Petersburg Pilot -

Housing, seniors and youth major topics of consideration in new comprehensive plan

 


The availability and affordability of housing in Petersburg Borough and the effects of a changing age composition of the borough’s population were two emerging themes highlighted in a report released Feb. 20 by Agnew Beck, the consulting firm heading up the borough’s new Comprehensive Plan.

The report outlines challenges and opportunities in nine key areas that spring from residents’ feedback at the consultants’ last visit to town in December as well as a community-wide survey that closed last month. Over 350 individuals, more than 10 percent of the borough’s population, participated in the survey.

One common theme that acts as a backdrop to several of the findings is the changing age composition in the borough.

“The Petersburg Borough will have one of the highest percentages of population age 65 and older in the state by 2032,” according to the report. “If these population trends continue, the borough should expect to see many challenges with such issues as health care, senior living, available tax base, public transportation and work force,” according to the report.

Agnew Beck consultant Shelly Wade said having adequate housing and services for an aging population is a growing statewide concern. In Petersburg potential solutions include increasing in-home care services and expanding the current senior living facilities.

While looking forward Petersburg will see an aging population. Looking back in time there’s been a declining population of youth in the borough.

Wade said that one of the big emerging questions for Petersburg is “how do you provide youth with opportunities and keep them engaged in the community to the degree that they feel that it is their place and a place to stay in and raise their families in the future?”

She said that is tied to economic development and the availability of jobs. The report mentions a decline in two major industries, fishing and timber that have impacted the number of youth who stay in Petersburg or move to the area and make a home here.

Despite its decline, fishing remains important to the local economy, making the question “how do we support and sustain fisheries, understanding that is the key industry for Petersburg and, at the same time, start to explore other economy development opportunities?” Wade said.

Another roadblock to keeping young people in town and to attracting young families to town is with the quality of available housing.

“That housing piece, I thought, was definitely at the forefront,” Wade said.

The report identifies a gap in affordable housing, reporting that 36 percent of renter households in the borough do not have affordable housing (meaning more than 30 percent of their income goes to rent). Wade said many residents mentioned the Tlingit Haida subdivision as a potential model to be duplicated to increase the supply of affordable and safe housing, which may be the underpinning to sustaining a future workforce.

Among the positive aspects of living in Petersburg, residents mentioned a strong sense of community, the safety of the town and lifestyle afforded by living on a remote island. There were also several mentions of the availability and quality of services, organization and facilities in the borough—from the medical center to nonprofit groups to the aquatic center—being exceptional, especially relative to the size of the population.

Wade and her team will be in town today and tomorrow to get feedback on the preliminary findings from residents and to begin prioritizing the many challenges and opportunities identified in the report with the local planning team.

Individuals can connect one-on-one with Wade during two open office hours: today from 6-8 p.m. at Hammer and Wikan Grocery or tomorrow from 1:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. at The Trees. She said she encourages people to come by whether they’ve looked over the most recent document or not.

“We’re available to connect with people wherever they’re at in the process,” she said.

Following the visit the team will begin a draft comprehensive plan to share with the community by April. The final plans are slated for completion by October.

The full report of emerging themes can be accessed from the home page of the borough’s website: http://www.ci.peters

burg.ak.us/.

 

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