With the continued growth of tourism in the Upper Valley, new businesses come to Talkeetna each year. Real estate on Main Street is limited, however, so many end up using trailers or other temporary structures to set up shop for the summer. Now, the Talkeetna Community Council board of directors is asking the Mat-Su Borough to clarify the rules regarding those temporary structures on Main Street.
Last spring, the Talkeetna Community Council, Incorporated board of directors created a committee to review portions of the regulations in the Main Street special land use district, or SPUD. On Monday, the board approved a recommendation from the committee to clarify rules regarding temporary structures.
Currently, the Main Street SPUD defines a structure as temporary if it does not have a footing or foundation, and is used for thirty days or less. After thirty days, it has to be removed. During that time, temporary structures are not subject to all of the rules as permanent structures, including setbacks. The regulations do not currently specify whether the thirty-day period can be restarted after moving a structure. Talkeetna council board member Paul Button says the current rule leaves room for interpretation.
“What does that mean? Some people would construe that to mean they could drive around the block and come right back, and the clock starts again. The committee does not believe that was the intent of the SPUD.”
Talkeetna resident Geri McCann took part in the SPUD committee, and believes some businesses are taking advantage of the current wording.
“It just seems like when they read it, the thirty days, they’ve just been taking advantage and pushing it beyond its reach—beyond what was intended. If I was going to put up a temporary structure and I see thirty days, that’s thirty days.”
Troy Smiley, co-owner of the Dancing Leaf Gallery, hosts the popular Spinach Bread trailer on his property in the summer, and says that at least one Mat-Su Borough code compliance officer told him that the regulation was for thirty days at a time.
“When borough code compliance came around and we had the discussion about the thirty day thing, it was the borough’s interpretation that, ‘Move every thirty days for a legitimate business reason, and then come back,’” would be compliant behavior.
In order to clarify the rules for temporary structures, the Main Street SPUD committee recommended changing the language to make it clear that the thirty-day limit applies for an entire calendar year. That would make it impossible for a structure to stay up all summer and still count as temporary.
One source of concern regarding long-term temporary structures is that they don’t follow the same rules for setbacks and separation as other buildings on Main Street, which can lead to crowding. Paul Button says there are potential consequences to that crowding beyond aesthetics.
“So you get a temporary structure closer than code would allow to adjoining structures. When you have a fire in one building, that’s bad enough. All of a sudden, you have a fire in four buildings…It happened Downtown in 2013, I think, [with] three buildings, two of which were almost burned to the ground. So, this is not an academic exercise.”
Paul Button says some businesses may not have to change what they are currently doing to be in compliance, so long as they follow the setback and easement rules required of permanent structures.
“It doesn’t even affect temporary structures like we think of, like trailers. Just don’t call it a temporary structure, keep it out of the easement, [and] we don’t care what you do with it.”
Some business owners want more notice given for those who may be making plans for this summer under the current rules. Jenny Krepel of Talkeetna Gifts and Collectibles wants more notice given before a change in how some people may have to do business.
“I think businesses need a little bit more heads-up…because it is going to affect how they are going to do their business, if they’re going to have to move, if they’re going to have to build something else. I would like a little bit more notice.”
A motion was made to make the requested changes effective next year so that there would not be the potential for disruption this summer, but the motion failed after not receiving a second.
Despite that, the process to change the SPUD will take time. The Talkeetna Community Council, Inc. board of directors does not have direct control over the document. Since SPUDs are part of Mat-Su Borough code, the borough will have final say over what, if any, changes occur and in what timeframe.