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New planning commissioners inherit hot issue

Posted: December 20, 2013 - 7:35am

There will be three new faces on the city’s Planning Commission next month when the hotly contested “Field of Fireweed” area rezone is reconsidered.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted 5-4 Tuesday to reappoint current commissioner Ben Haight and name Gordon Jackson, Bill Peters and Paul Voelckers to the Commission effective Jan. 1.

Incumbents Nathan Bishop and Jerry Medina had reapplied for the commission but were replaced by Jackson and Peters.

The change comes amidst a hotly-contested rezone application by Bicknell, Inc., to rezone and ultimately develop a parcel of land near the airport known as the “Field of Fireweed.”

Bishop and Medina joined with Haight and two other commissioners to vote against the rezone at the Planning Commission’s Dec. 10 meeting, according to minutes posted on its website.

Juneau resident and activist Karla Hart was at that meeting and left after the five-to-two vote because, she thought, the issue had been decided.

“You wouldn’t call for reconsideration if it’s a 5-2 vote,” Hart said.

But just before the meeting adjourned, the minutes show that Commissioner Dennis Watson, the vice-chair and one of the two who voted for the rezone, moved for a reconsideration of the motion, which had occurred about halfway through the three-hour meeting.

“The majority of the public had left,” Medina said. “I was kind of surprised when it was brought up there at the end.”

The circumstances, coupled with Bishop and Medina not being reappointed to the Planning Commission, have caused Hart to question the integrity of the process.

“If you take two ‘No’s’ and turn them to members who will vote in your favor, and add a third member who will also vote in favor, you just swung the vote,” Hart said.

Not being reappointed to the commission came as a shock to Medina.

“I honestly don’t have any idea,” Medina said when asked why he wasn’t reappointed. “I can understand if my attendance was spotty or if I was unprepared, but as far as I know I was very prepared.

“I felt the job I had done warranted another term on the commission, and I was well aware of the issues currently before the commission,” he added.

Jackson and Peters will fill Bishop’s and Medina’s seats, and Voelckers is taking the seat left vacant by former-commissioner Marsha Bennett, who left the Planning Commission in November. Voelckers’ term will expire in a year. The others are beginning three-year terms.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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