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Update on Willoughby development

Posted: August 30, 2013 - 12:11am  |  Updated: August 30, 2013 - 12:16am

City leaders, business owners and residents from the Willoughby District met Thursday to discuss ongoing efforts to invigorate their shoreline community.

About $316 million is expected to be invested in the district over the next three years, so the city is developing a plan to give the underdeveloped district a dramatic facelift.

“We’re trying to get ahead of development,” said Greg Chaney, the lands and resources manager for the City and Borough of Juneau.

The plan centers on the idea of transforming the district into a walkable neighborhood with streets adorned by attractive storefronts and residential properties above them.

“As a pedestrian, when you walk down the district of the future, you will want to be there,” Chaney said.

He continued to say streets are planned to divide the district’s “super blocks” and make the area more pedestrian friendly.

The plan is a partnership between the city, local business leaders and residents and the Juneau Economic Development Council, aiming to outline the district’s development over the next 20 to 25 years.

“We’re hopeful we can get the district to meet Juneau’s needs going forward,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the economic development council. “There’s not a whole lot set in stone, but there’s a lot of aspiration of what could be.”

One area the plan hopes to address is the large amount of space dedicated to surface parking, Holst said.

“If not parking, what could we really have in that space?” he asked.

But residents are concerned that increasing traffic in the area without increasing parking by a similar rate will lead to more problems.

Chaney said state and federal employees contribute a significant portion to the parking problem because the state and federal offices do not have lots large enough to accommodate all the employees.

He added that talks are ongoing to construct parking garages near both buildings that would at least accommodate the government employees.

“If people desire to be in the district regularly, the parking will work itself out,” Chaney said.

Other parts of the revitalization include building a Willoughby Arts Complex, improving the Foodland Mall and building a new State Library, Archives and Museum complex.

Developers will be encouraged to build taller buildings, and the city has developed a mechanism to expedite the permitting process for projects in the district.

The city is hoping to develop Willoughby into a “traditional town center where you can live, work and play – in other words, you can live in this district and not need a car,” Chaney said.

To foster public involvement, meetings will be held every couple of months to update residents and business owners on the progression of the plan, Holst said.

The next meeting has not been scheduled, but will likely occur during the first week of either November or December.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@morris.com.

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