The Wrangell Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to approve the Wrangell Cooperative Association’s request to build a transportation office on residential land.

WCA Transportation has worked with the borough and the U.S. Forest Service to fund and execute road construction projects, which included paving streets in town and maintaining Forest Service roads. The tribe’s transportation branch is now planning to build an office, storage space and maintenance area near the Panhandle Trailer Court on Zimovia Highway.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the assembly approve the WCA’s contract zone request to build an office on land that is zoned for residential use. The commission’s decision mandated a 50-foot buffer between WCA buildings and adjacent lots. City ordinances require a 25-foot buffer.

Assembly members heard from people in the audience that a double buffer all the way around the site would use up too much space, and that it might discourage the WCA from purchasing the property.

Bruce Smith owns property adjacent to the site, and he said he was initially skeptical about the WCA’s proposal. But after learning more about it, he said he would accept having the office next to his property.

“The problem is, once you establish something now, it’s going to be this way probably forever,” Smith said. “So what I’m looking at is Planning and Zoning recommended a 50-foot buffer all the way around, and I’d at least like consideration of a 50-foot buffer on the residential sides.”

Smith said a 50-foot buffer would not be necessary where the property borders a road and a storage unit.

Assembly Member Mark Mitchell agreed.

“I think we need all the business we can get, and I think we need to provide that,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got spaces all over that are empty. This is a vacant lot; this would be a good use for it. I personally don’t see a problem with it.”

After a long discussion, the assembly scaled the buffer back to 25 feet on all sides. But the Planning and Zoning Commission could change it back to a 50-foot buffer along Smith’s property line. That depends on the commission’s review of the WCA site plan after it is completed.

The assembly also decided to strike Planning and Zoning’s requirement for “indoor equipment storage” because it was too vague.

WCA Transportation Manager Bill Willard said the next step is to get a landscape engineer to help create a site plan. Then he will bring the plan back to Planning and Zoning for a final review.

The assembly also approved Wrangell Medical Center’s purchase of lab equipment for $136,720.

The hospital wanted to lease the equipment with an eventual purchase, but the assembly told the hospital to use its line of credit to buy the equipment instead.

Last summer, the borough assembly set aside $500,000 for Wrangell Medical Center to borrow in case it runs out of cash.

The hospital did not run out of cash, but Assembly Member Stephen Prysunka said he would rather see the hospital buy the equipment it needs without losing money on financing.

“When we came up with this [line of credit], we were thinking it was more for covering payroll or emergency funds,” Prysunka said. “But I think it’s an exceptional way to do that and save you guys almost $20,000 in financing costs.”

The is the first time Wrangell Medical Center is using its line of credit with the borough.