A zoning discrepancy might prevent a new women’s transitional housing facility to start up in a Mendenhall Valley neighborhood.
Haven House Juneau, a faith-based non-profit that hopes to provide transitional housing for women coming out of Alaska’s prison system, recently got the keys to a house purchased for the organization by an anonymous donor in December 2013. Organization leaders asked that the exact location of the house be kept private to protect potential residents.
However, city planning staff determined Haven House qualifies as a halfway house rather than a group home by City and Borough of Juneau definitions; Haven House’s D-5 zoned neighborhood does not permit halfway houses, Community Development Director Hal Hart said.
The organization filed a building permit in December to change the house’s use from single family to transitional group home, according to a Jan. 24 letter from Hart to Haven House Board President June Degnan.
Hart said the organization was a bit unclear in its permit application how it would be using the house.
“When they applied for the building permit they weren’t really sure if it was a halfway house or a group home,” he said. “There was a lot of discussion on the staff team about, ‘What is that?’”
The D-5 zoned neighborhood permits group homes. City staff determined, however, that because Haven House would not be “housing people ‘seeking extended healthcare, rehabilitation or recovery from any physical, mental, or emotional disability,’” it does not qualify as a group home, Hart wrote in his letter.
Because Haven House “might include someone that was on parole” or continuing to serve a “sentence for a criminal act” in some way, the facility qualifies as a halfway house by the city’s standards, Hart said.
“Because operating a halfway house is not a permitted use in this zoning district, Haven House cannot operate as described in the business plan in this location,” Hart wrote in the letter. “An option available to Haven House, Inc. is to find a location in a zoning district where halfway houses are permitted. These are Light Commercial, General Commercial, Mixed Use, Mixed Use 2, and Rural Reserve. In all of these zoning districts an approved conditional use permit is required before operations and housing can begin.”
Haven House Co-Director Kara Nelson said the organization’s board of directors met over the weekend to discuss how to proceed. Degnan said the organization is planning to appeal the city’s decision.
“I think there was a mistake in the interpretation of it,” she said. Degnan said she had no further comment in light of the pending appeal.
The appeal would go before the Planning Commission, Hart said.
Dan Hubert, a member of the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association, said the transitional living facility, which would be located in the Tall Timbers neighborhood, is not a good fit for the residential area.
“The neighborhood applauds Haven House for their motives and their philanthropy, but a halfway house is more appropriate for a Mixed Commercial zone,” Hubert said.
Tall Timbers in the Valley is “a tightly woven, 100-percent-residential neighborhood,” Hubert said. He said that within three houses of the potential Haven House are two registered day care facilities. More than 20 children live within a half-block of the house, he said.
“There’s no lighting, no sidewalks, no bus stops, no businesses,” Hubert said. “There’s the potential for crime and drugs. It doesn’t give the neighborhood a good feeling.”
Hubert said several of the people in the neighborhood donated to Haven House in the past, and “now realize they donated to the same organization they’re opposing.” He said the neighborhood was not consulted on the placement of Haven House.
“There is vehement opposition by all the neighbors,” Hubert said. “And we’re committed to taking whatever political and legal action necessary to make sure Haven House finds another location more appropriate for their mission.”
Some members of the neighborhood association are being represented by Juneau attorney Robert Spitzfaden. Others are seeking legal counsel independently, Hubert said.
Hart said Haven House would provide “important services and the community should provide them.” The city would work with the organization if its appeal is denied, he said.
“Certainly we would want to work with them to figure out what they can do,” Hart said. “We would do everything we can to work with them.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.