SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


We are about to lose Coast Guard Beach.
By Sonja Alvarez


December 13, 2010
Monday PM

The Alaska Mental Health Trust applied for a rezone from  Public Land & Institutions (“PLI”) to Low-Density Residential (“RL”) at the October 12  Planning Commission meeting; MHT did not appear; the issue was deferred to Tuesday, December 14.  Initially only the neighborhood was notified, but due to an article in the Ketchikan Daily News, dozens of citizens appeared and testified.  This provided MHT with a window into the reaction of this community.  At a November 16 Work Session, Mr. Greg Jones, Executive Director, MHT Land Office, stated the purpose of MHT lands is to provide funds to its beneficiaries; and that they are intent to do this with CGB, either with sale or being its own developer.  A rezone to RL will “up zone” the parcel and increase its cost.  To immediately approve the rezone will therefore increase the valuation should the Borough want to purchase or trade for it later.

Currently, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough (KGH) has a revocable land use agreement which permits the alignment and construction of an Alaska Department of Natural Resources grant improved trail to the beach, scheduled to be completed by August 31.  Rezone denied, MHT could revoke the agreement and the trail builder could be entitled to full compensation and the community would lose access.  Rezone approved, MHT could still revoke the agreement and the trail builder could be entitled to full compensation and the community could still lose access, certainly when survey markers and flagging are installed.

The Commission likely will condition a future Plat with a recorded easement of trail and should do so at the Rezone if it has the courage to do so and the Borough is willing to defend it.

Alaska Statute 29.45 specifically exempts the MHT from assessment and payment of property taxes as a quasi-public state entity.  This applies whether the zone is PLI or RL (etc.) until the year following the point of sale to private owners.  In this interim both the MHT and the KGB have supported CGB as public beach, as long as the beach grass grows, through it’s 1976 (and 1983, 1986, 1996) Comprehensive Plan which states “a waterfront park shall be established on State lands at Point Higgins.  This part can preserve for the citizens of the Ketchikan region one of the area’s prime waterfront recreational sites.”  Other documents affirming this are the 1984 and most recent Coastal Zone Management Plan, 1985 KGB Resolution, and the 1994 Parks & Recreation Plan.  The State as well, through its exemption from taxation, acknowledges public benefit.

KGB Code of Ordinances 60.10.130(B)(4) outlines Planning Commission determinations for approving a rezone:  “(a) The need and justification for any proposed change of the zoning ordinance or the Zoning map:  (b) The effect of a rezone or overlay, if any, on the property and on surrounding properties; (c) The amount of undeveloped land in the general area affected by an ordinance amendment or zoning map amendment; (d) The relationship of the proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan with appropriate consideration as to whether the proposed change will further the purpose of the zoning ordinance and the comprehensive plan.”

KGB Staff has found all of these points to be met, approved the Rezone Request, and forwarded to the Planning Commission for approval.  None of he citizens who testified agreed to these findings.

This community is well aware that CGB is the only remaining accessible wilderness waterfront in the Borough and we need to personally contact each Commission and Assembly member about purchasing it or proposing a land trade.

Failing purchase, I propose a compromise land swap: since the KGB owns the great parcel of land from SPH School to the highway, it could exchange the square footage of a 100 foot right-of-way from Tongass Highway to the northeasterly corner of this parcel along it’s southerly boundary in exchange for public beach with wilderness view shed.  MHT gets its access road, the SPH neighborhood is intact, and the public gets its beach and perhaps can purchase additional land.

The Commission should deny the proposed rezone at this time and direct staff to prepare a land swap solution if the community can not afford or does not wish to purchase CGB.  Mr. Jones is incorrect if he believes that only those who appeared at the hearings and workshop are the only ones who do not want to lose CGB.  As residents, we need to contact each of our representatives and let them know how we wish them to vote.

The Rezone Request will be addressed at the regularly scheduled KGB Planning Commission Meeting, Tuesday, December 14, 6 p.m. at the Borough Assembly Chambers. It is Agenda Item ‘A’, under New Business, and the Rezone Request is open for public commentary at that time.

The Planning Commissioners are: Van Abbott, Sam Bergeron, David Deal, Jacquie Meck, Diane Naab, Greg Poppen, Mary Wanzer. E-mail contact information may be found here:

We are about to lose Coast Guard Beach… if we don’t speak up.

Sonja Alvarez
Ketchikan, AK


Received December 13, 2010 - Published December 13, 2010



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