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Developers vent woes to Assembly

Change: Permit prices, onerous regulation and cautious staff

Posted: April 9, 2013 - 12:07am

“Listen to the developers,” Richard Harris, president of Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association, wrote in a letter to the assembly. “Without the developer, nothing is constructed.”

So begins a one-page list of recommendations and observations the Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association presented to City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Members and staff at the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday.

Local developers blame lack of incentives, over-regulation and obstructionist city staff for Juneau’s anemic construction industry.

The CBJ assembly’s ad-hoc housing committee have asked housing developers, Realtors and financers to discuss what the municipality can do to help stimulate housing development within the borough.

Harris, owner of Coogan Construction Wayne Coogan and builder and director of MAC’s Design and Construction Russ McDougal spoke at Monday’s meeting.

As an incentive developers asked for reduced permitting prices, according to the developer’s recommendations. Repeat plans should cost 75 percent less than novel plans. The city should also contribute to water, sewer and drainage infrastructure.

“It’s not going to be a cure-all,” McDougal said. “But it could make a big difference.”

The city should also pare down its existing building codes to reflect the realities of a smaller city.

Juneau’s engineering department could help developers reduce costs with fewer plan review requirements. At times, several state-certified engineers approve a project one after another.

“The cost of multiple engineering reviews gets passed on,” Coogan said. “Those layers and layers of cost get passed on to the homeowner. And here we are looking at affordable housing.”

And one more thing — city staff can lighten up a bit.

“It’s the feeling of opposition you get,” Harris said.

He said when he meets with certain city staff he hears a lot of reasons why a project won’t work. “‘Lets make this happen.’ That is not the answer you get.”

City code has thousands of provisions that can be interpreted different ways, Coogan said. It is too easy for staff to throw op a roadblock, he said. And he doesn’t blame them.

“I pity them, I really do,” Coogan said of city staff. “They are girding themselves for an attack. They are always wary of some retribu… something down the line. They try to get something accomplished but are being attacked at the same time.”

Coogan said the assembly should take the role setting the city’s outlook on development.

“Seeking to accomplish things in this community should come down from the top,” Coogan said.

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

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