A house on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley has been in the middle of a zoning dispute between the area neighborhood association and a nonprofit that wants to use it as transitional housing for women coming out of prison.
The organization, Haven House Juneau, has an arrangement to lease the house, but it is not the home’s owner. In a previous Empire report, Haven House board of directors President June Degnan and director Kara Nelson said the $300,000, six-bedroom home had been purchased for them by an anonymous donor. It’s a little more complicated than that, Haven House board secretary Larry Talley said.
Juneau’s Grant Properties LLC purchased the house in January from William W. Tow of Montana for the sole purpose of leasing it to the organization, Talley said. Although the donor was anonymous, the name of the company is public record and was included in Tuesday night’s Planning Commission packet. A message left with the company was not returned by press time.
Talley said in an email that leasing rather than owning the house “provides Haven House with stable and predictable facilities costs without the long-term commitments of a mortgage.”
“Our lease gives us an option to buy, so at some future date we fully expect to become the owner,” he said. “But for the first year or two, it is really so much easier to let someone else worry about home ownership while we concentrate on what our residents need.”
Someone else purchasing the house also helped the organization out financially. Talley said that when the home was purchased by Grant Properties, Haven House was in the middle of getting a loan to buy it. But the loan terms weren’t all that attractive, he said, and the interest rate was high.
“Everything was taking more time than we thought it should because lenders don’t do that much business with nonprofits, so we kept finding new hoops that we had to jump through,” he said.
A buyer stepped forward when a board member asked for support, Talley said.
“And then ... the offer was made that our benefactor would buy the house and lease it to us with an option to buy when we were ready, and meanwhile, we could just pay rent and move in,” he said. “We were delighted to have that option. We really have plenty to do for the next year or two without worrying about home ownership, too.”
Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting yielded another chapter in Haven House’s struggle to claim the house. The commission decided it would hear the organization’s appeal of the city’s decision not to rezone the plot, a necessity for the home to be used as a transitional living facility. The area is zoned D-5, which does not permit halfway houses, and the city initially defined Haven House as such.
The Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association also has an appeal in the works, which the commission is still considering.
Haven House first applied to the city for a change of use permit for the Malissa Drive location from a single-family home to a transitional group home in December 2013. Community Development Department director Hal Hart decided in January that Haven House could be defined best as a halfway house, but because the house’s D-5 zone does not allow halfway houses, the permit was denied.
“Haven House cannot operate as described in the business plan in this location,” the decision stated.
Haven House appealed the decision in February on the basis that the house should not be defined as a halfway house. In March, it presented further information to help city planners determine what best defines it.
Hart issued a second decision, stating that the house is best defined as a boarding house, and that the organization should reapply as a “use not defined” establishment. A boarding house is allowed in a D-5 zone with a conditional use permit. He also determined Haven House is not a single- family residence. He reached the decision after the department received legal guidance.
On April 1, the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association filed an appeal of the second decision on the basis that Haven House is not a boarding house and is, in fact, a halfway house. It requested the Planning Commission adopt Hart’s first decision and that Haven House not be permitted in the neighborhood.
Three days later Haven House withdrew its appeal of the first decision and filed an appeal of the second. The organization also challenged whether Tall Timbers has a right to appeal the second decision. It continued to assert that Haven House is a single-family home or a group home.
Haven House applied for a “use not defined” conditional use permit May 2, but the application was put on hold by commissioners Tuesday until the organization’s appeal is heard.
One solution to the problem is for Haven House to find a different neighborhood, which is what the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association has urged, both with signs in their yards and in public testimony. But Talley said the house is perfect for them, and they don’t think they could find another facility. He said it “probably wouldn’t be too difficult” to “gracefully exit” from the lease.
“The hard part is finding another suitable home,” he said. “Our board searched for a couple of years before we found the house that fits our needs so well. There aren’t that many six bedroom homes on the market in Juneau.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.