institute plan

Wrangell residents left comments on one of seven draft plans for the former site of the Wrangell Institute.

Architects met with Wrangell residents this week to start planning for a new housing subdivision on land that was previously used by a boarding school for Alaska Native children. Preliminary designs for the former site of the Wrangell Institute combine different types of housing, senior assisted living, retail space and an education center to meet current and future community needs.

The Wrangell Institute property is 134 acres of borough-owned land located five miles south of town. The entire parcel is suitable for development, and it’s a clean slate.

The City and Borough of Wrangell hired Corvus Design to create a master plan for the site. After gathering ideas from Wrangell residents, designers presented seven draft plans for a new neighborhood.

The plans have different layouts, but the main elements are lots for single-family houses, clusters of cabin-like housing, apartments, a senior assisted living facility, a bit of retail space and a vocational education center.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised from the start that the community has really gotten behind making this more than just a housing development,” said landscape architect Chris Mertl. “They see that there’s an opportunity to really create a neighborhood in a new section of the community and how they can use the development to stimulate economic opportunities.”

Mertl said the design should encourage interaction and activity in the new neighborhood.

“I think my favorite plans are the ones that create kind of a main street environment where along the highway, you have small commercial retail that would support the residential [area]. Having the assisted living and the senior housing pushed back just a little bit from the edge of the highway so that it’s a little quieter. They still have the great views out toward the ocean. And creating campus greens so that we’re creating open space around the assisted living and creating links between the different housing developments.”

Wrangell Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said there is already a shortage of single-family lots and rental vacancies. And if Wrangell develops the old mill site, new workers in town would need a place to live.

“So this is one of those areas where we do have some land,” Jabusch said. “And so I think the plan might be very optimistic, but it’s also something if we’re looking to the future and hoping to expand, it’s the one place we have that we can do that in.”

Mertl said the plan would be implemented in phases based on Wrangell’s economic growth.

“What are going to be the opportunities that can be cost effective as the first phase, but also catalysts to get other people involved, whether it be private [or] public partnerships? Maybe private developers might want to get involved,” Mertl said. “What are ways to get excitement going in this development?”

Jabusch said the best way to start would be by developing single-family lots close to the highway, because new roads and utility hookups are expensive.

“But as long as we have a place we can start near the road and start selling lots initially, and more quickly, then I think I would be more in favor of something like that, just from a cost perspective for the city,” Jabusch said. “It would just be easier for us to start at the road, and you spend some money on water, sewer, electric and roads, and then you can immediately sell the lots as you go up the hill.”

He said the city won’t have enough money to develop assisted living and education centers on its own. Those projects would depend on partnerships with other organizations.

People who attended the meetings had a lot of different ideas for the Institute property. Some asked for trails, a covered play area, boat storage space, convenience shops and cafes, a community center and green space. There was also an emphasis on housing affordability, energy efficiency and connections to nearby recreation sites.

Wrangell resident Nancy McQueen said she does not have any strong opinions about the plans yet because she has not figured out what she would like to see there.

“I think they’re very interesting. I think it’s not going to happen in the very near future. I think there’s a lot more that is going to be going on in town,” McQueen said. “But I think there are some really neat ideas.”

Mertl said his design team will be back in town next month with two to three draft plans that incorporate feedback from residents.