Comprehensive plan gets housing makeover

City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission heard updates to the housing chapter to Juneau’s Comprehensive Plan.

CBJ staff Beth McKibben presented the edits during the commission's regular meeting, Tuesday. Juneau’s Affordable Housing Commission and the Juneau Economic Development Council provided suggestions for changes to the chapter.

“The Comprehensive Plan is a long-range blueprint designed to guide the growth, development, and conservation of valued resources within our community over the next 12 years, to the year 2020,” according to draft Chapter 1 of the plan.

“It is used to guide CBJ staff, elected officials and their appointed Boards and Commissions in shaping a better community through allocation of resources in ways that reflect the community's aspirations, values and needs.”

Commissioners expressed concern over definitions describing Juneau’s aging population and available CBJ lands, among other issues.

“Our housing problem isn’t just a homeless problem, it is a workforce housing problem and that makes it a problem for our economy and every facet of our community,” Commissioner Nicole Grewe said.

CBJ staff added a new section to describe Juneau’s low-income housing units. The total of 1020 units are made up of Low Income Housing Tax Credit units, AHFC public housing program, HUD homes, USDA Sec. 515 Rural rental housing program and Housing Choice Vouchers.

Commissioner Karen Lawfer said she would prefer a change in wording describing Juneau’s aging population. She does not believe aging should be viewed as a disability.

Lawfer works in social services.

“I like to call it adaptive and special need access,” Lawfer said.

The draft chapter lists these housing units as rentals.

I don’t know that that is appropriate,” Lawfer said. “The reality is a lot of our aging population owns homes, but not necessarily and an adaptive home that is safe.”

Lawfer recommended two categories under the assisted housing inventory, one for rentals and one for ownership.

“Definitely when you look at low income housing units a lot of those are rental, but we could also have an assisted housing ownership part of it,” Lawfer said.

CBJ staff McKibben said Juneau’s population is aging and it is known that a lot of people would like to age in place and stay in their home. She suggested language so that the plan does not assume that people would leave their home and move into a rental.

The plan’s housing chapter also quantified CBJ’s land available for development. Commission Chair Michael Satre said he wanted to dispel the myth that CBJ owns lots of buildable land.

“When we talk about land to develop there are a lot of stories in the community … that the city has a ton of land that’s ready for development and we’re just not releasing it,” Satre said.

CBJ went to great lengths to try to inventory that land, Satre said. Though CBJ lands are vast, once criteria are applied, a somewhat limited supply remains, he said. Satre recommended CBJ dispel this myth of unused land in the plan.

“I think the more we attack these … if we can do that throughout the document the better we are off,” Satre said. “We have a long way to go to deal with this issue. What we know and what we don’t know is really the start of the project here.”

CBJ has approximately 450 acres of buildable land on nine CBJ sites, according to the draft chapter.

That the housing chapter is important to the plan was expressed by several Commissioners.

Though the current round of edits to the plan were expected to be of limited scope, Satre said, “this is one chapter where I feel a little bit differently. If there is one chapter that I’d delve into a little bit more with slight update…this is one of them.”

Commissioner Nathan Bishop said he would like to see solutions to housing needs based on housing type. Land is one factor, but not the predominant factor controlling housing development, he said.

“What we need isn’t a lot more land to make single-family residential homes,” Bishop said, “what we need is the investment to create higher density residential developments and that doesn’t take a lot of public land. We are really missing a section on housing types … what isn’t appropriate housing types … and what we can to do promote appropriate housing types.”

The Affordable Housing Commission is in the process of developing a housing plan that could fit this recommendation, McKibben said.

The commission will make a final decision on the housing chapter when it is presented as part of the master document later this year.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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