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Worker housing a topic as planners discuss updating Comprehensive Plan

Posted: June 20, 2012 - 12:00am

The Planning Commission Tuesday discussed the scarcity of available housing when it met to consider a proposed update to Juneau’s Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners decided the plan should call on companies to “anticipate” the impact of bringing workers to Juneau for projects.


Language proposed by the Juneau Economic Development Council would have made it the “primary responsibility” of mining companies to “develop” housing, roads and other needed infrastructure for its miners, sparking a discussion over whether the plan should call on businesses to provide living space for incoming workers.


“Worker housing, as it’s discussed in this plan, is very different than man camps,” said Ben Lyman, Community Development Department planner. “This is saying that if you’re going to be bringing new people into Juneau … there’s an obligation to provide them with adequate housing.”


Lyman said he favored requiring companies to either construct housing for new workers or pay into a fund to help cover costs, perhaps by city ordinance.


Mike Satre, chairman of the Planning Commission, called talk of introducing an ordinance “premature.” Nonetheless, he said, the Comprehensive Plan should recognize the impact of new workers on Juneau, where housing can be hard to come by.


“That chicken-and-egg question of economic development versus housing has to be addressed in some way, shape or form,” Satre said.


The meeting also evaluated the JEDC’s proposed insertion of sections into Chapter 5 of the plan recognizing the importance of “entrepreneurship,” and calling for the promotion of Juneau and the Southeast Alaska region as a research and education destination.


“There are many foundation elements that support a thriving economy,” said JEDC executive director Brian Holst. “We didn’t include all of them. But research is an especially critical piece.”


The JEDC representatives at the meeting emphasized their desire to establish Chapter 5 of the Comprehensive Plan as a continually updated master plan for economic development in Juneau, a suggestion that met with commissioners’ support.


“I think actually having a living document that can be considered an overall economic development plan would be a really important thing for the city,” said Kevin Ritchie, treasurer of the JEDC’s board of directors.


“We’re talking about transportation, we’re talking about riding bicycles and pedestrian opportunities and waterfront use and the Willoughby Plan, and yet we don’t have a clear vision as to what we all buy into,” Commissioner Marsha Bennett agreed. She called the JEDC-proposed changes to the document’s scope “exactly where we need to go.”


Satre said he believes the plan should be updated at least once every two years, or as needed.


“Could be even year-by-year. I’m not sure anyone wants to take that on,” Satre added, to laughter.


Chapter 5 of the Comprehensive Plan is not set in stone after Tuesday’s meeting. Although commissioners appeared to establish a broad consensus on the issues of company responsibilities and the need to keep the document updated frequently, Lyman said he was “not quite done” with the chapter. He said he would incorporate the input from the meeting into a revised draft, which the commission will consider on July 10.


After every chapter has been reviewed and revised, the commission will work through a full draft before signing off on the updated plan’s publication.


“We go through each chapter until the commission is relatively happy with what’s there,” Lyman explained. However, he added, he does not know when that process will be completed.


“Our plan was to be done with the Planning Commission review of the Comprehensive Plan in July,” Lyman said. “At this point, we won’t make that.”


• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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