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Assembly narrowly passes zoning change

Sales tax extension, 15-cent shopping bag tax sent to ballot

Posted: August 8, 2011 - 9:30pm

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly narrowly passed a zoning request change for a parcel on Atlin Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road.

Neighbors largely opposed Richard Harris’ desire to change the property from D10 to Light Commercial. He purchased the lot containing World War II vintage Quonset huts and seeks to remove the buildings and develop the property. Neighbors want to see the neighborhood remain residential and don’t want to see increased traffic at an intersection they feel is already hazardous.

The Planning Commission recommended the Assembly deny the request because it did not meet the 2008 Comprehensive Use Plan. The Lands Committee recommended the Assembly consider all options.

Ultimately, after extensive discussion, the Assembly approved the zoning change to Light Commercial — barely.

Opposed were Mayor Bruce Botelho, Assembly members Peter Freer, Malcolm Menzies and Karen Crane. Approving the change were Assembly members Johan Dybdahl, Merrill Sanford, David Stone, Mary Becker and Ruth Danner.

Danner had asked for a lot of clarification on different points of city policy, and initially said she was inclined to go with the Planning Commission’s recommendation since “they’re the experts.”

Harris was the first to speak to the Assembly, saying the zoning request will give him direction on how he can develop the land. He said if a zoning change did not happen, about 20 apartments would go up on the property. Harris felt that given its location, that would be a poor use of the property. He said he’d rather explore better options for development that were impermissible under the existing zone but would still suit the neighborhood.

“We’d like to have some direction to go forward with something bigger and better,” he said. “This is something everyone is going to see. I don’t think 20 apartments on the side of the highway is a good thing. We would like to have some options to do something better.”

Danner said the community is concerned with what his development plans are, and asked what he intended to do.

“There is no plan,” he said. “We don’t necessarily want to build 20 apartments right there.”

He said the next step of the planning process would be considering what they can build under the given zone and getting necessary permits for whatever the project ended up being. Harris said the idea of a small physician clinic or lawyer’s office could be well suited there.

Neighbors addressed concerns, saying they wanted the unique trees preserved, the residential feeling of the neighborhood retained, no decrease in property values and for traffic safety to not worsen.

Danner said whether Harris develops 20 apartments or a small commercial building there likely will be about the same amount of increased traffic. She said she asked the most adjacent property owner if they’d rather have the apartments or a business that would likely be closed nights and weekends.

“Affordable housing is a high priority for us,” Danner said. “It’s on our top 10. My personal preference for D18, because it meets the Assembly’s goal. If the neighbors had to choose, rather have D18 with condos or light commercial only used by and large weekdays, it seems to me light commercial is better use for the community.”

Freer opposed the measure, saying that he may be more willing to approve it if there was some idea of what actually would go in the light use zone.

“Residents, wherever they live in the borough, rely to some degree on the comprehensive plan,” he said. “This parcel (was) determined to be suitable for residential use.”

Dybdahl said the Comprehensive Plan is a guiding document, not set in stone. He said he felt that the neighbors raised some good concerns, however Dybdahl felt that the safety concerns of the neighborhood would be best addressed with a Light Commercial zone rather than it’s current zone. With the zoning change, the city is more likely to have to do a major overhaul of that intersection, instead of a minor one.

Freer announced a Notice for Reconsideration for the rezoning request. The notice of reconsideration will allow the Assembly to take a new vote on the issue at the next Assembly meeting.

In other business, the Assembly unanimously approved sending a request to extend the 3 percent temporary sales tax for five years to the voters this October.

It also sent a citizen’s petition initiative to the ballot. The initiative seeks approval of a 15-cent tax on each plastic shopping bag used from certain retailers to bag customer orders. This ordinance would apply to all large retailers which have annual gross incomes of $15 million or more. There would be an exemption for CBJ senior citizens. The “Orders of the Day” motion the Assembly passed basically deferred any Assembly comment or action and thereby forwards the initiative directly to the ballot. Botelho said by doing so, that leaves both sides of the issue to argue their cause in public forums and leaving it for voters to decide.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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