Juneau’s Planning Commission unanimously gave developers the green light Tuesday night to build one of the largest new housing projects the city has seen in at least a decade.
Construction on the first phase of the project — 40 units spread out in four buildings — is slated to begin in March of next year, and the units will be ready for tenants to move in about a year later.
“I’m real happy we got to where we are now,” said Elaine Dahlgren, the president of Volunteers of America’s Alaska chapter, which will be managing the property. “I know what kind of housing we provide, and nobody will be disappointed.”
The 75-unit project was approved as two separate conditional use permits so the two phases could be constructed at different times, while still using the same land suitability tests.
The 35 remaining units are not yet funded, but Volunteers of America and its co-developers are considering applying for funding as early as this fall. The application process takes about six weeks, so, if it is approved this fall, it is possible construction on the two phases will begin simultaneously, co-developer Glenn Gellert said.
“We’re getting 40 units on the market, so we’re starting to make a dent [in the need for affordable housing in Juneau],” Gellert said, “but we don’t want to rush things, either.”
Both phases of the new housing will be located on Vista Drive in West Juneau, and will be managed by Volunteers of America.
Volunteers of America is a non-profit, faith-based housing provider with more than 17,000 housing units around the country.
Added amenities to the property include a 5-star energy rating, covered parking for all units and an 1,800-square-foot community center.
The target population for these new units would be the elderly and low-to-moderate income families. Rental rates would be determined based on the tenants’ income level, with the lowest rates being $485, $585 and $1,160 per month for one, two and three-bedroom apartments, respectively.
Of the first 40 units to be developed, 25 will be rented at the rates dependent on the tenants’ income level, and 15 units will be rented at market rate. Eight units will be reserved for disabled tenants.
“Ultimately, this fits our comprehensive plan to a ‘T,’” Planning Commission Chairman Mike Satre said of the project.
Most members of the public who spoke in opposition of the project said it did fit Juneau’s needs, but that it should be done elsewhere or that officials should take more time to review the plans — neither argument impacted the commission’s or the city staff’s stance on the project in the end.
Investors in the project have a $400,000 reserve fund set aside to address any emergency needs that arise in the future, and that fund will be augmented annually by $350 per unit, Gellert said.
Owners of condos near the site said they recently paid tremendous expenses to upgrade their buildings to accommodate for slippage on this particular hillside, and others were worried about increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic on Vista Drive, which is a steep hill that enters onto Douglas Highway and is known to get icy during winter months.
Still, several Juneauites urged approval for the project citing the urgent need for housing development in Alaska’s capital city.
“This is the first project of any size that’s come to our community that will make a dent in housing need,” said Margaret O’Neal, director of operations for the Juneau Economic Development Council and member of the Affordable Housing Commission.
Developers impressed city officials throughout the process by promptly addressing all concerns raised about the structural integrity of the development, said Hal Hart, director of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Community Development Department.
The planning commission was also impressed with the team’s efforts to discuss and account for concerns raised by the public, and one member had seen projects completed by the group in Anchorage and welcomed the work in Juneau.
“I don’t feel the need to slow down. It’s the right project at the right time for this town,” said Nicole Grewe, vice-clerk of the Planning Commission. “I’ve seen the final product — it looks great, and I’m excited.”