SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Residents' Input In Newtown Development Plan Too Hot For Some
However, Hope Shown for Opening Dialog
By Marie L. Monyak


January 20, 2006
Friday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska - Invited guests wouldn't typically expect to be treated in an ornery or inhospitable manner, however two guests speaking before the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce Wednesday faced a scorching verbal crossfire from a chamber member interrupting their presentation.

Bobbie McCreary, speaking before the Chamber regarding potential development plans for Newtown if the proposed IV Berth Dock is built, was at first mistakenly introduced as being with the Newtown Historical Neighborhood Association - a group that she and Dave Rubin are currently working to help organize to help give Newtown property owners input into how the area is developed.

jpg Newtown guest speakers

David Rubin and Bobbie McCreary
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak ©2006

McCreary clarified the introduction by informing the audience, "I'm a resident of Newtown and I have concerns about upland development and parking. I am speaking today as an individual, not on behalf of the association which is still under formation."

At this point McCreary passed out a lengthy list of concerns that were voiced at a neighborhood meeting which took place on Tuesday, January 17th. The majority of the comments listed were in regards to maintaining the history of Newtown.

McCreary stressed her concern that the proposed changes to the Newtown area may get out of control and she didn't want to miss the opportunity, as a resident, to have some input in the decision making process.

Because of the negativity towards expansion, McCreary said, "I think it should be renamed extension." She also pushed for an open source of information so people who live here can make informed decisions.

Another important concern for McCreary is what would happen to Newtown after the much talked about changes and improvements. "Sure, we have cleaned up the area, but without a long term plan in place to keep it that way, we will have buildings with new paint but not enough economy to keep them up long term."

Dave Rubin, another resident that is assisting McCreary in the formation of the new Newtown neighborhood association, came to the podium to give his views. "I have lived in Ketchikan for 23 years on Pittinger Street. I rent space and work in the Waterfront Storage building, I love that building and I want to save it." Rubin said.

"I want to save the old buildings and maintain the historical setting and character of Ketchikan." Rubin added, "My whole purpose and hope is that we can arrive at a commonality between the residents and business owners and realize that we can do that [preserve the history] together."

Rob Holston posed a question asking if Rubin was saying that there can only be one jewelry store every six buildings. In reply, Rubin said, "I'm only interested in the look, they can have any business they want inside, that's laisser faire, it's the outside, the historic overlay."

McCreary made her position known and cleared up some misunderstanding when she stated, "I'm not here about voting against berths. There was something I objected to and that was the four page spread [in the newspaper] that our money was spent on to get us to vote on the last ballot. I thought that was inappropriate."

McCreary continued, "I think that unless we can do something to put a historical focus on Newtown, like Creek Street did, we can end up with anything here and I think that would be a terrible shame."

Rubin offered, "There was an overwhelming vote no. Why was that? This is an attempt to engage the people that voted no and say, look what you can have, look what you can be a part of and have them feel invested in it so they'll vote yes. "I'm saying the process should be to involve the people that live in that area. They already voted no once, how are you going to get them to vote yes?"

A woman in the audience asked Rubin who was involved as far as borough planning and other community entities. Rubin replied, "Initially the borough planners were very excited about working with us but they got an official directive from their boss who told them not to attend our meetings and not to be involved with any kind of planning with regards to Newtown."

When asked what the group's plans are for the information they have gathered, Rubin responded, "We can go to the City and the Borough and say, hey look, you work for us, of the people, by the people, for the people. They can't impose anything on us unless we vote for it. We can engage the Borough planners and say here's what we want. We can design exactly what is going to be there." McCreary added, "This is a long term project."

Chamber member and past Chamber president J.C. Conley, interrupting McCreary, said, "You keep referring to historical facts and you've drawn a conclusion that only exists in your mind. That is, that what happened downtown is a direct result of tourism. That is so factually incorrect that it tells me you just rewrite history. The greatest effect on downtown was the closure of the timber industry and the opening of WalMart. Those are measurable statistics, so I would encourage you, if you are going to speak to historical situations, that you really factually correct yourself. If it hadn't been for tourism, downtown would be an economic dead zone."

Conley continued in a confrontational manner, taking over the floor, "We're going West, commerce goes West, you have a shopping mall that is not full, you have WalMart out there, you have an anticipated opening of Fred Meyers. If you don't think that's going to suck more economic opportunity out of this part of your town, then you're sorely mistaken."

"You cannot legislate commerce." Conley proceeded, "You can't sit here and buffalo this room into believing that you, we, can establish standards. You can't make anyone, number one, invest a dime of capital, because, it's not your money. This isn't Communism, this is America, this is America! You can't do that. You scare the hell out of me!"

Conley was persistent in his crossfire as he said, "We see people like you come to town before, you probably got hooked up with some non-profit job in town, probably our [expletive] taxes are paying your way so you can sit here and destroy our town! If you want to save a town, go back where you came from, because it obviously wasn't good enough because you left."

"The cruise industry has stabilized the tax base on this town, it has done wonderful things. The number of passengers coming to this town are totally driven by the capacity of this town to dock the ships. Period!" Conley stated.

A puzzled Rubin asked of Conley, "What do you think we're saying?"

Conley's response was, "Everybody here has heard what you said. You're here because the guy that owns Waterfront Storage wants to sell it and you're going to make sure he doesn't." Addressing McCreary, Conley said, "And you, you're here because you want that house you bought on Hopkins Alley to be worth a lot more money someday."

Someone in the audience mumbled a comment that McCreary was against tourism to which she replied, "I absolutely support tourism so you must not give me that label."

Chamber member Kim Kirby spoke up, putting a stop to the diatribe when she stated, "I dislike anything that is going to make a division of local people against each other. I think there are people in here that feel very threatened, we're all business people and unless we get people coming off the ships in great numbers, it's not going to make our business work."

"Katie and I were talking yesterday and saying, why did people vote no," said Kirby. "That's really important to us because what we need is a yes vote."

Addressing McCreary, Kirby said, "I appreciate your input. I came here thinking you were against it [the dock expansion]. I think there's been some bad publicity. I want to clarify that we are all on the same page. That you aren't against the dock expansion and you aren't against expansion of business and jobs in this town."

Kirby's next comment was one that would further communication, "We are very excited to hear the input of the people that you get your comments from, because we can allay their fears and get them on board."

The beleaguered McCreary, ended with, "Thank you all for opening the dialog, and let's continue."

Next week's Chamber lunch will be held at noon, January 25th at the VFW on North Tongass. The invited guest speaker will be Ketchikan School Board member Mike Harpold, who will explain the new truancy ordinance.

According to information provided by Bobbie McCreary, a Zoning for the Newtown Area Commercial & Residential meeting is scheduled for January 24, 2006, from 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm, at 640 Park Avenue (across from the American Legion). Zoning suggestions, as proposed by some Newtown commercial property owners, and discussion of the process of developing a historical district are on the agenda. Experts will be available to respond to questions from the community on issues relating to development and preservation of the historic Newtown area northwest of the tunnel. This open meeting is presented by commercial and residential property owners of the Newtown neighborhood. The meeting is open to everyone in Ketchikan.


Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Marie at

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