Organization, neighborhood clash over Haven House

Kara Nelson, co-director of the Haven House Juneau, tries to answer homeowners' concerns during a neighborhood meeting at Glacier Valley Elementary School on Tuesday.

The issue was with Haven House, but it was city senior planner Beth McKibben who was first excoriated by angry neighbors of a planned transitional home for women coming out of prison.


The meeting was held to inform potential Haven House neighbors of the “use not listed” permitting process, for which Haven House — an organization that hopes to open supportive housing for women coming out of prison — has applied, McKibben said. The organization needs the permit to open the house in the Tall Timbers neighborhood, which is zoned residential.

Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association members at the meeting asked McKibben why the city was going forward with the neighborhood meeting regarding the use not listed permit when the Planning Commission put the permit application on hold until it hears Haven House’s appeal of a decision that keeps it out of the neighborhood.

“Isn’t this a waste of our time?” asked Tall Timbers resident Dan Hubert, adding that there are “better things we could be doing right now.”

McKibben said the meeting is “a separate, somewhat parallel track to the appeals,” and that the Planning Commission wanted to go ahead with the meeting despite putting the permit on hold.

One neighbor asked repeatedly if McKibben works for Haven House or is “just friends” with the organization. McKibben replied that she works for the City and Borough of Juneau.

Another Tall Timbers resident said McKibben is “cramming something down our throats” by forcing the group to sit through a presentation by Haven House. The neighborhood association said they didn’t know Haven House would be making a presentation.

She said the meeting isn’t mandatory and anyone who doesn’t want to sit through it could leave. Several did.

McKibben began a presentation on the use not listed permit, which Haven House applied for May 2.

Before the permit can be approved or denied, a public hearing is required. Two weeks before the meeting, there will be “a big red sign in front of the property” on Malissa Drive. Notices will be sent to neighbors within 500 feet of the house, and information on the meeting will be published in the Empire.

If a party chooses to appeal whatever decision is ultimately made on the permit, the notice must be filed within 20 days, she said. Appeals of Planning Commission decisions cost $200.

Haven House’s attorney, Mary Alice McKeen, made the presentation on the home. She said she is representing the organization pro bono.

There are 60 women on probation or parole in Juneau, she said. Haven House would take in up to nine women and would be based on New Hope Safe Living House, a transitional home of the same kind in Anchorage, she said.

Residents would pay rent and go through a lengthy application process, and visitors not legally related to residents are not allowed on the premises, she said. This means no boyfriends or friends. Visitors must register at least 48 hours in advance so staff can run a background check on them.

McKeen pointed out that if the Haven House organization did not exist, there would be no legal reason nine ex-prisoners couldn’t rent or own the Malissa Drive house.

“There’s no dispute that nine women on probation or parole could rent or buy this property,” McKeen said.

The house will not be under 24-hour supervision, Haven House co-director Anne Flaherty said. Although a staff member will always be on site during the night, there will be times during the day when there is nobody there to hold the women and their visitors accountable besides themselves. Neighbors said they are concerned with what would happen if an unauthorized visitor came by when staff wasn’t there.

McKeen asserted in her presentation that property values in the neighborhood would not drop because of Haven House.

One resident asked if McKeen is going to be refunding residents if property values do go down. She said no.

“So if our property values go down, we’re s**t out of luck?” the resident asked.

Tall Timbers resident Debe Wilson, who used to work in mental health, said “this is great program and I support it.”

“I’m just not sure that our neighborhood is the location for it,” she said.

That was the general consensus of the Tall Timbers group. One neighbor pointed out that she wouldn’t want any organization or business moving into Tall Timbers.

Another neighbor said she worried about the psyches of the Haven House women once they realize they’re not welcome.

“Are you going to tell these nine women to live in his house where none of these people are going to welcome them into this neighborhood?” she asked. “They dont know what they’re getting into.”

McKeen said the conflict with the neighborhood association is “just like when people didn’t want black people living in their neighborhoods.” Opinions will change in time, she said.

Most of the Tall Timbers residents said they felt like they were being called racists and left the meeting.

The use not listed permit process could be moot based on the outcome of appeals already filed by Haven House and the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association. The Planning Commission is hearing the Haven House appeal and deciding whether it will hear the neighborhood association’s.

The house in question was purchased in December by Grant Properties LLC. The company bought the house with the intent to rent it to the Haven House organization.

Members of the Tall Timbers neighborhood rose up, citing a danger to the community and nearby Glacier Valley Elementary School.

The neighborhood meeting comes after a few months of legal back-and-forth between the nonprofit and the neighborhood association.

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 that Haven House could be defined better 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. In March, it presented to the department 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, as 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.

On April 4, 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.

After hearing testimony from Haven House’s legal representation, the City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission decided May 14 it would hear the nonprofit’s appeal against the city decision barring the transitional living home from the neighborhood.

The Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association also filed an appeal with the city, requesting that it uphold its original decision to keep the home off Malissa Drive. The commission decided to schedule a series of meetings to determine whether the association can legally appeal, as an unincorporated organization.

Haven House would have rather pursued the “use not listed” conditional use permit, instead of going forward with its appeal, McKeen said at the Planning Commission meeting, but the commission decided to put off reviewing the permit until after the appeals are heard.

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


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