Extreme makeover: New 10-year land-use plan calls for facelift of industrial area, recreational upgrades, and avalanche and climate change safeguards

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With Mother Nature dramatically changing the landscape in Longyearbyen, city leaders have approved a dramatic makeover of their own to ensure the community is on solid ground.

Protecting or relocating residences and businesses in at-risk locations, transforming “undesirable” areas  into more upscale ones, and dealing with relatively unique urban issues like snowmobile parking are part of a revised long-term land-use approved Monday by the Longyearbyen Community Council. The plan, intended as a blueprint through 2026, notes numerous specifics and disputes need to be worked out, but city leaders said it provides a solid foundation for future planning.

“The work has been done in a proper way the and consultation rounds have been exemplary,” Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen told Svalbardposten. “While not everyone got what they want, all consulting bodies have been treated in a proper and satisfactory manner.”

Portions of Longyearbyen most actively discussed when drafting the plan include the dog kennel area just outside the city limits, the cabins at Revneset and the largely industrial section of Sjøområdet, a summary of the plan notes. Future tourism development, recreational opportunities, and protecting cultural landmarks and the environment as development takes place were among the primary issues of focus.

For instance, the revised plan calls for converting Sjøområdet from a largely industrial/warehouse area to a residential/commercial/business one. The change to the shoreline area between downtown and the harbor area was unsurprisingly opposed by industrial leaders concerned about the cost and convenience of relocating facilities, but many city leaders have long regarded the area as blighted and making poor use of its potential.

“The land use plan is clear that we does not want a further development of the maritime area to warehouses and industry, which occupy valuable land for business activities that should be close to the center,” the plan states.

While the plan – which replaces one for the years 2009-2019 – is based on two years of extensive research and meetings with various interests, it also leans heavily on some recent developments like an avalanche-risk assessment released in December that declares 421 residences are in zones near the city’s mountains that exceed acceptable national safety standards. Experts have also expressed recent concern about concern about the stability of older buildings as climate change softens the permafrost under them.

Sjøområdet is among the areas considered ideal for new housing, which is a priority even though prevention measures such as snow barriers may be contracted in at-risk zones.

“It is a key objective for housing management in Longyearbyen for everyone to have safe, energy efficient and functional housing,” a summary of the plan states. “To achieve this objective it will be necessary to replace a large part of the existing housing stock with bigger and better housing established on safe building foundations, and in accordance with current energy and regulatory requirements.”

Numerous projects such as additional walkways, bike paths, green spaces and dedicated playgrounds are aimed at making the community more family-, recreation- and visitor-friendly. Among them is turning the hillside on Sukkertoppen – where an avalanche on Dec. 19, 2015, destroyed 11 homes and made 12 others uninhabitable – into a recreational area for sledding and cross-country skiing.

Other recreation projects include parking areas in Nybyen and Camp Barents, a larger dog kennel area at Bolterdalen to accommodate increasing dogsledding activity, and exploring the possibility of dedicated non-motorized trails in Adventdalen. Among the many measures aimed at upgrading the aesthetics of the center of town – and reducing impacts on environmentally sensitive areas – is established defined snowmobile parking areas since at present the vehicles are often clustered haphazardly by the hundreds in areas near commercial tour operators.

“The council sees that there is a growing need to control how it will allow the parking of snowmobiles,” the plan states. “This applies especially to snowmobiles for commercial use.”

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