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'Field of Fireweed' rezone denied

Posted: January 15, 2014 - 1:05am

More than a year since the application was introduced, the City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission voted to uphold their previous decision to deny the rezone of the “Field of Fireweed” near the airport during a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday.

Land owner Bicknell, Inc., applied to rezone the field for industrial development in December 2012. Since then, community members have come out in droves to Planning Commission meetings to speak against the rezone. Tuesday was no different.

“This is our fourth time packing the place,” resident Mark Kelley said after the decision.

Patricia O’Brien has been heading up a movement to preserve the fireweed field since the beginning of construction company’s application process. She last addressed the commission at the Dec. 10, 2013, meeting, when the rezone was voted down 5-2, but then put up for reconsideration by commission vice-chairman Dennis Watson.

The movement to reconsider bumped the issue to Tuesday’s meeting. But the rezone denial was upheld, with commissioners Nicole Grewe and Karen Lawfer, as well as chairman Mike Satre, voting against reconsideration. Watson and Ben Haight voted for reconsideration. Bicknell could decide to appeal the commission’s decision.

“Obviously, we’re pleased,” O’Brien said. “The public was heard. The public opposition to the rezone was upheld.”

Some fireweed supporters arrived at the meeting with postcard-sized photos of the field pinned to their shirts. The photo was taken by Kelley.

“I printed 47, but we ran out,” said Alaska Wildlife Alliance President Tina Brown.

Kelley said he’s never seen so much consistent community involvement at Planning Commission meetings in his 35 years of living in Juneau. Citizens wrote a total of 151 letters against the rezone.

There’s more to a piece of land than how much money it’s worth, O’Brien said.

“That land is important,” she said. “It’s important artistically; it’s important to how we feel about living here.”

At the Dec. 10 meeting, along with three other planning commissioners, Nathan Bishop and Jerry Medina voted against the rezone. They were also up for reappointment to the commission; their applications were denied by the City Assembly on Dec. 17 and Gordon Jackson and former assembly candidate Bill Peters were appointed to fill their seats. The two — along with Paul Voelckers — have since been sworn into the commission but were not allowed to participate in Tuesday’s vote.

Also at its Tuesday meeting, the commission approved a rezone of the Auke Bay Post Office property from Waterfront Commercial to General Commercial, allowing for a remodel of vacant office space in the building into seven apartments. Due to rezoning protocol, residential property across from the post office on Glacier Highway would also be rezoned. Satre said he does have concerns about setting a precedent by rezoning “across a major thoroughfare.” The rezone application will go next before the assembly, which has the final say.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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