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New downtown office building stirs concerns among neighbors

Some prefer a valley site, but won't oppose a downtown location

Posted: August 8, 2011 - 9:30pm
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Scott and Ellen Carrlee pose on their back porch overlooking the State Office Building parking lot. The lot is one of two sites the state is considering building new offices. The Carlees could either lose their view or their house, depending on the size of the new office complex should the downtown location be chosen.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Scott and Ellen Carrlee pose on their back porch overlooking the State Office Building parking lot. The lot is one of two sites the state is considering building new offices. The Carlees could either lose their view or their house, depending on the size of the new office complex should the downtown location be chosen.

Owners of the two privately-owned buildings closest to the possible site of a new downtown state office building say they won’t stand in the way of development, but they hope it can be done without affecting their property.

And one homeowner says she’s even hoping the new building will be located in the valley so as to avoid her home.

“At first we were kind of in denial about it,” said Ellen Carrlee, who with husband Scott Carrlee owns one of the two properties in question.

The state is reviewing possible sites for a new, 140,000-square foot office building. One of the two options under consideration is to build where the current state parking garage adjacent to the State Office Building is now located.

It is not clear how, if at all that their property would be affected, but a recent visit from an appraiser raised fears it would be taken by eminent domain, she said.

At a recent public meeting in Juneau, the office complex project consultant said no decision had yet been made that would decide how neighboring properties would be impacted.

A five-story office building would require a five level parking structure, but a seven-story building would require a seven level parking structure, he said.

A seven-level parking structure would likely require access both on Willoughby and Calhoun, he said. That could mean the Calhoun neighbors’ property would be needed, he said.

“There’s benefits to having two accesses to a parking garage,” said Brian Meissner, an architect with ECI/Hyer of Anchorage, the state’s building consultant.

A neighboring property owner, Bob Thorstenson, an owner of the Fishermen’s Building, known for its highly visible blue and gold paint job and Alaska flag motif, said he’d hate to lose either his view or building, but wouldn’t want to stand in they way of a beneficial project for Juneau.

“It would block my view, but there’s no ordinance against blocking views in downtown Juneau,” Thorstenson said.

Unlike the Carrlees, Thorstenson doesn’t live in the building and these days uses it only for offices.

He said he’d be willing to give it up, if necessary.

“If they wanted to use it some day, I’m sure that for the good of the community and the good of the state I’d figure something out,” he said.

The Carrlees said they’re opposed to the downtown site because of its impact on their house, and would prefer the other site, in Vintage Park.

“My view is, I’d like to see it be in the valley, we want our house just the way it is,” she said.

They bought the house 11 years ago, and several years ago did a remodel and addition that cost as much as the house’s purchase price.

Some of the attachment to the house comes from the work of local craftsmen they hired for extra touches, such as a custom railing and bathroom tiling.

“That railing out front is hand-wrought, and there’s a killer tile job in the upstairs bathroom,” she said.

Scott Carrlee questioned if the state even needed a new building, and suggested telecommuting as an alternative.

“In this day and age do we need to be building giant office buildings?” he asked.

Thorstenson said he loves his building, but it is not his home and he’d be willing to give it up if it was needed by the state.

“I love Juneau, and any way we can make Juneau a better capital city and help maintain jobs, I’ll support,” he said.

Ellen Carrlee, too, said that while they’d prefer everything remain, she will not fight it if the state needs it.

“I don’t want to be the crazy lady who’s chained to my house and saying an office building downtown is all wrong,” she said.

Meissner said he expects state officials to make a decision on a preferred location this month.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 5236-2250 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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