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Planners oppose apartment conversion on street safety grounds

Posted: August 24, 2011 - 7:22pm

The Planning Commission on Tuesday ultimately turned down a retroactive conditional use permit to convert two houses near Hughes Way into apartments, but not because the homes were fully converted without a permit.

The commission took a lot of testimony from James and Linda Keikkalas’ neighbors against granting a conditional use permit. They said it broke the harmony of the neighborhood because it’s causing strife on a personal level and that they don’t want apartments in a single-family home area. They also pointed to safety concerns because of the incredibly narrow street. The Keikkalases have an easement to get onto Hughes Way.

The commissioners took testimony from the fire department on whether the fire trucks can get down the street — they can. But residents noted that whenever one of them has company the entire street is basically limited to one-lane driving. In a situation like that or during winters with heavy snowfall, the road becomes difficult to navigate.

Most of the commissioners said the road issue poses a threat to safety for all residents, and until that issue was resolved they were unwilling to grant the permit.

Commissioner Nathan Bishop was the sole voice in favor, saying Juneau has many streets that don’t meet code and that alone hasn’t been enough to halt development. He added if the commissioners judged each permit on whether the city streets met fire code there would be almost no development in the city. Bishop cited testimony from the fire marshal, saying the department would forge down that street anyway and do the best they could. He said it would not be appropriate to deem a safety hazard there given that the fire department would still respond and given what he felt was a low probability of complete road impassability.

The rest of the commission, however, disagreed. Chairwoman Maria Gladziszewski said the criteria for granting or denying the permit uses the terminology “material endangerment,” but that isn’t defined as what that entails. She said she could vote either way on the issue, but ended up voting against.

Commissioner Dan Miller said the application was incredibly solid and that if it weren’t for the fire issue it would have gotten his vote. Many of the commissioners echoed similar sentiments and encouraged the couple to reapply when the street situation was resolved.

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

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