Haven House, neighbors try and talk it out

Dispute draws attention from Murkowski, Muñoz
A placard bolted to a city street sign at Malissa Drive and Gail Avenue expresses the feelings of residents in the Valley neighborhood where a house was recently purchased by Haven House, Inc. to provide a group home for women making a transition after prison in Southeast Alaska.

Haven House Juneau held an open house Saturday afternoon to address neighborhood concerns surrounding city zoning issues that could force it to pack up and move.

The faith-based group plans to open a transitional living facility for women coming out of Alaska’s prison system. The facility is located in Mendenhall Valley’s Tall Timbers neighborhood, but city planning staff determined earlier this month that Haven House qualifies as a halfway house rather than a group home by City and Borough of Juneau definitions.

The Tall Timbers neighborhood zoning doesn’t permit halfway houses, Community Development Director Hal Hart previously told the Empire.

The Saturday meeting between the Haven House board and Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association was meant to clear the air.

Many residents are concerned about the placement of the home, with some even posting signs in their yards that read, “Haven House: Right idea, wrong place.”

Others submitted My Turns published in the Empire voicing strong opposition to the organization moving in. Representatives of Haven House wrote to defend the home’s right to operate in the neighborhood and combat its designation as a halfway house.

The back-and-forth between the two sides drew the attention of a couple of politicians. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, visited Haven House during her stay in Juneau last week. Rep. Cathy Muñoz met with the neighborhood association before attending the Saturday meeting.

Neither offered a comment before press time Wednesday.

“We wanted to express our own side of things” to Muñoz, said neighborhood association member Sammy Legg.

Legg grew up on Malissa Drive, the location of Haven House, and lives next door to its current location. She said about 40 people were at the Saturday meeting, which “was a very friendly atmosphere at first.”

The meeting later grew “pretty tense” when back-and-forth discussions between the two groups got heated, she said.

Haven House board President June Degnan said the meeting “went well” and “there was a lot of dialogue.”

“It was time for discussion,” she said. “People have a right to defend their property and people need to know information about their property.”

Legg said despite the meeting, she’s worried Haven House won’t take the neighborhood’s concerns into account. The association feels its questions and complaints have so far fallen on deaf ears, she said.

“They’re acting like they’re settling in to stay and they’re just going to steamroll over us,” Legg said. “I think that’s been the most distressing part.”

The association presented a list of 25 questions to the Haven House board, addressing its concerns of transitional home residents living near the neighborhood’s children and without access to public transportation, as well as Haven House’s appeal.

Questions included: “What is the application process like for women wanting to live at HH? Are there any backgrounds, criminal offenses or situations that could disqualify a woman from applying to HH?” and “Please describe your site selection process. Why did you decide against consulting the neighborhood’s residents during this process?” The list of questions can be read alongside this story online at juneauempire.com.

The nonprofit has appealed the city’s decision, Degnan said. The city has six weeks to respond to the appeal.

Hart said Haven House’s appeal is now in “legal review” by the city.

Haven House: Right idea, wrong place
Empire Editorial: Compromise needed for Haven House
Haven House fills a need
Haven House from a different perspective
Haven House runs into zoning conflict
Letter: Haven House needs community support to be successful

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