after the City Manager’s office has had time to make the desired changes.

The evening’s Council meeting concluded with Council members expressing gratitude for the Mermaid Festival. Mayor Bardarson reminded the public that there are four seats available on Seward’s Historic Preservation Commission and thanked volunteers who helped with the City-wide clean up day. Ron Long stated that there are vacant seats on the flood board. City Council scheduled the next work session on housing to be held on June 12th at 5pm, in the Library’s Community room.

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