Sitka man builds a whopper of a wanigan

Home has city officials rethinking planning rules

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2003

Robert Kite has been living in the smallest trailer in Sitka. After a bit of remodeling he's preparing to move into the city's largest wanigan.

The two-story addition Kite has built onto his 8-by-20-foot trailer in Sollars Trailer Court now gives him a spectacular view of the ocean and Mt. Edgecumbe. It has a skylight, and eventually may have a roof-top garden.

"I didn't know how big a place I was building, 'cause I'd never built one," Kite said of the 960-square-foot L-shaped structure alongside his tiny trailer.

"It's huge when you get inside, and it's definitely increased the view," he said.

Kite was living in his 160-square foot trailer last February when the city building official posted a "Do Not Occupy" notice on his door because his dwelling was smaller than the city code allows for a residence.

After his plight was reported by the local media he got a reprieve, and he was allowed to move back in while he built an addition in his spare time.

Kite said he built the bulk of the wanigan in a six-week period this spring, aided by friends. All they asked for, Kite said, was beer and a barbecue.

As of last week the wood frame addition was 60 percent done - which by city standards means it has windows, walls and a roof but lacks wiring and plumbing.

City building official Scott Brylinsky said this is not the first two-story wanigan in Sitka, but he thinks Kite has the record for the largest.

It may also be the final one of its size to be built, he said.

An issue of what's too small has given way to an issue of what's too big, and once again Kite is at the center.

Kite's house-sized wanigan is legal under Chapter 6.12 of the City General Code, but City Planning Director Wells Williams said most of Chapter 6.12 was written before the City of Sitka and the Greater Sitka Borough were unified in 1971, and it is now outdated.

"When 6.12 was drafted there was really no idea how complex and how many wanigans would be added," Williams said.

Chapter 6.12 sets no limit to the size of wanigans permitted in the city's mobile home parks, but Brylinsky said the city plans to begin amending the code in July to set limits.

"In the future we hope to limit wanigans to the size of the existing trailer or to a number of square feet and perhaps not allow two stories," he said.

Brylinsky and Williams first began dealing with Kite last summer when he applied for a permit to build the wanigan addition to the trailer where he was already living.

His application drew the officials' notice to the fact that his trailer was too small for legal occupancy, but they agreed to grant him a temporary certificate of occupancy for the six months Kite expected to spend building the wanigan.

Kite did not finish the addition within the six months, and he returned home from work one day in February to find the "Do Not Occupy" notice on his door.

He moved in with a neighbor for a few days until he was granted a reprieve.

Brylinsky said his intent with the notice had only been to motivate Kite to work faster. In any event, he noted that Kite has made immense progress on the wanigan since then.

Kite said he expects it may be four more months before it is finished and he and his wife and stepson can move in.

To stay within city code, Kite needs to keep the trailer attached to the wanigan. The trailer may wind up as a bedroom for his stepson, he said.

Kite said he has plans to eventually build a gazebo in his space in the Sollars court, and put a greenhouse on top of the trailer where he can grow tomatoes and cucumbers.

"I'll be stylin' when I get it all done," he said.

Kite said he has been pleased with how well the city has treated him since he was allowed to move back into his trailer. He said his neighbors have been pretty supportive of his project as well.

"Surprisingly there ain't been too much animosity from my neighbors," he said. "They're like, oh, more power to me, and they wish they'd done it first."

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