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Empire Editorial: Change can be scary, but fears should not harm a local business

Posted: August 31, 2013 - 11:04pm

The good folks at Landscape Alaska, a longtime Juneau business with a demonstrated interest in our community, need a new home. Their land on Commercial Boulevard has been sold.

Neighbors of the land they picked as a new nursery site off Mendenhall Loop Road are rightly worried about potential impacts of having a retail business as a neighbor, but we think they should also consider the alternatives.

There are many potential neighbors more invasive than a place that grows trees and shrubs and only does business during the day.

Issues like lighting, signage and maintenance of a dirt road, as well as mandatory parking spaces for visitors to the nursery and workers, can be ironed out in the city planning process. But if city zoning allows for Landscape Alaska to set up shop there, the emphasis should be on making sure their impact on the area is minimal, not on stopping the legitimate use of land by an established and respected Juneau business.

While some residents would like things to continue in the Goat Hill Road area just as they are, they should realize there is only one sure way to do that: buy the land in question and seek a zoning change or keep it vacant.

That land will likely someday have a permanent use unless it is given over for public use as parkland and an entity takes responsibility for it. There are worse uses than a plant nursery.

This issue brings up a larger question about public reaction when development is proposed on privately-owned land.

Free speech covers the legal right for people to protest land use decisions. Concerns over impacts on property values are indeed valid. But does the public have a moral right to object to new but legal and conforming uses of private land because the new neighbor might change the character of a neighborhood or a high-profile viewshed?

During a recent Planning Commission meeting the specter of development in the pond and fireweed field near the airport caused some debate. This is an iconic Juneau viewshed, but it’s on private land and it’s also a former gravel extraction pit. The owner has the legal right to seek to utilize it for whatever the zoning allows.

Many people feel an attachment to that place due to the beauty of that land and its proximity to public wetlands. The fireweed field and the tree known as the Christmas Tree do not belong to the public, although perhaps that land should have been purchased as open space.

Eventually, that land will likely be developed because it can be, and either way that flooded gravel pit should be filled in as a safety hazard — it attracts large waterfowl that can harm aircraft using Juneau International Airport.

Just as there was strong testimony on the gravel pit development proposal earlier this year, we hope the public will weigh in on Landscape Alaska’s proposed move.

Landscape Alaska needs a new home. We hope that if neighbors of the proposed site and supporters of that business gather at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the Assembly Chambers a solution will be found by the Planning Commission that satisfies all parties. Whatever your opinion on the issue, we hope those with strong feelings will participate respectfully in the public process.

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