City still pondering Breeze In expansion

One point of contention is owner's aim to double store's size with a 5,000-square-foot basement

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Juneau Assembly likely won't decide the fate of the Douglas Breeze In expansion until early this week, Mayor Bruce Botelho said Saturday after a three-hour hearing.

The Assembly met to hear two appeals of the Breeze In's conditional-use permit, which the Juneau Planning Commission granted in August.

Breeze In owner Al Ahlgren wants to raze the current 1,974-square-foot store and replace it with a 5,000-square-foot store, gasoline pumps, an automated-teller machine, a drive-through window, a public bus stop, more parking - and a 5,000-square-foot storage basement.

Breeze In is appealing a decision by Community Development Director Dale Pernula that the conditional-use permit did not include the storage basement.

In the other appeal, Mike and Marilyn Miller and Kim and Keith Busch, who live near Breeze In, say the Planning Commission approved an excessive expansion without taking into account nearby property values and neighborhood safety.

They also say the city's public notices about the Planning Commission hearing did not include all of the issues that would matter to residents, such as the total size of the store and the elimination of public access to the beach from the store's property.

Beachfront homeowners use the access to maintain their homes, and the city uses it to maintain a sewer manhole.

Murray Walsh, speaking for Breeze In, showed Assembly members that the applicant plainly had requested a 5,000-square-foot basement in its written application, in spoken comments to planning commissioners, and in drawings submitted to the city.

When the Planning Commission approved the project without questioning the basement, the applicant assumed it was included, Walsh said.

Pernula took responsibility Saturday for the oversight. He said he didn't notice the request for a basement and didn't include it in the staff's analysis of the proposal.

"It was not clear to me at the time. I missed it," Pernula said.

Regardless of the oversight, the city code, revised in April, doesn't allow convenience stores to be larger than 5,000 feet, and the retail space itself is that size, city officials said. So the Planning Commission couldn't have meant to approve a 10,000-square-foot building, they said.

Attorney Stephen Sorensen, representing Breeze In, said the city code's size restriction refers to the building's "footprint" - the amount of land taken up. The code allows a second story, including a basement, equal in size to the retail space, he argued.

If the Assembly decides the code allows for a 10,000-square-foot convenience store, it should send the project back to the Planning Commission to be reviewed at that size, Deputy City Attorney Peggy Boggs said.

The other appellants, represented Saturday by Mike Miller and Patricia O'Brien, said they opposed even a 5,000-square-foot retail space, as well as the store's planned 24-hour operation with liquor sales up to 3 a.m.

A larger store open for more hours will attract more traffic, noise, litter and crime, they argued.

"We see it, and we see the dangers in that area," O'Brien said. "That's a very high-density traffic area there."

They faulted the Planning Commission for not seeking from the police the most recent data about traffic accidents in the area.

The Planning Commission failed in its minimum responsibility to promote safety and to balance private and public interests, O'Brien said.

"This is a much more neighborhood-friendly, a much more public-friendly, development than the current situation, or what might have been possible under the old ordinance," Walsh said.

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