The Juneau Planning Commission heard a proposal put forward by the owner of Miner’s Mercantile Building to block Shattuck Way to parking and through traffic, making the narrow street pedestrian-only.
Public comment was hostile to the proposal. The loss of parking was the main concern.
Dan Glidmann, property manager for the Charles Goldstein building, testified in opposition to the closure of Shattuck Way. He was concerned by the loss of parking.
“There are lots of time where the parking spaces are full,” Glidmann said. “I’ve worked downtown for 37 years. That counts for more than two years of study.”
Shattuck Way provides “valuable short-term, on-street parking,” Glidmann said.
On-street parking is critical for downtown businesses, Glidmann said.
Goldstein owns an entire city block on the corner where Peer Amid Beads is located.
“We singlehandedly brought back Seward Street,” Glidmann said.
Glidmann also said it was premature to decide on Shattuck Way before Sealaska finishes building its proposed Sealaska Heritage Institute building.
The Miner’s Mercantile remodel was ill-conceived, Glidmann said. Snow removal should have been considered beforehand he said.
Paul Thomas, owner of Alaska Cache Liquor and member of the Downtown Business Association, opposed the proposal.
“To take away seven spots is ridiculous when we’ve been fighting for it for years and years,” Thomas said. “I personally resent the fact that it is being put forward as a city project. That is not the case.”
If the proposal goes through, the City and Borough of Juneau should be compensated for the land value of Shattuck Way, Thomas said.
As a downtown business owner, Thomas said, parking is key. “It’s not disposable parking.”
Sealaska wants to be a good neighbor, Sealaska spokesperson Lee Kadinger said. “We understand our neighbors’ desire to increase business by closing Shattuck Way,” Kadinger said.
However, Sealaska Heritage Institute’s building, expected to begin construction in March 2013, could pose a problem. Specifically, the provision to keep Shattuck Way open to pedestrian access during construction.
“Constructing in downtown Juneau is very difficult,” Kadinger said.
It is expensive to build on a small footprint, he said.
“So we are using every little piece of land,” Kadinger said. “One option is closing sections of road. We wouldn’t want to limit our options.”
“We feel it is a risk to the public, to tourists,” Kadinger said. “We would want to provide support in some way. We just have concerns.”
Sealaska also plans to improve its parking lot as well, Kadinger said. Planning for SHI’s building is about 95 percent complete, having spent $1.5 million on architectural work, he said.
Greg Chaney, city planning manager, said the Sealaska build is a separate issue from the long-term issue of a pedestrian throughway.
Commissioner Jerry Medina asked about the costs incurred by the city due to damages to the mercantile building from snow plowing.
“I see the concern for losing parking, but it is a very narrow street,” Medina said. “I don’t often go down that way, when I do I regret it.”
Richard Harris of R.H. Rentals LLC and owner of the Miner’s Mercantile Building said the reason he originally requested the conversion was due to the damage city snow plows have done to his building.
“The damage is pretty extensive. The city recognizes there is a liability there,” Harris said. He said he is not going to fix up the building to have it damaged again.
“I don’t think I’m getting some huge financial benefit,” Harris said. “It’s a release of liability for the city.”
He also said the closure to cars would result in the loss of five parking spaces, not seven, Harris said.
“The biggest concern that I have is the issue of the Sealaska Heritage Building and construction,” Bennett said.
Medina said looking at the difficult situation from a city standpoint, it was decided in the 1980s to cover Shattuck Way and make it pedestrian, he said.
“I’d be in favor of closing it,” Medina said.
Front Street was also mentioned as a pedestrian precinct.
“My concern with leaving (Shattuck Way) open, it continues to be a hazard,” Commissioner Dennis Watson said. However it’s a little premature to go ahead with the closure right now, he said.
“We should wait until we see the final product Sealaska is putting together,” Watson said.
He proposed closing the street only to parking for now.
“There are good points on both sides of this,” Commissioner Dan Miller said. Miller said if the city will lose the spaces during the Sealaska build, the city could use this time to try out closing Shattuck.
“We’re really experimenting,” Miller said.
Commissioner Nathan Bishop said the city should plan its pedestrian access better than the Shattuck proposal.
“I don’t think we’re there,” Bishop said.
Bennett said the proposal in its current form is a “half-baked project.” A pedestrian way needs to be carefully considered for safety, lighting and all the things that are necessary, she said.
Commissioner Nicole Grewe said though Sealaska has a plan on the table, it is up to the city to make long term planning of the look of an area.
The motion passed with Bennett voting against. It now proceeds to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.
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• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.