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Assembly Housing Committee holds first meeting

Members plan workshop with industry reps

Posted: November 30, 2012 - 1:06am

At its initial meeting Thursday afternoon, an ad hoc committee of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly convened to plan a “workshop” with representatives of industries involved in housing.

Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker described his idea for a workshop at which representatives of the real estate, finance and building trades, as well as major property owners, could lay out their views of the housing market in Juneau and tell members of the Assembly what they would like to see the CBJ do in order to spur development.

“I’m seeing it as a one-day workshop, where the Assembly simply sits and listens, and then at the end, during the panel discussions, perhaps Assemblymembers ask questions,” said Wanamaker. “But it is not the time for Assemblymembers or anyone else to sit there and start lecturing them on how the process works.”

Wanamaker brought up the proposal at the Assembly’s annual retreat last month. It attracted support from his fellow Assemblymembers, leading to the formation of the ad hoc committee.

But Wanamaker warned that businesses may be hesitant to participate.

“When we ask these people, these leaders in the field that actually do this, they are going to be coming in and we’re going to be asking them to share sensitive information, information that they are normally reluctant to discuss in public for a variety of business reasons,” Wanamaker said. “They’ll be placing a lot of trust in us that we’re going to act responsibly with it as a city.”

Wanamaker added, “Unless we convey that to them, that it’s important that they really be as open and frank with us as possible, in a positive and meaningful way, we really won’t be able to help them because we won’t get the real roots of the problem. … This is something that they haven’t done before, and we’re asking them to do it.”

Assemblymember Carlton Smith agreed.

“There’s so many sensitivities to this topic,” said Smith, owner of the Carlton Smith Co., which buys and sells commercial real estate. “Many of them may not want to participate.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Becker said the CBJ has already taken some steps to encourage additional housing development in Juneau, such as easing density limits.

“There was a real concern on the part of our Community Development group that maybe the message is not getting out that all of these things have been done,” Becker said.

“Maybe the message hasn’t gotten out, but maybe the message that we’re going to hear is that it’s not the right answer,” Wanamaker responded. “I’ve seen people work on the wrong problem for a long time. And it happens in industry, it happens in government, it happens everywhere. So if we haven’t addressed the right thing that allows them to move forward, then we need to know that.”

Becker said she could also use a primer on the industries themselves.

“For me, I would have to have a tutorial, too, about how these things work, about how all the processes go and everything,” Becker remarked. “Because if these builders come in and they say, ‘Well, da-da-da-da-da happens to me when I try to do this,’ and I don’t really know what they’re talking about, it isn’t going to be really meaningful for me.”

That could mean taking time before the workshop in order to bring the Assemblymembers up to speed on the issues, Assemblymember Jesse Kiehl said.

“If we want a tutorial on the basics of how each of these processes works, that’s going to take time before we bring everybody in, I would think,” said Kiehl. He added, “If we could get a group of community experts in here, I’d rather have them focus on the hotspots.”

Becker suggested that Community Development Department staff could brief the Assemblymembers before the workshop, while Smith said industry representatives could give a presentation providing an overview of their respective fields.

No date has been set for the workshop, Becker noted.

But Wanamaker stressed that he wants to hold the workshop “as soon as possible,” before next year’s construction season begins.

“I just feel like we have no time to lose on this, that we are in serious trouble in this community,” said Wanamaker.

That sentiment was echoed by Assemblymember Jerry Nankervis, who sat in on the meeting.

“I also would like to get it done the sooner, the better,” Nankervis said. “If we can get something done before this summer, great.”

Wanamaker added, “Maybe we’ll actually be able to do something that will help in this coming season.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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