The Planning and Zoning Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the borough allow a tribal transportation office to be built on residential land.

The Wrangell Cooperative Association’s transportation branch wants to build an office, storage space and maintenance area near the Panhandle Trailer Court on Zimovia Highway. WCA asked the commission to approve a contract zone request to allow an office on land that is zoned for residential use.

WCA Transportation has worked with the borough and the U.S. Forest Service to fund and execute road construction projects. WCA paved streets in town and maintained Forest Service roads.

City staff recommended that the commission not approve the WCA’s request because employees and equipment could increase noise and traffic in a residential area.

WCA Transportation Manager Bill Willard said he does not envision it as a big industrial lot with construction activity. He said they would store some pickup trucks and possibly a small excavator at the site.

“There’s no definitive maintenance area. We’re not going to go into construction business here. We’re not going to try to put any of the local contractors out of business,” Willard said. “We’re here to work with the borough and the Forest Service to try to help build our community and try to help where money shortfalls are coming. It’s not like we’re going to have a bulldozer, a big excavator, or a great big shop up there working on equipment all the time.”

Willard said WCA would follow all noise and lighting ordinances to minimize impacts to neighbors.

Bruce Smith owns land adjacent to the lot. He said he is concerned that the WCA Transportation office could expand and lead to noise issues in the future.

Commissioner Don McConachie said WCA has done a lot for Wrangell. He said he would vote to approve the request, even though he has reservations about it.

“I would love to see that if we approved this particular zoning, that it is brought back–like staff recommends–as to what your final disposition is going to be, what you’re finally going to have up there, so that we could see,” McConachie said. “And I think at that point we, as a commission, need to put in some stringent ruling as to what activities can happen there.”

Commission chair Terri Henson voted against the request because she said she is not in favor of putting a business in a residential area.

“I truly believe it needs to remain in an industrial park. And there are lots available there that will work for this,” Henson said. “I don’t feel that putting it in the middle of a residential zone is a wise thing to do. I don’t feel that we are capable of enforcing anything.”

Willard said the remaining industrial lots in town would be too expensive for WCA to develop.

The commission decided to recommend that the WCA’s request be granted but with a few added requirements. They have to put a 50-foot buffer between their buildings and adjacent lots, and make sure outdoor lighting does not interfere with neighbors. WCA will also be required to store all equipment indoors, and the transportation team will have to bring its final site plan back to the commission for approval.

The Wrangell Borough Assembly has the final say on the contract zone request and will hold a public hearing before making a decision.

More information about the proposed office site can be found here.